Homework Help

Was Shakespeare gay or bisexual? Was Shakespeare gay or bisexual? Was he in love with a...

user profile pic

sanjhu18 | Student, Undergraduate

Posted January 11, 2009 at 7:46 PM via web

dislike 2 like
Was Shakespeare gay or bisexual?

Was Shakespeare gay or bisexual? Was he in love with a man?

6 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher

Posted January 16, 2009 at 12:43 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

Shakespeare was probably no more attracted to (or confused by) the idea of same-gender sex than most other people. He was married with kids but he spent decades living in London away from his family. There's anecdotal evidence of girlfriends. He wrote some 'love' poetry to a young man but in those days that didn't mean it was sexual. No-one thinks he had a long-term intimate relationship with a man and it's impossible to categorically prove he never had sex with one.  

In the end, we don't know what he got up to in private or with who. There's no hard evidence of gay activity. Militant gays try to 'claim' him in order to improve their attempts to gain mainstream acceptance, but I don't think they have anything definite to make their case. I think they are just highlighting the uncertainty.

In the end... it's his own private business who he slept with. He chose to withold that information. His sexuality does not change what he wrote. Shakespeare's 'gayness' or 'straightness' should not change our opinion of his humanity and genius. 

user profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted January 16, 2009 at 12:43 PM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

It's a very complex question.

First thing to say is that the Elizabethans didn't have "straight" and "gay", but that it was widely accepted socially (though, of course, not religiously) that a man could be attracted to men (usually boys) and women in a fluid way. It wasn't about being gay, straight, bi or anything else. It was just who you wanted to sleep with and be in love with right then.

The sextet of Sonnet 20, which addresses a male, offers a pretty clear indication that its speaker is thinking sexually about a male ("thing" means "penis", and "nothing" means vagina):

And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Shakespeare's plays also contain several characters who can be (and are!) interpreted as "gay": notably the Antonios in "The Merchant of Venice" and "Twelfth Night". Shakespeare's friend, Christopher Marlowe, certainly slept with other men - and Shakespeare's comedies are packed full of sexual/gender confusion.

So Shakespeare wouldn't think of himself as "gay", but may well have had relationships with a man (what happened to his marriage to Anne H. all those years he was in London?). As usual with Shakespeare's biography, we can never really know.

user profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 23, 2010 at 4:53 PM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

I'm always interested in this question, because I guess I just don't see why in the world it matters.  He was clearly a sexual being, and robertwilliam has it right in describing Elizabethan sexuality as "fluid."  If Shakespeare was gay, I shudder to think of his work somehow being absorbed into the narrow category of gay and lesbian literature.  His work, it seems to me, is transcendent and does not belong in any restricted category.  I have nothing at all against gay and lesbian literature, but it strikes me as being shallow to categorize any good writer in such a way--women, African-American, whatever.  Same principle. Good literature is good literature and good writers are good writers.

user profile pic

litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 15, 2011 at 4:06 PM (Answer #5)

dislike 0 like

Some people think so, partly because of the content of his poems and partly because of the plays.  I think most of the content in the plays was a type of humor that we don't understand, and I just think that poems are being re-interpreted grasping at straws.

user profile pic

kingscross

Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:59 PM (Answer #6)

dislike 0 like

Shakespeare was probably no more attracted to (or confused by) the idea of same-gender sex than most other people. He was married with kids but he spent decades living in London away from his family. There's anecdotal evidence of girlfriends. He wrote some 'love' poetry to a young man but in those days that didn't mean it was sexual. No-one thinks he had a long-term intimate relationship with a man and it's impossible to categorically prove he never had sex with one.  

In the end, we don't know what he got up to in private or with who. There's no hard evidence of gay activity. Militant gays try to 'claim' him in order to improve their attempts to gain mainstream acceptance, but I don't think they have anything definite to make their case. I think they are just highlighting the uncertainty.

In the end... it's his own private business who he slept with. He chose to withold that information. His sexuality does not change what he wrote. Shakespeare's 'gayness' or 'straightness' should not change our opinion of his humanity and genius. 

Although militant heterosexuals try to argue that Shakespeare's homoerotic verse is the opposite to what it appears to be to any unbiased reader in an effort to deny gay people mainstream acceptance, one only has to read the sonnets to see that The Bard was clearly trying to get into the breeches of at least one young nobleman.

 

user profile pic

crawfordj | Student, Grade 9

Posted October 19, 2012 at 8:15 PM (Answer #7)

dislike 0 like

Some people think so, partly because of the content of his poems and partly because of the plays.  I think most of the content in the plays was a type of humor that we don't understand, and I just think that poems are being re-interpreted grasping at straws.

very true

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes