This topic was inspired by gobear, who asserted in another thread that William Shakeaspeare was gay.
Okay, maybe not entirely phooey, but not really all that likely, IMH Cafe Society O.
The evidence for Shakespeare’s homosexuality or bisexuality rests entirely on the first hundred or so of the sonnets, in which the poet/narrator sings the praises of a young nobleman. They are certainly sexually-charged at points, though there is nothing that indicates any sort of physical relationship between the two men. The sonnets certainly raise some questions about the author’s sexuality, but there’s nothing there that clearly demonstrates homosexual desire. Sucking up to a young patron is at least as likely an explanation for the sonnets, compared to sexual orientation.
The context of the sonnets further argues against any expression of homosexual desire. Elizabethan/Jacobean England was not a great place to be openly gay. Just ask Kit Marlowe. Yet the sonnets were freely passed around among Shakespeare’s friends–I can dig up the cite, if needed–and were published without so much as a hint of scandal near the end of his literary career. Even a simple comparison between the nobleman sonnets and the sonnets addressed to the dark lady indicates the poet/narrator had a much greater passion (albeit transformed to hate) for the dark lady than the noble youth.
Of course, relatively little is known about the details of Shakespeare’s life. But what we do know supports a heterosexual orientation rather than homosexuality or bisexuality. There is no question that Shakespeare got Anne Hathaway pregnant and then married her, eventually becoming father to three children. The records indicate that he returned to Stratford regularly throughout his years as an actor, writer, and businessman in London. And of course, it was to Stratford and his wife that Shakespeare retired when he quit the London theater world.
In contrast to the well-documented facts of his marriage, there is no contemporaneous evidence of homosexual orientation on Shakespeare’s part. One would expect his business and literary rivals to make make some sort of complaint if they were getting usurped by a gay guy. They did not. This silence strongly contrasts with Marlowe, who was roundly condemned for his apparent homosexuality.
But if the assertion of homosexuality is to rest on purely literaary grounds, the plays and poems strongly argue in favor of Shakespeare’s heterosexuality. They guy practically invented the modern concept of romantic love, and he did it entirely within the context of relationships between men and women. Out of more than thirty plays, I can think of only one obvious homosexual relationship, that of Achilles and Patroclus in Troilus and Cressida. And though T & C isn’t one of the plays I best remember, my recollection is that Achilles’ homosexuality was an excuse to make fun of the big, bad warrior.
The only other play that even approaches a homosexual relationship is As You Like It, where Rosalind poses as a boy and she and the Duke fall in love with each other. Again, the gender-bending is played for laughs, and the two don’t manage to hook up for real until Rosalind reveals her real gender. (Though I once saw a production where the public revelation was more or less blackmail to force the duke to marry her, but that seems like a big stretch to me.) Aside from that, we’re pretty much talking about offhand jokes and snide innuendo scattered throughout the plays.
In short, though there are some very interesting bits of text in the sonnets, it is impossible to affirmatively assert that Shakespeare was gay. The rest of the canon and what biographical data we have strongly indicate a heterosexual orientation.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.