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Hamlet’s Father: If You Didn’t Think Orson Scott Card Was Gay Before…

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2011 by knightofsummer

Orson Scott Card has caught some flack over at RainTaxi (http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2011summer/card.shtml) for a story he wrote retelling Hamlet. And by “retelling” I mean “the main character is named Hamlet and his dad appears to him as a ghost”. It ought to come with a disclaimer, “any resemblance to any work of Shakespeare is purely coincidental.” Anyway, I read the version of this story published years ago in a 4-story anthology and decided to write up my observations. I did so legally, but the author received no royalties and no library system shows any interest in the books. I won’t give any money to someone who’s going to use it to keep my friends’ marriage from being recognized by the government.

Anyway, on to the story:

First of all, it’s not particularly well-written. The pacing is all over the place. He tries to imitate Shakespearian banter, but it mostly just sounds stilted. There’s a lot of 60’s comic book-style explication. Hamlet has a small piece of the sibling-of-an-abused-child thing going on, but it’s so one-dimensional and spelled out in excruciating detail over and over as to be uninteresting. The whole thing turns into a morality tale about how put-upon Good people are by the Evil world. Well, actually, mostly it’s a story about how hard it is for a Good Christian Man to convince himself that he’s straight when he really wants to jump his teenage friends, but to do that well would require a level of insight that is lacking. Also better prose.

It isn’t a straight-forward anti-gay rant. The homophobia is secondary, though it is explicitly stated that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are turned gay by being molested and Laertes is turned asexual (can’t forget that asexuality is also an unnatural abomination now can we? *sigh*). Hamlet’s dad isn’t exclusively a pedophile; he also has sex with teenage boys, and unlike most real-life child abusers he is portrayed as being attracted to their looks rather than the power he holds over them (nearly every speaking character is obsessed with physical appearance in this story). He is shown to be simply a monster with no redeeming characteristics; he is petty, rude, bitter, a terrible king and a child molester. There is no reason for Hamlet to kill for him except that Hamlet is an asshole… I mean, a good Christian who obeys his father. (Note: the Christianity referenced in this story is clearly Mormonism.)
Hamlet’s mother is an enabler, but there’s a lot of apologetic thrown in to try to excuse her role: she had No Idea that when he went off with little boys in the woods it was to rape them! Even if she had caught him with their own son as an infant and didn’t tell anyone! She wanted to kill herself when she found out! This part at least was realistic; it’s all the excuses I’ve heard in real life from the wives of child molesters. In the end (spoiler!) she goes to heaven. It’s a bitter pill to swallow after how she spent most of the story protecting the guy who is being portrayed as pure evil; apparently the only thing that mattered was that she saved her own son, not how many other people’s children she allowed to be molested.

The original question of adultery in the play is swept aside entirely, with Hamlet saying he doesn’t care. It is clear the only reason it came up at all was because Card was rewriting Hamlet and had to explain why he was ignoring the original source material entirely. This fits with having swapped the original Episcopalian religious framework for LDS; the original motivation for murder simply wouldn’t make any sense.

This brings us, at last, to Hamlet himself. He goes on at length about how “beautiful” his male “Companions” are, how “Strong, vigorous, lovely of face”. He’s watching them all swim at the time, and although Card doesn’t mention their state of dress, given the time period my presumption would be that he’s staring at a bunch of naked men while admiring their beauty. After returning from college Hamlet tosses in a random misogynistic speech about how women are all money-grubbing, conniving whores attempting to entrap men, and another about how women are like pudding: they look appetizing as long as you are hungry, but once you are full the dregs look disgusting and you can’t wait for them to be taken away. He has no empathy for women, but plenty for the men around him. It is pretty clear that he’s not straight, but he never acts on, or even contemplates acting on, his homoerotic desires: he appears as oblivious to his blatant and explicitly-stated interest as the writer appears. I mean, I don’t know how you write a character *this* gay without being aware of it, but Card appears to have managed it.
Further evidence can be found in his contemplation of the still totally personality-less Ophelia (she gets one quote in the whole story: “Your Highness!”. Hamlet describes her having said other things, but she has no voice of her own.) When he fantasizes about the life he might have had with Ophelia he doesn’t fantasize about her, or making love to her, or even getting to know her, but rather about getting her pregnant and raising multiple children together.

Basically, Hamlet is clearly a gay man who can’t reconcile that with his faith and so sublimates it entirely in an attempt to be the man society tells him to be. This reads an awful lot like Angels In America 0.5: Before They Leave Salt Lake (right down to the awkward, stilted dialog ;-)) The only thing I can imagine is that Card considers himself to be a straight man and portrayed his own internal life, and thus he believes that this is what straight men think about when they look at their bathing friends.

Perhaps that is the real tragedy: this tale of the emotionally-abused gay boy surrounded by those who lived through intense sexual hell at the hands of his father could be an interesting story if I thought Card was aware he was writing it (and the prose were better). Instead, the author unfortunately glorifies Hamlet, claiming his lack of self-awareness, his misogyny, his desperate need for a good therapist, as strengths and evidence of religious virtue. Hamlet here is a tragic figure, but not in the way the author seems to think. The tragedy is that he can’t see past his presuppositions of what a “proper”, “Christian” life would look like long enough to even understand himself, much less find the committed family relationship he desires with someone whom he is also attracted too.

I believe in this case the transformative work tells us more about the writer than it does about the source material. Orson Scott Card has said he writes mostly from his own life; I hope he can someday realize that gayness has nothing to do with the horrendous sexual abuse such as this, and that just because a gay man is one of the one-in-six men who are sexually abused as children doesn’t make their gay-ness the result of that sexual abuse. Hamlet’s desire for his Companions is natural and beautiful, and that if the only reason Hamlet wants to marry Ophelia is because he wants children and the facade of a “righteous Christian life”, perhaps he should be honest with her and himself instead. If they both decide to live with that anyway, I will not judge them unless they attempt to force others to make the same decision they did (by, say, joining a hate group like NOM or threatening violent overthrow of the government if it stops discriminating against families that look different than their own. Just sayin’.) A committed family life is not only possible as a gay man or women, it can be a glorious celebration that teaches the next generation the insight and self-awareness that his hero here so sorely lacks.

Also, dude, that misogyny is not okay.

ADDENDUM:
Orson Scott Card has responded, disingenuously saying:
“But the lie is this, that “the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with … pedophilia.” The focus isn’t primarily on this because there is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period.”

While some reviews have called Hamlet’s father “gay” he is right; they are absolutely incorrect. However, Card shows the primary terrible effect of child abuse being to turn the boys who have been abused gay. In fact, Horatio says this explicitly. Thus it is simply a lie for him to claim that there is “no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia” in this story, especially when one of the boys who has been turned gay by being molested goes on to molest a young boy himself. Horatio is portrayed as both gay and a pedophile, even though Hamlet’s father isn’t.

Also, I would argue that Hamlet’s own obvious homosexuality ties homosexuality to pedophilia through genetic inheritance. However, I’m reluctant to hold him responsible for this as Card goes on to say of the story, “…Hamlet’s Father, since it contained no homosexual characters…” I’m assuming he’s in denial of just how parade-ready, Bette-Midler-loving, mooncalf-head-over-heels-for-Horatio, disgusted-by-women gay Hamlet appears in his story. Hint: heterosexual men don’t hate sex with all women, or generalize women to one huge, disgusting group, tolerable (not desired, mind you, merely tolerable) only if they will bear your children.

In other words, if there was any doubt previously that this particular member of the National Organization for Marriage was a self-loathing homosexual, I find this story has put it to rest.

ADDENDUM, THE SECOND:
Okay, so I apparently missed the article where Card said:

Marrying Is Hard to Do.

Men and women, from childhood on, have very different biological and social imperatives. They are naturally disposed to different reproductive strategies; men are (on average) larger and stronger; the relative levels of various hormones, the difference in the rate of maturity, and many other factors make it far, far easier for women to get along with other women and men to get along with men.

Men, after all, know what men like far better than women do; women know how women think and feel far better than men do. But a man and a woman come together as strangers and their natural impulses remain at odds throughout their lives, requiring constant compromise, suppression of natural desires, and an unending effort to learn how to get through the intersexual swamp.

In other words, there was never any doubt. I wish this was the sort of thing that got talked about regularly, instead of dismissed as a Leftwing Conspiracy. No, Card, we don’t hate you; we wish you had let yourself be happy instead of forcing yourself into a straight relationship and then demanding everyone else be similarly forced. Evolutionary Biology, even as crank and 1950s a science as it is, suggests that homosexual members of society are evolutionarily advantageous. There was never any reason you had to sleep with a woman if you didn’t want to, and there is certainly no excuse for you attempting to force other gay men to sleep with women. Even Ender deserved better than that.

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