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Monday, 20 May 2013


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Duff, I'm not sure if you're quite up to this but (and this may come as quite a surprise to you) there are people in this world who will "shag" pretty much anything that wanders in to the parlour. Like, some blokes will "do" another fellow one night, and a sheila the next night.
Yes, quite odd, I know. Not my cup of tea at all. But, I have it on very good authority that such things happen. Not in Australia I think, but certainly in your neck of the woods. Been going on for quite some time now, too, I believe.
Just be careful. You are a good looking and very fit (that'll be the swimming) old coot and there are people out there who fancy you!

A few comments...

Being outed in the 16th century would probably have resulted in fatal consequences, so if W.S. did bat for the other team, he would have to have kept very quiet about it!

Gender bending/cross dressing in plays... As women actors were verboten, all the parts were played by men, many of whom would have therefore been dressed as and playing women. You really have to look at plays such as 12th Night or As You Like It in this context. Girls pretending to be boys and men falling in love with them would have been a stock comedic device of the period. (No evidence)

And yet... How could someone write something like Sonnet 18 to a bloke and not be gay? (Almost certainly)

Also - and this is very circumstantial - gay people are often exceptionally gifted and punch well above their weight, particularly in the arts. If one was to describe W.S. as gifted, one would be guilty of a huge understatement. (Possibly)

And then again... W.S. not only bonked Ann Hathaway's brains out when he was younger, but was reputedly quite a swordsman in later life as well. (Almost certainly not)

Was he or wasn't he? I hope that the following article will amuse you as much as it did me.

At the end of the day, your guess is as good as mine!

"You are a good looking and very fit" - I will leave the quote at that point but, dear Andra, what a superb judge you are!

Richard, you will do ten laps of Red Square every day until you have read Rowse's "Shakespeare's Sonnets: The Problems Solved". I quote ref. #20:

"This crucial sonnet gives the key to the nature of Shakespeare's love for the young man, and shows that it was not homosexual. He does not want to possess him physically: he is defeated by Southampton's being of the male sex. If only he were a woman, as he is like one in his youthful appearance, Shakespeare repines! Southampton is portrayed as a feminine youth with something of the qualities of both sexes; and this in fact was the case: ambivalent in his youth, there is some evidence of his response to both sexes, even after his somewhat belated marriage.

It is not worth commenting on the vast amount of nonsense this sonnet has given rise to, when it is perfectly clear what it says and what it means. The pun in l.13 is meant to be enjoyed."

Rowse maintains (correctly in my inexpert opinion) that Shakespeare's affection for this rich young man was genuine, not least because of Southampton's generosity in sponsoring Shakespeare as his 'court poet' during the harsh years of 1592/3 and by all accounts Southampton possessed a very open and generous spirit. No doubt also that Southampton's mother and step-father encouraged Shakespeare to urge their son, with his ambivalent sexuality, to find a wife and beget an heir.

Also, Shakespeare's infatuation with 'the Dark Lady of the Sonnets' indicates his heterosexuality more than anything else could! Finally, these poems were for 'public' consumption in the sense that Southampton would have shared them with his friends and cronies and enjoyed the wit they contained. Publically accusing an Earl of being homosexual would not have been 'a good career move' and Shakespeare was always and forever keen to move onwards and upwards.

I should add that A. L. Rowse, born in 1903, died in 1997, lived the vast majority of his life during an age when the practice of homosexuality was a criminal offence - and throughout that time he never made any effort to hide the fact that he was homosexual. On the basis that it takes one to know one I am happy to take his word that Shakespeare was straight.


With the greatest respect to Mr Rowse, I think it is fair to say that in the 16th Century there was a rather different set of taboos in force to the ones we have today. However, the men and women of that period felt, acted and behaved exactly the same way as we do today.

This is due to human nature, which remains the great constant and it is entirely because of this that Shakespeare's plays have stayed so popular with the passage of time - not only in Great Britain, but throughout the World. It is no coincidence that it was Shakespeare who identified and portrayed the human condition more accurately than has ever been done before or since.

At the end of the day, the Sonnets were written, complete with blond lord and dark lady. Make of them what you will, but the inescapable fact remains that Sonnet 18, the most beautiful love poem ever penned, was written by a bloke, for a bloke.

I do agree that this does not paint the entire picture. Could Shakespeare have been gay in light of the evidence to the contrary? All I can say is that I really don't know and neither does anyone else.

David, is that Rowse quote about 18, or about the "me of thee defeated" sonnet? Because he says, "he is defeated by Southampton being of the male sex". Which sounds like he is referring to the line, "and by addition me of thee" defeated by adding one thing" meaning his penis. Also, there is no pun in line 13 of the "shall I compare thee" sonnet, but there is in line 13 of the sonnet I have in mind. The pun is on the word "prick".

Oh, sorry. I just noticed you did in fact say, "I quote ref. #20", meaning, I guess, Sonnet #20. Carry on!

Richard, you will stay in after school and read:

Shakespeare's Sonnets: The Problems Solved by A. L. Rowse

Rowse was a remarkable man. Queer as a nine bob note and never bothered to hide it. He was the son of illiterate Cornish working-class parents but reached Oxford on a Scholarship, took a Double First in *History* and was elect a Master of All Souls at the age of 23! I emphasise *History* because his approach to WS was far more forensic than artistic. He knew the mores of the Elizabethan times, how people spoke, how they wrote, how they behaved. What he called "the Eng-Lit lot" usually lacked that sort of background.

So, yes, he obviously had a great affection for this young man - WS was nearly ten years older, quite a difference in those short-lived days - but the main thrust of those early Sonnets was to urge the young man to find a wife. In effect, he was saying, ' Crikey, if I was a girl I'd fancy you like mad'.

Rowse's book is excellent and his cantankerous nature leaps out.

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