William Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet, and actor, best known for his sonnets and his plays, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” and “Macbeth.” The exact date of his birth is unknown but many historians believe that he was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. His father, John Shakespeare, was an alderman and glover, while his mother, Mary Arden, came from a prominent family. Shakespeare was the eldest surviving son and had seven other siblings.
Due to the lack of historical evidence, not much is known about Shakespeare’s personal life. Most scholars believe the playwright was formally educated at the King’s New School in Stratford. By the time he was 18 years old, Shakespeare had married Anne Hathaway in what people would now consider a “shotgun marriage.” Six months later, their eldest daughter, Susanna Shakespeare was born. They went on to have two more children, a set of fraternal twins named Hamnet and Judith. It’s widely believed that he named one of his famous plays after his only son.
It’s unclear when Shakespeare started writing his plays, but records show that he wrote most of his works from 1589 to 1613. By 1592, several of his plays were already being played out on stage. This was proven through a printed critique from fellow playwright, Robert Greene, who accused Shakespeare of “reaching above his rank.” Ironically, Greene’s attack on Shakespeare is the earliest surviving mention of the playwright in history. At some point, the playwright’s works were exclusively performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later renamed to King’s Men.
On April 23, 1616, at only 52 years old, Shakespeare passed away due to an unconfirmed illness. He signed his will only a month before his unfortunate death. The playwright’s works lived on, establishing his legacy and naming him one of the greatest writers in history. Even today, Shakespeare’s sonnets continue to stir up controversies surrounding his personal life. So, was Shakespeare gay? Let’s uncover the legendary bard’s secret sexuality below.
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Shakespeare’s Marriage And Sexuality
In November 1582, Shakespeare married a local woman named Anne Hathaway. It’s important to note that Hathaway was six years older than the playwright who was only 18 years old. Apparently, Hathaway was already pregnant with their first child so they had to speed up the marriage process to prevent scandal. The couple married outside of Stratford-upon-Avon and sent their marriage certificate after the ceremony.
Shakespeare and Hathaway had their eldest daughter Susanna in 1538. They also had twins, Hamnet and Judith, who were born two years later. Unfortunately, Hamnet fell victim to the bubonic plague and passed away at 11 years of age. Susanna went on to marry a local doctor, John Hall, and together they had one daughter, Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Judith married a tavern owner, Thomas Quiney. The couple didn’t have any children and Quiney would later impregnate another woman. They were soon excommunicated by the community.
Although Shakespeare remained married to Hathaway until his death, there have been many speculations surrounding his sexuality. Some experts claimed that their marriage was only a way to save Hathaway from having a child out of wedlock. They alluded that Shakespeare was secretly gay and that he engaged in extramarital affairs with male lovers. According to their argument, it was notable that Shakespeare spent most of his time in London, only paying several visits to Stratford each year.
Other historians urged that the famous playwright was actually bisexual. In 2020, Sir Stanley Wells and Dr. Paul Edmondson claimed that out of the 182 sonnets written by Shakespeare, 27 of them were addressed to men. And instead of only having one subject, these sonnets were believed to have alluded to several people over the course of three decades.
There’s also a popular belief that Shakespeare hated his wife. Although there’s no strong evidence suggesting this idea, the playwright’s will may have played a role in the rumors. Before he died, Shakespeare left his second-best bed to Anne. This was quite controversial because it implied that his wife was only the “second-best” person in his life. However, historians claimed that this bed may be referring to their marriage best which isn’t considered an insult at all.
Aside from his sexuality, there have also been some controversies surrounding the other aspects of Shakespeare’s life. For one thing, the authorship of his works has always been hotly debated. Some experts have proposed other candidates responsible for the playwright’s works. These included Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Evere, and Francis Bacon. However, many Shakespeare scholars considered this idea to be dubious and insisted that this was merely a fringe theory.
Another interesting point of discussion is Shakespeare’s religious views. Historians noted that he was a confirmed member of the Church of England. But while he conformed to the official religion of the state, Shakespeare’s will used a Protestant formula. The playwright’s family was also widely believed to be practicing Catholics. In fact, his mother’s side of the family were devout Catholics. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to confirm Shakespeare’s religious beliefs, so it will always be up for speculation.
Lastly, there is the issue of Shakespeare’s physical appearance. Sadly, there are no written descriptions of his facial features and the playwright never commissioned a portrait. So, the general public has no idea what Shakespeare looked like. The Droeshout engraving and the Stratford monument are the only two clues leading to the playwright’s appearance. This mystery has resulted in plenty of fake portraits and repaintings.
Was Shakespeare Gay?
No, Shakespeare wasn’t gay. At best, he may be considered bisexual. It’s a known fact that the playwright was married and had three children. While the subject of his sonnets remains widely debated, it’s safe to assume that Shakespeare was straight.