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Bentley, Eric (b. 1916)  
page: 1  2  

He described his personal coming out (as opposed to simply having sexual experiences with other men) and its effect on radicalizing him: "The big moment came when I was willing to commit myself to someone of my own sex who was quite capable of responding in kind. 'Coming out,' if I'm to accept the phrase, means to me: giving up the effort to keep in ignorance anyone who might like to know. Yes, even those who only want this information in order to be hostile. When you're 'out,' this hostility is, well, not exactly welcome but acceptable, almost welcome. You need a bit of fighting spirit in you to accept the new situation. It helps if you are a radical. The situation helps--it can help--to make you radical."

Bentley's most produced play, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been: The Investigations of Show-Business by the Un-American Activities Committee 1947-1958 (1972), is a fictionalized account using transcripts from Congressional hearings that sought to uncover Communists in America. Using pivotal characters such as Lillian Hellman and Paul Robeson, the play clearly advocates for privacy (including the maintenance of closets), but it also supports honesty and self-preservation.

Bentley's The Recantation of Galileo Galilei: Scenes From History Perhaps (1977) is a very different enactment of Galileo's life than Brecht's play, with some readers / viewers discerning a relationship more romantic than professional between Galileo and a young priest. In a 1997 interview, Bentley denied this was the intention when he wrote the play.

Lord Alfred's Lover is about the tumultuous relationship between Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas. In this play, Bentley's most autobiographical work, the climax occurs when Wilde says, "'Posing as a '--the fateful phrase is libel now. I do not pose as a sodomite. I am a sodomite."

Round 2 (1986, 1990) was attacked by many gay critics for reinforcing negative gay stereotypes. Fashioned after Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, the play, which features ten gay characters, presents a series of same-sex sexual encounters. In part to answer criticism that the play was inappropriate in an era when the AIDS epidemic was raging, Bentley later expanded the title to include: New York in the '70s.

In a 1991 interview in The Drama Review, Bentley hypothesized that Round 2 was not well received because "What the straight public doesn't seem to be ready for yet is ordinary gay people."

Bentley won the George Jean Nathan Award in 1965, a Special Citation at the 1977-78 Obie Awards, and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998.

In Bentley's honor, Buffalo's New Phoenix Theater conducts an annual Eric Bentley New Play Competition and mounts a production of the winner. Appropriately, submissions are urged to explore gay themes or to redefine the boundaries of theatricality.

Whether writing from the position of in or out of the closet, Bentley has consistently pushed for more plays to be written about homosexuality, and has insisted that playwrights need to "go further," and say something about same-sex desire without "snatch[ing] it back out of our hands in the last scene with a speech or two about the wickedness of false accusations."

Bud Coleman

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social sciences >> Overview:  The Closet

If the closet has served to institutionalize homosexuality as shameful and inferior vis-à-vis the legitimate heterosexual culture, it has also provided a space of possibility for subversive sexual and political acts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Coming Out

"Coming out" is the revelation or acknowledgment that one is a member of a sexual minority, a process that is at once personal and social and often political.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

literature >> Brecht, Bertolt

Germany's most celebrated and influential dramatist of the twentieth century, Brecht depicted homosexual desire in his early writings, where it is cloaked in ambiguity and tied to issues of power.

social sciences >> Brown, Howard

A distinguished physician and founder of the National Gay Task Force, Dr. Howard Brown helped change the image of gay men and lesbians in the United States.

literature >> Douglas, Alfred Bruce

Lord Alfred Douglas is remembered today for his tumultuous association with Oscar Wilde and as a minor poet.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> George, Stefan

Stefan George, one of the foremost German poets of the turn of the twentieth century, encoded his homosexuality in his works.

literature >> Gogol, Nikolai

Nikolai Gogol's repressed homosexuality is reflected obliquely in nearly all of his works, especially in the fear of marriage that permeates his stories and plays.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.


DiGaetani, John Luis. "The Thinker as Playwright: An Interview with Eric Bentley." The Drama Review 33 (Fall 1991): 90.

Nadon, Daniel-Raymond. "The Gay Man as Thinker: Eric Bentley's Many Closets." Staging Desire: Queer Readings of American Theatre History. Kim Marra and Robert A. Schanke, eds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. 288-310.

Norton, Rictor. "An Interview with Eric Bentley." College English 36.3 (1974): 291-302.

Raymond, Gerard. "A Sage's Advice: Eric Bentley Muses on the Real Life Drama of Love and Sex." The Advocate (April 9, 1991): 75.


    Citation Information
    Author: Coleman, Bud  
    Entry Title: Bentley, Eric  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated May 2, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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