William Shakespeare

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Title page of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, published posthumously in 1623

William Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564 – died 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's best playwright. His surviving works include approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 narrative poems, and some miscellaneous verse. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than any other playwright, alive or dead.

Sexuality of William Shakespeare

The sexuality of William Shakespeare is disputed.

The consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage licence on 27 November 1582 for William Shakespeare, who was 18 at the time, and Anne Hathaway, who was 26. Six months later, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, followed about two years later by twins named Hamnet and Judith. After only three years of marriage, Shakespeare left the family and moved to London. Little is known about his life during his first few years there, but his plays were being performed on stage by 1592.

Other evidence that Shakespeare was attracted to women includes an unconfirmed reference to an affair with a woman by a lawyer named John Manningham, and the 26 love sonnets to a married woman, the so-called "Dark Lady".

Other sonnets are suggested by some scholars as evidence that Shakespeare may have been bisexual, however. Many other sonnets were addressed to a "Fair Lord" or "Fair Youth", most commonly believed to be Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, or William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who were both among Shakespeare's patrons. Although the only direct references to sexual acts and physical lust are found in the Dark Lady sonnets, many of the Fair Lord sonnets place considerable emphasis on the young man's physical beauty and some scholars have read certain passages as expressions of homoerotic desire. For example, in Sonnet 20, the poet refers to the younger man as the "master-mistress of my passion". That particular line has been used to call Shakespeare's sexuality into question since at least 1780, when early Shakespearean scholar George Steevens remarked "it is impossible to read this fulsome panegyrick, addressed to a male object, without an equal mixture of disgust and indignation"[1] and the controversy has continued throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, with some scholars arguing that for the homoerotic interpretation and others that the sonnets are expressions of intense platonic love.

LGBT Characters and Themes in Shakespeare's Plays

Under construction and incomplete

In Elizabethan times, all roles, male and female, were played by male actors, as women were not allowed on the stage. Many of Shakespeare's plays involve crossdressing, especially female characters pretending to be men. Sometimes this resulted in characters inadvertently falling in love with characters of the same-sex, such as Olivia falling in love with Viola, who is disguised as a man named Cesario, in Twelfth Night. Viola, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Duke Orsino, who is himself in love with Olivia. (Ah, Shakespeare.) Despite his feelings for Olivia, Orsino is not above noticing the beauty of his ostensibly male page Cesario, as we see with lines such as these:


Dear lad, believe it;
For they shall yet belie thy happy years,
That say thou art a man: Diana's lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part.

Troilus and Cressida contains several references to the disputed nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, which many believe was homosexual.

THERSITES: Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk: thou art thought to be Achilles' male varlet.

PATROCLUS: Male varlet, you rogue! what's that?

THERSITES: Why, his masculine whore.

Some scholars have argued that The Merchant of Venice depicts a love triangle between an older man (Antonio), a younger man (Bassanio), and a woman (Portia).

LGBT Characters and Themes in Adaptations of Shakespeare's Works

Under construction and incomplete

In Were the World Mine, a bullied gay teenager turns the narrow-minded citizens of his town homosexual with the help of a magic flower after he is cast as Puck in a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In a 2004 film adaptation of 'The Merchant of Venice' starring Joseph Fiennes and Jeremy Irons, the two men share a kiss.

The two actors had contradictory ideas about the meaning of the kiss. In an article published by ABC.net.au, they shared their different perspectives:

Joseph Fiennes, who plays Bassanio, is comfortable with the kiss and the idea that the two men may be lovers.

"I would never invent something before doing my detective work in the text," Fiennes said.

"If you look at the choice of language ... you'll read very sensuous language. That's the key for me in the relationship. The great thing about Shakespeare and why he's so difficult to pin down is his ambiguity.

"He's not saying they're gay or they're straight, he's leaving it up to his actors. I feel there has to be a great love between the two characters ... there's great attraction.

"I don't think they have slept together but that's for the audience to decide."

Jeremy Irons, who plays Antonio, was less convinced that the merchant was motivated by more than deep friendship.

"Be very careful if you see two men kissing each other that you don't jump to the wrong conclusions," Irons said.

"In Shakespeare's time, male platonic love was the highest form of love. Male platonic affection was regarded as a higher form of love to male-female, even husband and wife.

"It's important that there be a strong love. I didn't want it to be a homosexual love because that's an easy option. I didn't feel there were any clues.

"I was very surprised when Bassanio kissed me. And he only did it in one take."[2]


Fanworks for Shakespeare's works often include slash or femslash ships, with the most popular being Hamlet/Horatio and Mercutio/Benvolio.


  1. Rollins, HE., The Sonnets, New Variorum Shakespeare, vol. 25 II, Lippincott, 1944, p. 55.
  2. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2004-12-29/was-the-merchant-of-venice-gay/609696

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