Experts say William Shakespeare was ‘undeniably bisexual’

Two academics have analysed William Shakespeare’s sonnets and concluded he was ‘undeniably bisexual’.

For years people disputed that England’s greatest playwright was gay or bi – despite him writing 27 of his sonnets to men.

Those who did accept he wasn’t straight tended to argue he was gay. However he was also married for 34 years to a woman.

Now Sir Stanley Wells and Dr Paul Edmondson have analysed Shakespeare’s 182 sonnets.

They say they are ‘some of the most powerfully lyrical, resonant and memorable poems ever written about what it feels like to experience romantic love’.

Moreover they conclude: ‘The language of sexuality in some of the sonnets, which are definitely addressed to a male subject, leaves us in no doubt that Shakespeare was bisexual.’

Shakespeare’s male and female loves

Shakespeare lived between 1564 and 1616. He was just 18 years old when he married Anne Hathaway in 1582. She was 26.

At the time of their wedding, she was already pregnant with their first child. They went on to have twins from another pregnancy later.

Three decades later, when he died, he left her only his ‘second best bed’ in his will. However, this isn’t a sign he didn’t love her, as that may have been their marital bed. His other possessions went to one of their daughters.

But he started writing the 182 sonnets four years before his marriage in 1578.

Wells and Edmondson confirm that he wrote at least 27 of the sonnets to men – compared to just 10 to women.

However, they also dispute the idea that all of them are about either a Fair Youth or a Dark Lady.

Academics previously believed that the first 126 are about the ‘Fair Youth’ – most likely Shakespeare’s patron Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton.

Moreover they thought sonnets 127 to 154 were all about the ‘Dark Lady’ – possibly a brothel owner called ‘Black Luce’.

But now Wells and Edmondson say he wrote the sonnets about multiple men and women. Indeed they say sonnets 40 to 42 and 133 to 134 point to a three-way relationship.

At the time, homosexuality was persecuted – with the shadow of the Henry VIII’s 1533 Buggery Act still lingering. But Shakespeare undoubtedly had transgender actors and one of his contemporaries, Christopher Marlowe wrote unashamedly about gay love.

You can discover more theories about Shakespeare’s sexuality here.

Cambridge University Press will publish Wells and Edmonsons’ book, All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, on 10 September.


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