Arthur Miller opens Act Two of A View from the Bridge with two kisses. The first kiss is forced upon Catherine by her uncle, Eddie. The second kiss, also initiated by Eddie, is a kiss between two men – him and Rodolpho. That second kiss, played on a stage eleven years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, meant that A View from the Bridge was originally performed not in a ‘theatre’ but a ‘club’. The Lord Chamberlain censored Miller’s play and refused it a theatre performance license – apparently it was seen as too strong a promotion of homosexuality.
I think the Lord Chamberlain got it wrong there – not just because I think we should be able to see two men kissing on stage, but also because, like the kiss between Eddie and Catherine moments before, the kiss between Eddie and Rodolpho is not an act of eroticism but an act of violence, an insult which is intended to destroy any sense of Rodolpho’s masculinity, and assert Eddie’s position of authority. There’s a reason why the Lord Chamberlain didn’t take issue with the kiss between Eddie and Catherine: it fit in with an image of the world that they might not have felt comfortable with, but it was an image of the world that they clearly weren’t uncomfortable enough with to stop. Why was that?
The kiss between Eddie and Rodolpho is now woven into a mythology of sorts, where the primal instincts which initiate physical contact between men are simultaneously viewed as violent and painful, erotic and hedonistic. This mythology has been dated as far back as the Book of Genesis, as Jacob wrestled with the Angel through the night and “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.” It probably goes even further back than that.
Erotic acts between men are viewed as violent, and violent acts between men are viewed as erotic, because the very acts of a man touching another man (outside social cues such as a handshake) have long been seen as transgressive, a breaking of long upheld social codes which are never meant to be broken.
In A View from the Bridge, Eddie is in a state of hysteria when he breaks the social codes that tell him not to kiss Rodolpho – he has to be. In the world that Miller’s writing in, it’s the only way that this kiss can make sense. The hysteria that is felt around men kissing other men in Miller’s world is something that I feel like we’re still seeing in today’s society, even if in law a lot of the legislature that helped to enforce the aggression around same sex kisses, sex, marriage, adoption and education, and the legislature which pushed A View from the Bridge out of a ‘theatre’ space, has been slowly amended or revoked. That hysteria, the viciousness and animosity around men kissing other men that you’ll see at the beginning of Act Two is still around. Even in places where I thought we were safe.
By Matthew Ingram
Matthew is an emerging writer for TV, radio and stage, who has recently been long-listed for the inaugural Wales Writer in Residence Award.