Today is William Shakespeare's birthday. Incidentally, it's generally agreed by scholars that it is also the day of his death. We the literary minded like circular things like that.
Why bring up the Bard's birthday? Because in every English lit class I've taken, the question "Was Shakespeare gay or at least bisexual?" came up. Maybe because Shakespeare dedicated some of his most deeply felt sonnets to the Earl of Southamtpon, who was bisexual. Maybe it's because Shakespeare is wearing an earing in one portrait and only gay men wear earings. No, really, I heard someone say that. Obviously someone who had never watched an NFL game.
Me, I think people ask because there is a lot of gay stuff floating around in his plays.
I've no idea if Shakespeare was gay, but I do believe that he understood being gay, that he knew gay men -- and knew them without judgment. Here's a few reasons why I am certain of this: In the Merchant of Venice, Antonio is clearly in love with Bassanio. Just read the first few pages. Such a deep sigh, that Antonio. Unrequited love is the source of his famous melancholy -- and it's what sets the plot in motion.
In Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino falls in love with "Cesario," who is Viola in disguise. Yeah, yeah, it's one of the cross dressing, masked identity plays, and yes, it all ends well, with Viola coming out. But there is some ambiguity about Orsino's desire. A few years ago, I saw a production of Twelfth Night in which Orsino is getting comfortable and getting off with the lure of Cesario. At the end, when Viola can shed her disguise to marry Orsino, the director of the production had Orsino hesitate at the reveal, and flirt with Viola to persuade her to keep her drag on.
So, what's the point, I hear you ask? Patience, SG, patience. That's just Act One.
In March the authenticators-that-be authenticated a portrait of Shakespeare that was painted in his own time. Quite a find. And, quite a looker, that Will. Adam Gopnik wrote that the portrait makes Shakespeare "look like George in the 'Penny Lane' video, circa 1967" in a witty New Yorker article. It's a portrait so full of hotness that it alone can reopen the sexual orientation chatter.
From a portait? I must say that's some impressive gaydar.
In a San Francisco Chronicle column, Jon Carroll duly notes that, in the newly found portrait, Shakespeare's mouth "has a little decadent curl." Then Carroll goes in with a pointed quill: "Is there something that Shakespeare is doing in that portrait that says to the gaydar-adept citizen, 'Meet me backstage after the performance,'?"
So, here's my synopsis: Act One, it's Shakespeare's birthday. Act Two: People wonder if Shakespeare swung both ways. Act Three: There's a newly found portrait of Shakespeare that shows him as such a total hottie in the way that only gay men can be.
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