At any public talks, this one is a popular question from the audience and students: Was shakespeare gay? Revealingly, this question is usually posed in a way that draws immediate attention to the debate; ‘Is it true that Shakespeare was gay?’ or ‘I asked my teacher if Shakespeare was gay and she said no. What do you think?’
But recently, two academics analysed William Shakespeare’s sonnets and have drawn the conclusion that he was ‘undeniably bisexual’; not gay.
Bi or gay?:
For many years people have disputed about whether this England’s greatest playwright was gay or bi. Despite the fact that he wrote many of his sonnets to men.
Those who did end up realising that he wasn’t straight, tended to usually argue that he was gay. However, what’s interesting is that he was also in a relationship with a woman for 34 years. He was married to Anne Hathaway and had 3 children with her as well.
Now Sir Stanley Wells and Dr Paul Edmondson performed their analysis on all of Shakespeare’s 182 sonnets.
They said that these sonnets are ‘some of the most powerfully lyrical, resonant and memorable poems ever written; about what it feels like to experience romantic love’.
In the end they conclude: ‘The language of sexuality in some of the sonnets, which are definitely addressed to a male subject; leaves us in no doubt that Shakespeare was bisexual.’
Shakespeare’s married life:
Shakespeare lived on this planet between the 1564 and 1616. He tied the knot with Anne Hathaway in the year 1582, and he was only 18 years old. While she was 26. At the time of their wedding, Anne was already pregnant with their first baby. They later went on to have twins from another pregnancy.
When Shakespeare left this planet three decades later, it is said that he left Anne only his ‘second best bed’ in the will. This is not a sign that he never loved Anne; in fact it might have been their marital bed also. All his other belongings went to one of their daughters.
Shakespeare’s bisexaulity clealry visible in his sonnets:
William Shakespeare began writing the famous 182 sonnets, four years prior to his marriage in 1578. Edmondson and Wells have confirmed that Shakespeare wrote 27 of them at least, to men; when compared to the ten he wrote to women.
However, Edmondson and Wells also fight the idea that all of them are about either a Fair Youth or a Dark Lady.
They instead make claims that these characters were used to refer to multiple people. “The language of sexuality in some of the sonnets, which are definitely addressed to a male subject; leaves us in no doubt that Shakespeare was bisexual,” Dr Edmondson said to The Independent.
“It’s become fashionable since the mid-1980s to think of Shakespeare as gay. But he was married and had children. “Some of these sonnets are addressed to a female and others to a male. To reclaim the term bisexual seems to be quite an original thing to be doing.”
Vickers is a visiting professor at University College London/ He asserts that a Times Literary Supplement book review was absolutely false to state that Shakespeare’s 119th sonnet was written in a “primarily homosexual context”.
“When a poet whose name is William writes poems of anguished and unabashed sexual frankness which pun on the word ‘will’; 13 times in [Sonnet] No 135… It is not unreasonable to conclude that he may be writing from the depths of his own experience,” Professor Wells argued.
A three way relationship?
Previously many academics have believed that the first 126 sonnets out of the 182, are addressed to ‘Fair Youth’. Who is most likely believed to be Shakespeare’s patron and the third Earl of Southampton – Henry Wriothesley.
Moreover they even thought that sonnets 127 to 154 were all addressed to a certain ‘Dark Lady’; who is assumed to be a possible brothel owner called ‘Black Luce’.
But now Wells and Edmondson shatter all these barriers by saying that he wrote the sonnets about multiple men and women. They even point out that the sonnets from 40 to 42 and 133 to 134 – all point towards a three-way relationship.
Back in those days, homosexuality was persecuted – with the shadow of the Henry VIII’s 1533 Buggery Act still in the atmosphere. But Shakespeare without any question had transgender actors. And one of his contemporaries, Christopher Marlowe wrote unashamedly everything about gay love.
Head to this space to discover more theories about Shakespeare’s sexuality.
On the 10th of September, Cambridge University Press will publish Wells and Edmondsons’ book, All the Sonnets of Shakespeare.