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Thread: Was Shakespeare gay?

  1. #1
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Was Shakespeare gay?

    I have heard rumours

  2. #2
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Well he was married with several children. Obviously he could perform sexually with a woman.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

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    seasonably mediocre Il Penseroso's Avatar
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    He definitely has gender blurring themes in his plays and sonnet sequence (what is it, Sonnet 21 that's the "out of the closet sonnet"?), but beyond that I don't see much use in too much speculation. The themes as presented in his works are what is important.
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  4. #4
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Il Penseroso View Post
    He definitely has gender blurring themes in his plays and sonnet sequence (what is it, Sonnet 21 that's the "out of the closet sonnet"?), but beyond that I don't see much use in too much speculation. The themes as presented in his works are what is important.
    I agree Il Pens. It's not that important. The gender reversal themes in his plays were not unusal for his time, but it's hard to explain away the sonnets.

    Petrarch's Love (a member here on lit net for those who don't know her) is a real expert on Shakespeare.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  5. #5
    I controls the spice! princesspoppi's Avatar
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    Who cares? The man was a genius!!
    There are only two ways to live your life.
    One is as though nothing is a miracle.
    The other is as if everything is.
    - Albert Einstein

  6. #6
    Registered User Ultimo's Avatar
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    He was'nt gay. He was italian.

  7. #7
    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Perhaps bi-sexual? Not that it matters, or course, but there are elements of both heterosexual and homosexual love in his plays, albeit that the latter is a lot subtler.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

  8. #8
    Registered User Ultimo's Avatar
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    Sure it was the english influence...

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    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    The rumors stem from a modern day misunderstanding of Elizabethan platonic love between men which is displayed in some of the sonnets. The other sonnets to the Dark Lady reflect a very different passion indeed.

    X
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

  10. #10
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xman View Post
    The rumors stem from a modern day misunderstanding of Elizabethan platonic love between men which is displayed in some of the sonnets. The other sonnets to the Dark Lady reflect a very different passion indeed.

    X
    I've made that argument too. There is nothing in any of the plays that would suggest homosexuality or even bi-sexuality. I've maintained that it was a poetic stance he takes in the sonnets emulating classical Greek culture. But Petrarch's Love (here on lit net, who's quite knowledgable and who's opinion I greatly respect) disagrees with me. It's a question we can forever fathom without ever coming to a conclusion.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  11. #11
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    He, from reading the sonnets, would appear bi-sexual. The first 126 are undoubtedly addressed to a youthful male, whereas last 28 would appear to be addressed to a woman, seemingly older.

    Everything else is just speculation, but it doesn't matter much. He almost unquestionably was open minded when it came to homosexuality, and doesn't seem to show any "god fear" in terms of his relationships. But either way, it still doesn't matter - Shakespeare's biography is virtually invisible.

    I think the debate generally goes like this, "He never openly said he liked to have sex with men, therefore he wasn't gay."

    "true, but couldn't that just be you not being able to come to terms with his sexuality, since he was that great an author, and our culture for the longest time, and still today, has been, and is, homophobic?"

    "Show me the quote."

    "Why do we even need one? What's so wrong about him addressing a love poem to a male?"

    Generally it doesn't matter. I would think he had sexual feelings towards men - whether he acted or not is not really the point however. The debate has been dragged on about Walt Whitman as well, and quite frankly, it's rather tiresome.
    Last edited by JBI; 02-16-2009 at 11:53 PM.

  12. #12
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Hi Kelby_Lake--The issue of whether Shakespeare had homosexual tendencies or not has long been a question of interest and debate. As Virgil pointed out, he was married and had children, though that wouldn't rule out being gay, especially in the context of the times. As xman points out above, you also have to be careful about reading too much into expressions of affection between men in Renaissance verse, since feelings associated with purely platonic friendship between men could be expressed in terms of their "love" or "affection" for one another.

    That said, I personally find it difficult to read the sonnets without some sense that he at least felt some sort of physical attraction toward men, or at least one very good looking young man. My own sense is that he was probably attracted to both women and men to some extent, though whether he was actively gay is another matter. The sonnet most often cited is #20, which describes the "Master Mistress" of my passion, and is at least playing with the idea of being very physically attracted to the young man. Even apart from that, his feelings for and jealousy over the young man seem to push the boundary of the platonic even for the Elizabethan age.

    The true answer is, though, that we will probably never know for sure what his feelings were or whether he had any relationships outside his marriage with men or women. Certainly, the sonnets aren't anywhere near as explicit as Barnfield, whose poems to Ganymede are pretty unambiguous, or a play like Christopher Marlowe's Edward II which tackles the question of a gay relationship in about as straightforward a manner as the period would permit. Still, in the 1640 edition of Shakespeare's sonnets, the editor John Benson was famously uneasy enough about the potential for certain sonnets to be read as being homosexual love poems, that he changed the masculine pronouns to feminine ones in many of the sonnets to make it look like they had been written to a woman. Furthermore, they were most commonly published this way for nearly a century afterward. 1640 is close enough to Shakespeare's lifetime, that I doubt this sort of editorial change would have been made if Shakespeare's sonnets had not struck Benson and others as somehow being outside the normal boundaries of homosocial affection for that period.
    Last edited by Petrarch's Love; 02-17-2009 at 12:13 AM.

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  13. #13
    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Petrarch's Love View Post
    The sonnet most often cited is #20, which describes the "Master Mistress" of my passion, and is at least playing with the idea of being very physically attracted to the young man.
    Ah yes. Sonnet #20. The one which ends;
    "But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
    Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure."

    The sense I get is that of a best friend spending all his time with a woman instead of Sunday night football with the boys.

    There is no doubt that Will loved the young man, but whether he slept with him, or even wanted to is not something we can say is true. There simply isn't enough evidence. It's all speculation.

    X
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    I've made that argument too. There is nothing in any of the plays that would suggest homosexuality or even bi-sexuality.
    I'd respectfully have to disagree with you there. A lot of them have (to a greater or lesser degree) subtexts of homosexuality. Consider the Merchant of Venice, and the strength of the relationship between Antonio and an increasingly distant Bassanio, and how it is always described in terms of love, often at the expense of the passion of Bassanio's relationship to Portia. Another example, if you will, would be in As You Like It, where you have the stange sexual androgeny of Rosalind when she becomes Ganymede, and particularly when Oliver and Phoebe try to seduce her as such.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

  15. #15
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    I'd respectfully have to disagree with you there. A lot of them have (to a greater or lesser degree) subtexts of homosexuality. Consider the Merchant of Venice, and the strength of the relationship between Antonio and an increasingly distant Bassanio, and how it is always described in terms of love, often at the expense of the passion of Bassanio's relationship to Portia. Another example, if you will, would be in As You Like It, where you have the stange sexual androgeny of Rosalind when she becomes Ganymede, and particularly when Oliver and Phoebe try to seduce her as such.
    You are right, at least about Antonio and Bassanio. Their friendship is expressed in terms of love and could be seen as beyond the bounds of heterosexual male friendship by today's standards. But the point of the play was for Bassanio to marry Portia. That is a male with a female. I do think as Xman points out that the way males expressed friendship varies at different eras. As to the several plays, including As You Like It, where characters disguise themselves in the opposite gender's clothing, frankly that's a sort of game that Shakespeare is playing. I guess if you're looking for homosexuality, you will see that. If one is looking for homosexuality, one sees it in anything. There are people who see "latent" homosexuality in Hemingway's novels between various macho men.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

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