Was Shakespeare Gay? The Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Thinks So
The debate over the great bard’s sexuality has plagued the minds of scholars for years. Even longer than Shakespeare has plagued high school drama clubs with mind-numbingly terrible performances of his plays. On Friday, Greg Doran, Artistic Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company publicly stated that he believes Shakespeare was most definitely queer.
Doran started off discussing how masterfully Shakespeare was at crafting an outsider-type character. At a time where homosexuality as an identity didn’t exist, the “outsider” was a common literary trope used to describe this unspoken love. It’s also important to remember that although we regard Shakespeare as high-end literature, he spent a good portion of his life slumming it with the degenerates of London. The prestigious Globe Theater which hosted many of Shakespeare’s plays south of the Thames was home mostly to brothels and bear baiting pits. Hell, he might have even been a huge pot smoker.
Doran told BBC Radio 4’s Today:
“I guess a growing understanding of Shakespeare as I have worked with him over the many years that I have, makes me realize that his perspective is very possibly that of an outsider. It allows him to get inside the soul of a black general, a Venetian jew, an Egyptian queen or whatever and that perhaps that outsider perspective has something to do with his sexuality.”
Doran then points out that the key to understanding Shakespeare’s sexuality is in his sonnets.
“(Shakespeare) wrote a cycle of 154 sonnets, which were published in 1609, and 126 of those sonnets are addressed to a man and not to a woman… It wasn’t somehow quite kosher for the great national bard to possibly have affections for his own sex and therefore that process, to kind of whitewash through the sonnets… I am just aware how many times Shakespeare has gay characters, and how sometimes those gay characters are not played as gay, and I think in the 21st century that’s no longer acceptable.”
While Shakespeare did end up marrying Anne Hathaway and having three children, it seems most scholars agree that his sexuality was not as simple as that of a heterosexual. Doran’s most passionate argument stems from queer characters in Shakespeare’s plays being ‘straight-washed.’
When speaking about Antonio from The Merchant of Venice, who is, “absolutely clearly in love with the young man Bassanio,” Doran often sees them played as “friendly chaps.” He went on to say, “It’s clearly a very particular portrait of a gay man and I think in the 21st century it’s no longer acceptable to play that as anything other than a homosexual.” We couldn’t agree more.
Featured image via iStock