Was Shakespeare Bisexual? What New Research Of His Work Says About The Poet's Sexuality

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Was Shakespeare Bisexual? What New Research Of His Work Says About The Poet's Sexuality
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Was Shakespeare bisexual?

Considering the fact that William Shakespeare is both one of the most influential and one of the most studied poets and writers of all time, his work is constantly being analyzed by academics all over the world — especially when it comes to what it might mean about his personal life. And though he was married to a woman while he was alive over 400 years ago, there's been great debate about Shakespeare's sexuality, and now, some professors have discovered that he may have actually been bisexual. 

During Shakespeare's time living in the late 1500s and early 1600s, being a member of the LGBTQ community was even more stigmatized than it was today, and if he was anything other than a straight man, there's a good chance that he wouldn't have been open about it, since his sexuality would have been considered quite controversial. But still, did his true sexuality ultimately come out in his writing? Was Shakespeare bisexual? Of course, Shakespeare isn't around today to ask himself but here's what we know, according to the new and existing research on the subject. 

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New analysis of his work claims that Shakespeare was "definitely" bisexual. 

In studying Shakespeare's sonnets, professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmonson discovered that several of his poems were actually addressed to men, leading them to the conclusion that Shakespeare was likely bisexual, especially if he was writing about his own experiences with romantic love.

“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,” Edmondson said. “It’s become fashionable since the mid-1980s to think of Shakespeare as gay. But he was married and had children. Some of the sonnets are addressed to a female and others to a male. To reclaim the term bisexual seems to be quite an original thing to be doing.”

Some of Shakespeare's sonnets may have even pointed to a three-way relationship. 

Edmondson and Wells also believe that Shakespeare has written two "bisexual mini-sequences" — Sonnets 42 and 43, and Sonnets 133 and 134 — may point to a three-way relationship, where he was involved with both a man and a woman. One is about a betrayal, and the way that he still admires his lovers' beauty despite it, including one male and one female, writing, "Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee,/ Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.”

This isn't the first time that scholars have hypothesized that Shakespeare was bisexual. 

Though the analysis is new, the hypothesis definitely isn't. Scholars have theorized that Shakespeare was bisexual for years, including Sandra Newman, who wrote in 2019 that although there was a chance he wasn't writing from personal experience, Shakespeare's sexual fluidity probably did influence his writing, especially when he was addressing a male known as the "Fair Youth." 

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"The simplest explanation, the one that best obeys the principle of Occam’s razor, is that both Shakespeare and the Fair Youth were gay or bi, against the backdrop of a fluidly sexual society where such distinctions made less difference than they do today," Newman wrote. "This would explain why the idea for such a sonnet cycle would occur to Shakespeare, when it didn’t to a thousand other poets, and also how he could realise it so fully."

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Shakespeare was married to a woman and had children.

Though Shakespeare did write about men, he was married to a woman. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 when he was 18 and she was 26, and they remained married until he died in 1616. Together, they had three children: a son named Hamnet and two daughters, Judith and Susanna. We do not know for sure about any relationships with men he may have had during his life, either before or during his marriage.

In some of his works, he doesn't appear to see gender when writing about love.

In Shakespeare's Sonnet 20, he describes the object of his affection as being "a man in hue, all hues in his controlling/Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth" — having both male and female qualities that are attractive, even though he's in a male body. This may be another indicator of Shakespeare's ability to see past gender when falling in love. 

Was Shakespeare bisexual? He never left behind a cut-and-dry answer.

Since Shakespeare himself never outwardly proclaimed his sexuality, there's no way to answer this question with 100% certainty. All we can do is continue to analyze his works, and at this point, it certainly sounds like he was open to the idea of being in love with both men and women — or, at the very least, writing from the perspective of someone who was. 

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Nicole Pomarico is an entertainment and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Cosmo, Us Weekly, Refinery29, and more.

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