Was William Shakespeare gay? Experts are divided

Dina Rickman@dinarickman
Thursday 27 November 2014 10:00

His identity is one of the literary world's enduring controversies, with some suggesting William Shakespeare was not a glover's son from Stratford but instead a woman, or Francis Bacon, or Christopher Marlowe.

Shakespeare's sexuality has also been widely debated, with scholars most recently using the Times Literary Supplement's (TLS) letters page to argue over whether or not the playwright was gay.

Visiting UCL professor Sir Brian Vickers began the debate, writing that a book review published in the TLS was wrong to state that Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 was in a "primarily homosexual context".

However Shakespearean scholar Arthur Freeman disagreed, writing no "responsible editor" would dismiss the possibility "of homosexual, as well as heterosexual passion" being behind the sonnets.

Professor Stanley Wells, the Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, also took issue with Sir Brian's argument, writing: "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."

Actor Ian McKellen has previously questioned Shakespeare's sexuality while in 2010 Scottish poet Don Paterson wrote of the playwright's sexuality:

The question: "was Shakespeare gay?" strikes me as so daft as to be barely worth answering. Of course he was. Arguably he was bisexual, of sorts, but his heart was never on his straight side.

  • Don Paterson

Sonnet 116 in full:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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