Review of “Preposterous Pleasures” by Douglas E. Green. Published in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Critical Essays, pp. 369 – 397. New York: Routledge (2001). Accessed from Google Books.
Green attempts to apply his own queer-oriented analysis of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a manner which re-reads the passing dialogue and behavior of the characters in tandem with subsequent and modern applications of similar language and behavior which would be best, or very differently, understood from a modern LGBT audience’s perspective. Within the statements and dispositions of Helena, Hermia, Nick Bottom and Puck, Green finds “the limitations, slippages and anxieties of the carnival” world in a manner which is most relevant to addressing or even challenging gender and sexual norms (371).
Green explains that the overall tone of the play largely cedes to a notion of heteronormativity, whereby the imperative expectation of heterosexuality, no matter the level of mere homosociality present at any one time in the narrative, largely wins out. But those moments of homosociality or of full-on “disruption,” such as Titania’s unaware tryst with the donkey-headed Nick Bottom or Nick’s abstract sense of comedy, challenge such an imperative. Green also derives a portion of his analysis from plumbing the size and shape of the dialogical “holes” which are left by characters, such as Hermia’s relationship with Helena, as opportunities for queer exploration. Green also repurposes “sodomy” (used in earlier history as a catch-all term for non-vaginal sexual intercourse) as a critique or send-up of the untenable nature of the expectations of female behavior held by males in both the human and fairy societies.
However, what stands out from this article are the stark limitations in drawing queer ideas from the sparse theoretical kernels contained within the text, constraints under which Green takes great pains to make his analysis. For example, etymological evidence (the use of “arse,” “ass” and “bottom” as telltale vocabulary hinting toward the perverse, despite their differing definitions in the context of the play and its era of publication) has to be stretched at times in order to further justify the thesis. To reiterate, Green finds his greatest strength in analyzing the almost-pervasive textual silence in order to take the reader along logical paths into the thicket of relevant questions such as “who does the seeing”, “who does the acting”, “who does the paying”, in order to provide the reader with a non-narrative, participatory context (383).
.Because his analysis takes into account the difficulty in interpretation of such parallel reading of the material, one is more likely to assume that only a significant revision of the work could lead to a more obvious inclusion, and a greater inclusion overall, of queer identity in the work. It is in this that, toward the end, Green looks toward the character of Puck, the most behaviorally-disruptive of the characters even while operating under constraints, as the one who provides the greatest opportunity for the play’s “queering.” It is he who, through his magic, provides Nick Bottom with the donkey’s head (a “perverse” act in itself), one with whom Titania engages in a drug-addled romantic tryst in which she is allowed much of her own cognizance as to the conduct of her romance, ironically catching Oberon (who had given her the drug which was provided to him by Puck) off guard. Green states that “Puck is the very possibility of the perverse operating within yet against constraints, of pleasures beyond constraints […] the very constraints he has been sent to enforce” (387). It is within Puck and the context of permitting disruptive attraction that Green finally finds the opening for queer questioning of heterosexist assumptions, and in this, Puck paves the way for easier queer-affirmative re-readings and revisions of the play.