Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
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Cite as: James Miller, ‘Man with Snake: Dante in Derek Jarman’s Edward II’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati, Fabio Camilletti, and Fabian Lampart, Cultural Inquiry, 2 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 213–34 <https://doi.org/10.25620/ci-02_13>

Man with SnakeDante in Derek Jarman’s Edward IIJames Miller

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia – Inferno; productive reception; film adaptions; Jarman, Derek – Edward II; gay culture; queer theory

A figura serpentinata is revealed in a flash of muscular glory. His pose is classical: a seductive contrapposto. His physique strikes the freeze-framing eye of temptation as youthfully beautiful without being boyish. Who might he be?

At first glance he looks like a Renaissance statue of Fortitude or Dignity based on a Greco-Roman prototype. The passionate torsion of his chest and the thrust of his outstretched arms recall the coiling agon of the sons in the Laocoön group, but no agony appears in his beardless face. He bravely stands on his own, detached from the venomous attack of time. The play of his limbs is more erotic than tragic. He could be playing Hercules in a wooing mood, a cocky lad showing off his biceps in a comic mime of his snake-handling infancy; or perhaps he assumes a more serious role, Apollo attacking Pytho, say, or Asclepius averting the Plague. Though the hero of this wordless masque is clearly mythological, his significance (moral or otherwise) escapes the constricting glosses of art history. To the connoisseurial eye his posturing begins to look suspect. The patina of ancient glamour seems a little faux. Surely his gym-built core is too deltoid for a Levantine kouros and too buff for a Florentine saint.

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