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Governments, publishers, editors, and even gay writers themselves have censored gay content in literature from the Renaissance to the present.

Traditional culture has typically tried to render homosexuality totally silent, as reflected in the long-standing stigma of homosexuality's "unspeakableness." The most famous expression of this notion in gay history is probably Oscar Wilde's reference to same-sex love as "the love that dare not speak its name" in the first of his 1895 trials, a phrase he took from Lord Alfred Douglas's 1894 poem, "Two Loves."

But the claim has a long and continuing life. In the post-classical West, it was first voiced, as far we know now, in the twelfth century, in Peter Cantor's tract, "On ," where he denounces "intercourse of men with men and women with women" as "ignominious and unspeakable," and it continues into the present, as reflected in the "don't ask, don't tell" policy recently adopted toward gays in the American military.

One chief expression of this stigma of homosexuality's total "unspeakableness" has been the censorship of homosexual writing, a censorship that has taken three main forms: government, institutional, or commercial censorship; censorship of homosexual content or of an author's homosexuality by later editors, translators, critics, or biographers; and self-censorship by homosexual writers themselves.

Although censorship of heterosexual writing has also occurred, traditional culture's double standard about heterosexuality and homosexuality has applied here as everywhere else. For example, though some heterosexual representation (such as graphic sexual depictions) has been declared obscene and unpublishable, traditionally any homosexual depiction, including plain statements of love, has been labeled iniquitous.

This subject has gone unresearched until now, and space only permits mention of some its highlights. But, from the present evidence, we find concerted instances of the second two kinds of censorings from at least the early Renaissance onward.

Editorial Censorship: The Renaissance

Ficino's Latin translation and commentary on the Symposium (1469), at the start of the Renaissance rediscovery of Plato, is one of the earliest records we have of censorship of homosexual writing by later editors, translators, critics, or biographers. Though accurately indicating the male-male nature of the love in the Symposium, Ficino completely spiritualized that love, erasing the eroticism in the Greek original.

More blatantly, later in the Renaissance Michelangelo the Younger heterosexualized Michelangelo's romantic poems to other males when he prepared his granduncle's poems for their first collected edition in 1623, changing all the "he"'s to "she"'s and omitting other "incriminating" texts--for example, reducing from fifty to five the set of passionate memorial poems Michelangelo wrote about Checchino Bracci in 1544. An accurate version of Michelangelo's poems did not appear until Cesare Gausti's edition of 1863.

At around the same time, in the "Love-Melancholy" section of his Anatomy of Melancholy (first three editions, 1621, 1624, 1628), Robert Burton rendered all of his examples of same-sex love in Latin, while leaving his surrounding discussion of male-female eroticism in English.

A few years later, in 1640, John Benson performed the same operation on Shakespeare as Michelangelo's grandnephew had on him, heterosexualizing the Sonnets in the first collected edition of Shakespeare's poems. This falsified text remained the only available version of the Sonnets for 140 years.

Editorial Censorship: The Eighteenth Century

The first English translations of Plato, Floyer Sydenham's of 1761-1767 and Thomas Taylor's of 1804, far surpassed Ficino's changes. Sydenham completely heterosexualized the text, making Plato's "army of lovers," for instance, an army of knights and ladies.

As soon as the accurate text of Shakespeare's Sonnets was restored in the late eighteenth century, scholars systematically began to deny their homosexuality, a tradition that dominated Shakespeare criticism until the 1980s. For example, in 1799, George Chalmers claimed that Sonnet 20, the famous "Master Mistress" sonnet, "has no appearance of obscenity, if it be chastely examined, without listening to the suggestions of platonism."

Editorial Censorship: The Nineteenth Century

Gerard Manley Hopkins's references to his attraction to Digby Mackworth Dolben and other men in his journal for 1865 were expurgated by the first editor of his Journals and Papers; a faithful text did not appear until 1989. In excluding almost all of Hopkins's early work from the first edition of Hopkins's poems, his executor Robert Bridges made special note of Hopkins's romantic 1865 poems about Dolben, writing in the margin of his autograph copy of "The Beginning of the End," that the first and third sonnets in that sequence "must never be printed"; they were not included until the third edition of 1948.

Along with the Shakespeare of the Sonnets, Walt Whitman is the other major writer in English who has experienced the most blatant heterosexualizing by later commentators. Starting not long after his death in 1892, with scholars like Emory Holloway leading the way and aided by Whitman's own disavowal, the tradition of critical denial of Whitman's homosexuality did not significantly lessen until the work of openly gay Whitman scholars from the late 1970s onward.

Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H. was read homosexually by several critics when it appeared in 1850, and when Hallam Tennyson published his biography of his father in 1897, he omitted all commentary that might have suggested homosexuality in him. For example, he deleted Benjamin Jowett's remark, an allusion to Shakespeare's Sonnets, that "The love of the sonnets which he so strikingly expressed was a sort of sympathy with Hellenism."

In the same year, after the first English publication of John Addington Symonds's and Havelock Ellis's Sexual Inversion, Symonds's scandalized family had his name removed from all future editions.

When the long letter Oscar Wilde wrote to Alfred Douglas from prison in early 1897 was first published under the title of De Profundis in 1905, the editor omitted all references to Douglas and their love affair; a full and accurate text did not appear until 1962.

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In 1933, Charles Henri Ford (above) and Tyler Parker published the frankly gay novel The Young and the Evil in Paris. American and British customs barred copies of the book from entering the United States and England. Portrait by Stathis Orphanos.
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