Queer Eye for the Merchant’s Plight

One of the common observances in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is the implied romantic relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. Their passionate comradery and willingness to sacrifice for one another simply cannot be read as platonic. In his critical essay, “How to Read the Merchant of Venice Without Being Heterosexist”, Alan Sinfield emphasizes this point with several examples, particularly in the rivalry between Antonio and Portia for Bassanio’s affections. Moreover, Sinfield suggests that Portia’s internal quest to conquer Bassanio and therefore assert her dominance as a lover over Antonio, while not exactly homophobic, is heterosexist in nature. Due to the seemingly “happy ending” of the play, in which Portia and Bassanio resume as husband in wife in a hetero-normal relationship, it is suggested to readers that the relationship between the two men was not meant to be taken seriously. Thus, the ideal of homosexual relationships in Shakespeare’s work may be disregarded by the readers.

    From her introduction, it is clear that Portia does not wish to adhere to patriarchal social norms. In several ways, she effectively rebels against the trope of a woman being controlled by the men in their life. Not only does she successfully marry the suitor of her choosing but she also uses wit and determination to outsmart Shylock in court. In turn however, she abides by patriarchal customs to use against her fiancé, Bassanio, as well as against Antonio. Sinfield explores this notion by analyzing her guise as Balthazar. “It is to contest Antonio’s status as lover, that Portia, in her role of the young doctor, demands of Bassanio the ring which she had given him in her role as a wife.” (Marcus/Sinfield 273). In reality, Portia only asked one thing of Bassanio: to keep the ring she presented to him in their betrothal. After he fails to keep this promise, Portia could have easily severed the ties of their marriage. Instead, she turns the tables when she returns the ring to him, first by gaining it as Balthazar and then by giving it to Antonio. Though it appears that she is welcoming Antonio into her home, she is instead using her decided dominance over both men, theoretically atop them in a power structure.

    As Sinfield explains, just because there are no sexually explicit relations between Bassanio and Antonio, it does mean that there is no possibility of one. Antonio does appear to be more openly gay, as he shows no interest in any woman throughout the play. In turn, though Bassanio does express his interest in Portia and later marries her, their marriage is not immediately consummated. Furthermore, his strong feelings for Antonio are expressed, even in front of Portia. “Antonio, I am married to a wife, which is as dear to me as life itself; but life itself and all the world, are not with me esteemed above thy life.” (Marcus/ Shakespeare 290-293 IV.i). In this moment, Portia is neither disgusted or surprised by this declaration. Rather, she now has further motivation to maintain control over Bassanio. She does not dismiss Antonio nor scorn Bassanio for their relationship; however, she does disrupt it through securing her role as a wife, and therefore “disallows the entire seriousness of male love.”. (Marcus/Sinfield 273). If it were not for Portia, Antonio could have lost his life. In the end, both his life and his wealth are secured by Portia, leaving him entirely in her debt. If any relationship were to continue between him and Bassanio, it would only because Portia allows it.

    Patriarchy is addressed once more by Sinfield, who reminds readers that “patriarchy does not oppress only women; a patriarch is not just a man…”. (Marcus/Sinfield 278) Again, though Portia is not portrayed as overtly homophobic, her rivalry with Antonio reinstates the societal importance of hetero-normal marriage.  Afterall, marriages were meant for the purpose of producing heirs, something that cannot be done naturally in a homosexual relationship. “Because women may bear children, relations between women and men affected the regulation of lineage, alliance, and property, and hence offered profound potential disruptions to the social order and the male psyche.” (Marcus/Sinfield 277). Marriage was not for sexual pleasure but to maintain hetero-normal social constructs. If a man, could produce children, especially sons, they were distinctly masculine in nature. Though she broke social constructs to her own advantage, Portia willingly contributed to the ideal that men should only be with women.

    As a gay man himself, Sinfield focused on the homosocial themes within The Merchant of Venice. In his opinion, the best way to understand the play was to recognize that Antonio was in love with Bassanio and that his love was very possibly requited. In the era which the play was written, openly sexual behavior was seen as improper and moreover, the idea of serious homosexual relationships was disregarded. As Sinfield states, “gay people today are no more immune to racism than other people.” (Marcus/Sinfield 284). It is therefore important for readers, no matter gay, straight or otherwise, to not overlook the homosexual identities and behaviors in the play.

 Works Cited

Sinfield, Alan. How to Read The Merchant of Venice Without Being Heterosexist. 1998.

Shakespeare, William, and Leah S. Marcus. The Merchant of Venice: Authoritative Text, Sources and Contexts, Criticism, Rewritings and Appropriations. Norton & Company, 2006.

When We Met

Why did you choose to dance with me?

Out of all people losing themselves in the song

what entranced you to take my hand

and lead me into your world?

If you had passed me by just like the others

I may still be dancing now, weightless and unbound.

Alas, here I am, clamped down by the chains

you had promised me to free me from.

You let me roam your garden but nowhere far beyond.

Your queen, displayed for the flock you created

donning a more convincing mask than the one I wore

When we met.

I play your game so expertly I almost do believe.

I smile when you come for me.

I smile to survive.

I smile because it’s what I am expected to do.

The only liberation I find is when I give in.

Play the game no matter what my heart may say.

My weapon is my mind and I wield it daily.

I can never sheath it and let my guard down

for I know more than anything

that I am too lost now within your sanctum

too lost to be found.

Dead Weight Bliss

Burning, burning ground beneath me as sunstroke creeps in

Blisters forming, how they sting, but not compared to where I’ve been

 

Yearning, yearning for the chance to see you again

Yet I was dismayed when I stepped back on this terrain

 

Spurning, spurning me away before we could even meet

Spiting me despite my efforts and insisting I retreat

 

Turning, turning back seems pointless when I’m come so far, still

Treason knows no mercy and warrants no explanation nor goodwill

 

Learning is a never-ending voyage, and this is just another lesson

Living expeditiously because it must be destined

 

I’m adjourning this chapter now and will have no regrets

For I’ve many homes before and will soon find the next.

White Noise

I can no longer sleep without white noise.

Crashing waves, fingers tapping, birds babbling.

The source doesn’t matter much but

 

Silence is maddening, inviting unwelcome thoughts

irrational fears, pondering if I’ll wake up.

Soft sounds are distracting, a security

 

somehow keeping me safe from immobility.

That demon in the corner won’t come near

with someone else already whispering in my ear.

 

Who knew headphones could form a forcefield?

A technological tool for insomniacs

Who still need to be tucked into bed

 

when too many “what if’s” are in your head.

And yes, it may give way to eccentric dreams

but that’s left for the day to contemplate

and a favorable alternative to night terror screams.

 

Till I’m Dust

I will be here till I’m dust.

My hands will wither.

My feet will prune.

 

My hair once lush and soft

shall fall and mix with seaweed.

My tears will crystalize

 

to be carried off as trinkets for seagulls

impressive to them; not enough to attract the one

I want most.

 

When my eyes no longer open

my body shall mold into the soil.

I will be here till I’m dust.

Lovesick

It is not all sunshine and roses.

We should know better by now.

Yet we still fall for the trap

 

the oldest and most bittersweet.

There is no first sight; that’s a lie.

There’s no way of knowing

 

until you find yourself in its grasp.

There is an alluring aroma,

within the claws, sticky and thick.

 

Then there’s the taste

that leaves you craving, never quite sating.

You choose a favorite flavor.

 

There is no question of why

we keep going back for seconds

willingly clogging our arteries.

 

The confusion only sets in after it hurts

and the realization hits that it is you

That has been consumed.