Angels in America

Angels in America

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Roy Cohn, both a character in the play and a real-life attorney and political figure, is an elderly lawyer and a mentor to Joe Pitt. Cohn has made his career on smearing his political opponents, as as a friend to Joseph McCarthy, he ruined many prominent Americans’ reputations by accusing them of being Communists or homosexuals. As the play begins, we learn that Roy, in spite of his decades of homophobia, is a closeted homosexual himself, and has contracted the AIDS virus. Furthermore, Cohn has been corrupt throughout his career, even conspiring to ensure the execution for treason of Ethel Rosenberg—a woman who appears before Cohn as a ghost. While it would be easy for Kushner to portray Cohn as a clear-cut villain—the very embodiment of conservative hypocrisy—instead he tries something subtler. Cohn is a cruel, sadistic, hypocrite, but he’s also a human being suffering from a hideous disease, and therefore he merits our sympathy. In his dying days, Cohn becomes more pathetic than terrifying—a small, petty man, overly concerned with winning fights that don’t matter.

Roy Cohn Quotes in Angels in America

The Angels in America quotes below are all either spoken by Roy Cohn or refer to Roy Cohn . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Theatre Communications Group edition of Angels in America published in 2013.
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 9 Quotes

I don't want you to be impressed. I want you to understand. This is not sophistry. And this is not hypocrisy. This is reality. I have sex with men. But unlike nearly every other man of whom this is true, I bring the guy I'm screwing to the White House and President Reagan smiles at us and shakes his hand. Because what I am is defined entirely by who I am. Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who fucks around with guys.

Related Characters: Roy Cohn (speaker), Henry , Ronald Reagan
Page Number: 46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous scene, Roy Cohn--a closeted homosexual Republican who supports Reagan--claims that he's not homosexual at all. Cohn has just found out that he has AIDS, and probably won't survive much longer. And yet Cohn insists that he's not gay--he just has sex with men from time to time. (In real life, Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS, but insisted that he had a rare "liver cancer" right up to the end of his life).

Cohn's argument for why he isn't gay is fascinating and contradictory. Cohn claims that homosexuality is not an act, but rather a label and a state of mind--an inability to be accepted within the American establishment. For Cohn to be accepted by Ronald Reagan is proof that he's straight and "respectable"--even if Cohn has homosexual sex.

Cohn is in denial, of course--he can't accept the fact that he has AIDS, or that he doesn't fit his own conservative ideal. Up until now, Cohn has had an easy time denying his homosexual behavior: his prominence in the Republican community expunges him. But now, Cohn has been "marked" with an undeniable proof of his homosexuality--a disease that (at least at the time) is almost exclusively a homosexual disease. Even after he's diagnosed, however, Cohn continues to cling to his old strategies of denial.

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Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

Yes. Yes. You have heard of Ethel Rosenberg. Yes. Maybe you even read about her in the history books. If it wasn't for me, Joe, Ethel Rosenberg would be alive today, writing some personal-advice column for Ms. magazine. She isn't. Because during the trial, Joe, I was on the phone every day, talking with the judge— Every day, doing what I do best, talking on the telephone, making sure that timid Yid nebbish on the bench did his duty to America, to history. That sweet unprepossessing woman, two kids, boo-hoo-hoo, reminded us all of our little Jewish mamas—she came this close to getting life; I pleaded till I wept to put her in the chair. Me. I did that. I would have fucking pulled the switch if they'd have let me. Why? Because I fucking hate traitors. Because I fucking hate communists. Was it legal? Fuck legal. Am I a nice man? Fuck nice. They say terrible things about me in the Nation. Fuck the Nation. You want to be Nice, or you want to be Effective? Make the law, or subject to it. Choose.

Related Characters: Roy Cohn (speaker), Joe Pitt , Ethel Rosenberg
Page Number: 113-114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Roy Cohn reveals the truth about his career. As a young man, Cohn was instrumental int he execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg--the two Soviet spies who were executed for supposedly stealing American secrets about nuclear technology. Cohn conspired with the judge to ensure that the Rosenbergs would be sentenced to death for their actions (the only time in American history that spies were executed during peacetime).

Cohn's pronouncement is devastating for Joe, to whom Cohn is speaking. Joe has always thought of Cohn as a hero--the very embodiment of Joe's faith in law, justice, and traditional moral values. Now, Joe sees that Cohn isn't anything of the kind: he's an immoral, bloodthirsty man who's perfectly willing to break the law to ensure the death of a mother of two children (whose guilt was in question in the first place). As a supposed defender of family values and wholesome conservatism, Cohn instead shows himself to be morally bankrupt.

Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

He was a terrible person. He died a hard death. So maybe... A queen can forgive her vanquished foe. It isn't easy, it doesn't count if it's easy, it's the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet. Peace, at last. Isn't that what the Kaddish asks for?

Related Characters: Belize / Norman Ariago (speaker), Roy Cohn
Page Number: 265-266
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Belize mourns the death of his patient, Roy Cohn. At the end of his life, Cohn continued to deny his homosexuality and condemn liberals and homosexuals of all kinds--including Belize himself. And yet Belize asks Louis to say a Kaddish for Roy--a Jewish prayer designed to honor his life and his soul.

Previously, Belize has taken care of Cohn out of a sense of obligation (his Hippocratic Oath as a nurse). But now, Belize is going above and beyond, honoring Cohn for the purely moral reason that he wants to wish Cohn well and forgive Cohn for his evildoing. In many ways, Belize is the most loving and compassionate character in the play: he has the strength to show love and respect for people like Cohn, whom he has every reason to despise. Where other characters respond to the AIDs crisis with selfishness and cruelty, Belize responds by showing his courage and capacity to love others--living out his philosophy that life is about people, not principles.

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Roy Cohn Character Timeline in Angels in America

The timeline below shows where the character Roy Cohn appears in Angels in America. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 2
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
A lawyer named Roy Cohn sits in his legal office with a young aspiring lawyer named Joe Pitt. Joe Pitt... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Cohn talks to a client whose court date he missed. Cohn claims he missed the date... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Cohn next takes a phone call from a judge’s wife—he tells Joe Pitt that the judge... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
In between calls, Cohn asks Joe how he likes the appeals court. Joe says he enjoys the responsibility. Cohn... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn offers Joe Pitt a “big” job in the Justice Department in Washington D.C. Joe is... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 9
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Roy Cohn sits in a doctor’s office with his doctor, Henry. Henry tells Cohn about the causes... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Henry tells Cohn that he’s running tests on Cohn. Cohn dares Henry to suggest that he’s homosexual, threatening... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn dismisses Henry’s focus on “labels.” Labels, Cohn explains, are only a way of fitting humans... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 4
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Joe Pitt and Roy Cohn sit in a bar. Joe, totally sober, explains that Harper, his wife, is mentally disturbed,... (full context)
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Abruptly, Joe apologizes to Cohn for opening up about his personal life. Cohn puts his hand on Joe’s back and... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
In the bar, Cohn tells Joe about his long career as a lawyer, working for Joseph McCarthy. He describes... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn and Joe leave the bar. As they walk outside, Cohn gives Joe some startling news:... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 6
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Roy Cohn sits in a restaurant with Martin Heller, Cohn’s friend in the Justice Department, and Joe... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Abruptly, Cohn tells Martin Heller to rub his back, calling him “darling.” Martin obliges, saying that Cohn... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Cohn shows Joe a legal document, explaining that his colleagues are going to try to disbar... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Joe is disturbed by what Cohn is suggesting—he claims that it would be illegal and unethical to interfere with Cohn’s disbarment... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Martin Heller returns to the table, and Joe tells Cohn that he’ll “think about” Cohn’s plan. Martin tells Joe, “You can almost always live with... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 5
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
At Roy Cohn’s house, Joe tells Cohn that he can’t go to Washington D.C.—he has to find his... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn, who seems very drunk, tells Joe that he’s a “dumb Utah hick” for turning down... (full context)
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn calls Joe a sissy. He keeps talking, very drunk and interrupting Joe. Cohn claims that... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Joe is shaken by Cohn’s claims, and he even suggests that Cohn could be guilty of murder. Joe confesses that... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn lies on the ground. Suddenly, a woman appears before CohnCohn greets this woman as Ethel... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 5
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...sings Prior a hymn—“Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” As Belize finishes the hymn, Henry (Roy Cohn’s doctor) walks into the hospital, and Belize hangs up. (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...lord moves in mysterious ways.” Alone, Belize calls Prior back and tells him that Roy Cohn—a conservative icon—is being treated for AIDS. (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 6
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Belize goes to treat Cohn, who’s lying in bed in the hospital. Cohn yells for Belize to get out, and... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Belize stands over Cohn, listening as Cohn talks about his life and his experiences. Cohn boasts that he’s an... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn listens in amazement as Belize tells him how to survive. When Belize falls silent, Cohn... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Alone in his hospital room, Cohn grabs the telephone and calls Martin Heller. Cohn asks Martin Heller to arrange for Cohn... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 1
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Roy Cohn sits in his hospital bed, yelling on the phone. He seems to be having an... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
As Ethel Rosenberg sits in the room, Belize walks in, ordering Cohn to put down the phone so he can take his pills. Cohn yells, “Suck my... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn boasts to Belize that he treats his disease with his own supply of AZT, which... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Belize asks Cohn again and again for pills, and Cohn refuses, calling Belize a “nigger” and a “cunt.”... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn is now alone with Ethel Rosenberg. Ethel boasts that she’s going to watch Cohn’s disbarment... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 4
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
In the hospital, Belize wakes up Roy Cohn so that he can take his pills. Cohn cusses out Belize with ethnic slurs. Belize... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn, still high on morphine, raves and mutters, and Belize doesn’t try to stop him. Belize... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 5
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...the diorama are walking through Brooklyn Heights, but everyone from the previous scene (Joe, Louis, Cohn, Belize, and Ethel Rosenberg) is still onstage. The Mormon Mother points out the skyline of... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 1
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Roy Cohn sits in his hospital bed, Joe Pitt standing over him. Cohn claims that he represents... (full context)
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Joe confesses that he was afraid that Cohn would be angry with him for turning down Cohn’s plan to call off the disbarment... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Cohn asks Joe if Joe’s father ever gave him a blessing, and Joe says no. Cohn... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Joe tells Cohn the truth: he’s abandoned his wife to live with another man. Suddenly, Cohn climbs out... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Belize rushes into the room and pulls Cohn off Joe. He instructs Joe to throw away his bloody shirt, and not touch the... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Back in the hospital, Cohn asks Belize for his real name. Belize explains that his real name is Norman Ariago.... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
As Cohn speaks, Ethel Rosenberg materializes in the hospital room, smiling faintly. Belize cannot see her. (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 2
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Joe rushes outside, where he finds Prior and Belize. Joe immediately recognizes Belize as Cohn’s nurse—something Belize denies unconvincingly. Prior and Belize try to run away from Joe, but Joe... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 3
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...Prior. Belize tells Louis that he’s unimpressed with Louis—he’s been hanging out with Joe, Roy Cohn’s gay lover. Louis is shocked. He had no idea that Joe knew Cohn, whom he... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 8
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...who defeated Joseph McCarthy in court. Louis then attacks Joe for being friends with Roy Cohn, and asks him if he had sex with Cohn. Joe, furious, punches Louis, and when... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 9
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
In the hospital, Roy Cohn lies in bed, singing softly. Suddenly, he notices Ethel Rosenberg sitting beside him. Cohn boasts... (full context)
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Cohn suddenly speaks up. He whispers, “Ma?” and seems to think that Ethel Rosenberg is his... (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Ethel Rosenberg calls Cohn’s name. He doesn’t answer. Then, suddenly, Cohn sits up and shouts, “I’m not dead! I... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 3
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Belize and Louis sneak into Cohn’s hospital room. Belize tells Louis to keep his voice down—they’re there to steal Cohn’s enormous... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 4
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
...at night. He calls Harper on the phone, but doesn’t get an answer. Suddenly, Roy Cohn walks into the room, wearing black. Calmly, Cohn tells Joe that he’s died. (full context)
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Joe angrily attacks Cohn for lying about his AIDS. Cohn shrugs and brings up the fact that Joe recently... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 7
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...door. Belize also says goodbye to Prior—he offers Prior a “gift from a bad fairy”: Cohn’s stash of AZT. Prior studies the pills. He knows they can save his life, but... (full context)