Monday, April 21, 2008

SHAKESPEARE: The Bisexual Poet and his Two Loves!

Bisexuality often gets overlooked, sidelined, and put-down - the perception of many being, I guess, that if a bisexual person is with a same-sex partner, then for that period of time they are gay, and if they are with an opposite-sex partner, then while they are with them they must be straight.

But for people who identify as Bisexual, it doesn't work like that. Their identity is constant - a pan-sexual and emotional attraction to both sexes, it is society's boundaries that make it appear they are shifting about, or unable to commit, or just haven't come out yet, or any number of other clichéd stereotypes we put on our Bisexual friends.

William Shakespeare

It's fascinating to learn that perhaps the most famous author in our Western Culture, William Shakespeare, was bisexual. It doesn't come out so much in his plays, but in his sonnets (written around the 1590s) it does (or perhaps I should say, 'William does.')

154 Sonnets are dedicated to a mysterious "Mr. W.H."

The first 126 are addressed to a young man of great charm and beauty, whom the poet in sonnet 20 called "the master-mistress of my passion;

the last 28 to a "dark lady." The two groups seem to intersect in sonnets 40-42 and 133-136, where an intrigue between the young man and the dark lady causes both to be untrue to the poet. Sonnet 144 is perhaps clearest in its delineation of the "plot" of the sequence:

Two loves have I, of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man fair right,
The worser spirit a woman colored ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell.

Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

(The last line apparently refers to the syphilis the poet fears his young man may contract from the dark lady.)

Now get this - Records exist to show William Shakespeare was married and had a child with Anne Hathaway. But for any who might have doubted his affection for his young man as well, read this, Shakespeare's 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 by thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Oooh, He's good.

And isn't that cool to know? Shakespeare, on our GLBTQ team! Yeah!



The commentary and sonnet 144 were found on pg. 82 of "The Gay 100: A Ranking of the most influential gay men and lesbians, past and present" by Paul Russell.

Sonnet 20 is all over the web, with some interesting "analyses" of the poem out there, as well.

I found the image of Shakespeare (I thought it was fun to see a different one) at this cool site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd completely forgotten about Will! Thanks for posting this, Lee. Now I want to re-watch that Dr. Who episode with Shakespeare and the Tenth Doctor's saucy aside about hundreds of university professors cheering or something to that effect. In a word, Will just confirmed everyone's suspicions about his sexuality. It was a brilliant line.