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 Was Shakespeare Gay?

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QuantumCowboy
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PostSubject: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Mon May 05, 2008 7:48 pm

One of the central themes of "Will Will Fulfill", Shakespeare's sonnets in performance at the recent Shakespeare Festival at the PPH, was the idea that Shakespeare was a homosexual. In the author's words, "Isn't it obvious to anyone that can read that Shakespeare was gay?"

Now, I know I've heard this idea before, and I know that Joyce Meadows has a lot of experience with the sonnets, but I'm still not convinced.

The sonnet that appears right after this allegation in the script is one presented as a counterargument against the statement that he is gay:


Sonnet 20

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.


To me, this says that the young man to whom it is addressed is very beautiful and attractive, and that if he were a woman Shakespeare would be all over him, but since the young man is, in fact, a man, Shakespeare must be content to love him as a friend. I cite the last 6 lines as support for this. Others don't read it that way, mainly citing sonnets 56 and 57, among others.

Sonnet 20 is presented as a counterargument in Joyce Meadow's script, but no rebuttal is ever given, at least not that I can recall. Is it really as obvious as she makes it sound?

Now, I googled this the night after I read it for the first time, and have found numerous arguments either way. What do you think, and cite sonnets or other references to back yourself up.

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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Tue May 06, 2008 8:19 am

My, my, that sounds awfully familiar. Seems I've heard (or said) that somewhere before. Anyway, rumor has it that when Colin Cox from Will & Company heard what Joyce said during the sonnets about Shakespeare being gay he went through the roof. Needless to say, I don't think he was pleased with the comment.
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James Jay
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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Tue May 06, 2008 9:16 am

The comment that Joyce made wasn't meant to be an implication. I interpreted that as one of many comments people make about the mysterious bard. I, for one, am not a Shakespeare scholar (duh) but I realize that her opening comments were designed to summarize many ideas, correct or not, that people hold about Will.

In other words, she was presenting all the "evidence" and letting you decide, through the presentation, if he was or not.

I personally don't think he was gay. I think he was enamored with the young man, but I believe he was straight.

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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Tue May 06, 2008 11:02 am

Ok, ok. Here's my 2 cents - as if you really wanted it. What is/was "gay" anyway? If you put the context of a man's relationship with another man, back in his day couldn't we, as some modern folk tend to do, consider almost any man 'gay?' Think about it. Friendships were the only thing that a man could choose for himself. Occupations, marriages, land, social standing, etc., were already chosen for them at birth. So, if a man or a woman found friendship, true friendship, and wrote about that friendship (or painted it, whatever the art form), wouldn't it be naturally assumptive of some modern thinking to assume the gayness of it all?

I, personally, do not believe that Shakespeare was gay. He, obviously, loved women way more than men. His writing leads more to women than men. Okay, he was enamored with the young man, (perhaps he was in awe of his youth and good looks?), but, in love - 'gay' love? I just don't see it, especially after all of the proof provided in the sonnets.

Maybe it is our modern society that can't grasp the depths of what a true friendship can be like without adding sex into the mix. It appears that we, as a society, may have stepped so far away from 'brotherly' love that we can't even understand what it meant to those who lived during that time.

Just my thoughts....Tamitha
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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Tue May 06, 2008 11:23 am

Jay,

I have to disagree with you...It seemed pretty clear that Ms. Meadows intended the "shock and awe" strategy for the opening of the show. I don't think she was trying to stimulate thought, rather, it seemed to me that this was a tidbit she had discovered and found just shocking enough for her production...who can really agree with the idea that puritan preachers would have been attracted to the male actors of Shakespeare's time....all in all it doesn't seem like a very well thought out argument (in this case).


Also, even if her intention was to incite thought in the audience by presenting both sides, I have to say that it wasn't a very well constructed catalyst, I left the page feeling more confused than stimulated. scratch

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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Tue May 06, 2008 3:21 pm

I don't believe he was attracted to the young man in the sexual sense. He saw the beauty deep within. Yes, the young man must've been very physically handsome, but as Shakespeare himself said, he was robbed by nature. In Shakespeare's view, the young man was supposed to be a woman. But when "nature prick'd thee out for women's pleasure", he knew he couldn't have intimate sexual relations with him. So he conceded the sexual aspect to women, but he wanted everything else, all the inner beauty, the humor, intelligence, strength along with a deep friendship relationship for himself, "mine be thy love, and thy love's use, their treasure".
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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Tue May 06, 2008 4:55 pm

well said ragman....well said!

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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Thu May 08, 2008 12:39 pm

Just to play devil's advocate here, let's take a look at Sonnet 75:

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure,
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better'd that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.



Which, according to a translation from shakespeare.about.com, means:

As food is to the body so are you to my soul and mind,
Or as spring showers are to the ground;
And for the contentment you bring me I allow such inner strife
As the conflict between a miser and his money;
Who takes joy in his wealth, but soon
Fears that ruthless competitors will steal his treasure,
Now thinking it best to have you alone,
Then thinking that the world should see how happy I am;
At one moment wholly satisfied by feasting on your sight
And the next moment utterly starved for a look at you:
Having or seeking no pleasure
Except what you have given me or what I will demand.
And so I starve or feed to excess depending on the day,
Either gorging on you, or not having you at all.


Wow... these are pretty powerful emotions he is expressing. The words he uses, and remember, the Bard chose his words carefully, express an attraction well beyond friendship here in my opinion... it's a hunger, and a sinful one at that. Many scholars note that Shakespeare mentions several of the deadly sins in the sonnet, and I think the language comes across as guilt over a dependence, possibly sexual, that he feels shouldn't have.

I'm still not sold that Shakespeare was an outright homosexual, but is it possible that he internally had some homosexual feelings and never expressed or acted upon them? Remember, the sonnets were never intended by the Bard to be published, and you really can't say one way or another if he actually gave copies to whomever the young man is; these could have been private musings, like a diary, expressing frustrations that Elizabethan England certainly would not have tolerated in any sense.

Does this change your perspective? If not, how can this sonnet be interpreted in a "straight" manner?

I don't think we'll come to a final answer here, scholars have been debating this for centuries. But it sure makes for a great dramaturgical excercise!

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PostSubject: Re: Was Shakespeare Gay?   Thu May 08, 2008 4:53 pm

"To be _ _ _, or not to be _ _ _ ", I guess that was and still is the question.
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