Was Shakespeare gay, and does it matter?

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, Let me not to the marriage of accurate minds, has of latest years grow to be as common a recitation at weddings as recitals of Frank Sinatra’s My Way at funerals.

If broad discover is taken of a present spat in excess of what we can go through about Shakespeare’s sexuality into the sonnets in the correspondence columns of the Occasions Literary Supplement, Sonnet twenty might be a future favourite at civil unions. The opening line, to remind you, is A woman’s face with nature’s personal hand painted / Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion.

And the finish couplet is: But since she [Nature] prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure, / Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

The two TLS spatters are Sir Brian Vickers, wholly sceptical, and Stanley Wells – inclined to study Shakespeare’s personal gay emotions into the poems. Vickers’s countering line is that one particular should presume the poet is the “poet’s persona”, no a lot more Shakespeare than Hamlet is Shakespeare. Wells thinks the sonneteer is, indeed, Shakespeare himself in propria persona (this is, don’t forget, the TLS, not saloon bar at the Canine and Duck).

These distinguished scholars’ interest in intercourse and the sonnets is, a single may possibly suspect, wholly academic. They are well into that stage of existence in which Shakespeare says (rather unkindly) the “heyday in the blood is tame”. There is something rather touching about two greybeards, effectively into their Polonius years with a combined age of 155, speculating about what was bubbling up in the Bard’s twentysomething gonads and no matter whether it spurts into the poems.

Sonnets, 1 must note in passing, are hard to study – specifically as they move on to the “sestet”, or last 6 lines. They are also particularly difficult to write in English. As George Orwell mentioned, the cross that English poets have to bear is too couple of rhyme phrases (how a lot of for “love”? glove / dove / above – that’s it). There are infinitely more in Italian – the house of the sonnet.

Though it has supplied some “slow news day” fodder the Shakespeare-sex-and-sonnet situation is by no implies new. Victorians were nicely aware of it Oscar Wilde cited the sonnets in his doomed trial. It did not help.

“Sodometries” – especially in Renaissance (now renamed Early Modern) literature – has been around as a vital technique ever given that the rise of the queer theory in the 1970s. Shakespeare’s very likely bisexuality has been factored, unexcitedly, into modern day biography. In one particular of the ideal of the latest ones (Shakespeare Unbound, 2007) René Weis has a cool and illuminatingly open-minded evaluation of whether the earlier sonnets (like 20) are directed at the youthful and glamorous Earl of Southampton, the poet’s patron and feasible really like object. Weis also discusses whether, in their “madcap twenties”, Shakespeare and the much more overtly gay Christopher Marlowe had an affair.

Was Shakespeare gay? Was he bisexual? Was he both or the two of the over at distinct instances of his lifestyle? Would he have divulged the fact? Buggery was punishable by hanging right up until 1861. And, the greatest query of all: does it matter?

I believe it does because Shakespeare is a “living” writer and how we study him has an effect on how he is carried out. Need to 1 make Osric in Hamlet openly gay (and what about Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern)? Ought to a director accentuate a gay theme in The Merchant of Venice (Weis thinks yes), or in the transvestite subplot in Twelfth Night? Was Shakespeare bisexual? I’d chance Vickers’ wrath by thinking possibly yes. Get yet another seem at Sonnet 20.

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