The presence of homoerotic references in the works of William Shakespeare was a direct result of the Elizabethan attitude towards sex during the English Renaissance. Within the privacy of the sonnets, Shakespeare could effusively express a passion that the Elizabethan Era, with its social mores, stifled greatly as it frowned upon homosexuality. Given the freedom to express himself uninhibitedly, Shakespeare cast aside the homophobia of his age and inscribed love sonnets for another male, Mr. W. H.
This unrestricted honesty created great tension and drama between Shakespeare and his adversary, the dark lady as well as fueling some of the greatest love poems of all time. Over hundreds of years, it comes to no surprise that many scholars have found the sonnets effective in revealing insight into the biography of William Shakespeare. The emotional pressure contained in many of the sonnets and the fact that many, if not all, are dedicated to a man named ? Mr. W. H. ‘, provide important clues to Shakespeare’s life.
It begins with the sonnets’ dedication, a passage written by Shakespeare that opens a world of controversy amongst scholars. The dedication runs as follows: To. The. Only. Begetter. Of These. Ensuing. Sonnets. Mr. W. H. All. Happiness. And. That. Eternity. Promised. By. Our. Ever. Living. Poet. Wisheth. The. Well. Wishing. Adventurer. In. Setting. Forth. T. T. (Shakespeare, 1490) The initials T. T. at the conclusion of the dedication refer to Thomas Thorpe, the original publisher of the sonnets (http://andrejkoymasky. com/liv/sha/sha00. html). However, one question remains, who is Mr. W. H?
During the English Renaissance, it was customary for members of high social standings to hire established writers and poets to create masterful love sonnets and other works of literature for their entertainment. For a large portion of his adult life, Shakespeare spent his time writing sonnets for an upper class family, specifically for a young man (Rowse, 96). The beginning sonnets describe a ? lovely youth’ and it is believed that over time, Shakespeare’s sonnets became more personal as the relationship between him and his patron intensified.
Scholars have professed that this patron could in fact be “the only begetter of the sonnets,” Mr. W. H, or William Hughes. The majority of the sonnets were written between 1593 and 1596, however, they were not published until 1609 and then further edited in 1640, long after Shakespeare’s death (Auden, 86). The randomness of their order leads scholars such as Northrop Frye to question their validity in accurately capturing real life happenings (Fleperin, 96).
The publisher who replicated the sonnets in 1640 actually changed the pronouns in sonnets 15 through 126 to make it seem as if the poems were addressed to a woman. The question now at hand is; are the feelings expressed in the sonnets a celebration of homosexual love?
And if so, how could such feelings emerge in a time where homosexuality had no place in social life (Taylor, 39)? The sixteen hundreds were a time of strict values and high standards of living. At this time, embracing sexuality was not encouraged and questioning ones sexuality was not an option. During the English Renaissance it was common for men to wear their hair long and dress in silks and ruffles (Taylor, 45). World renowned professor, Edward Hubler, published his book, The Sense of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in which he points out the Elizabethan men used the term “lover” between men without embarrassment (Hubler, 17).
Author C. L. Barber, in his essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, reminds us that the suppressed roles of women in Elizabethan society kept them out of the theater, forcing men to play the roles of women in many of Shakespeare’s productions at the Globe Theater. This openness is most attributed to Shakespeare’s sexual curiosity, and because his masculinity was never in doubt, his sexual awakening quickly progressed. To truly grasp Shakespeare’s feelings for Mr. W. H, we must refer to sonnet twenty, which is the first in the series to address the mysterious love affair.
Despite the fact that male friendships were openly affectionate, the sonnets’ powerful emotions are indicative of a deeper love (Cross, 1,490). Line two of the poem describe the subject as the “master-mistress” of his passion. Right away we sense a conflict between the love for a man and the love for a women. Shakespeare makes it known in lines eight and nine of the sonnet, that W. H was in fact created for a woman’s love and affection, telling his readers that his subject is male. Further into the poem he describes his acceptance of that fact that he was defeated by nature, but continues to acknowledge their love (Cross, 1,4940).
Shakespeare’s persistence in his attempt to win over the heart of his acquaintance is noted in sonnets 135-137 (Cross, 1511,1512). It is here that Shakespeare emphasizes the name ? Will’ as seen in italics in nearly every line. It is at this point in the series where it is suspected that the poets love for W. H is being threatened by a woman. In attempts to re-establish the ? dark lady’ in relation to Mr. W. H, scholars have studied specific sonnets in which her character is revealed. We find that the twenty-five sonnets dedicated to a woman, the “dark lady,” dwell on her imperfections and falsehoods (Barber, 16).
For example, in sonnet 127, Shakespeare devotes his energy to expressing a lower love toward the woman and a higher love toward the man. It is not until the later sonnets that Shakespeare begins to feel threatened by the dark lady, and begins to depict a competition for the heart of W. H. In sonnet 138, Shakespeare is almost trying to convince W. H that this woman could never love him in the manner that he was willing to (Cross, 1,870). Shakespeare’s main concern, in the midst of anguished humiliation, is to keep the man’s love, not the woman’s.
Shakespeare’s inner conflict expressed in his works evidently developed during a time when his life, outside of the ? dark lady’ and W. H, was relatively normal, and this is another reason as to why the sequence of the sonnets is so important. As we know, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582. She gave birth to his children soon after. Was this heterosexual fantasy life all a cover up for the love he shared with W. H? Because no one has been able to figure out the correct order of the sonnets we will never know precisely when these love affairs took place.
To label Shakespeare a homosexual would be ignorant, only because the consummation of the love between the poet and his muse was never proven. We can only base our knowledge of his curiosity on the contents of the sonnets, and with that we can gather that Shakespeare was involved in affairs, not necessarily physical, with both a young man, Mr. W. H, and a reticent woman, the Dark Lady. The conflict involving these two characters sparked the fire that fueled the ingenious works of one of the greatest poets of all time, Mr. William Shakespeare. Auden, W. H.
Lectures on Shakespeare. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 2000. Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books. 1998. Cross, Wilbur, L. The Yale Shakespeare. New York: Barnes and Noble Books. 1993. Hubler, Edward. The Sense of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1952 Hugh, Calvert. Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Problems of Autobiography. Braunton: Merilin Books, 1987. Holland, Norman. Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company. 1966 Pitt, Angela. Shakespeare’s Women.
New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books. 1981 Rowse, A. L. The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Life of the Society. New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons. 1971. Taylor, Gary. Reinventing Shakespeare. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 1989. Internet Sources http://www. onlineshakespeare. com/sonnetsabout. htm http://andrejkoymasky. com/liv/sha/sha00. html http://infopt. demon. co. uk/shakespe. htm http://www. shakespeares-sonnets. com/wilde. htm http://aspirations. english. com. ac. uk/converse/essays/cgonda/loves. acds http://eserver. org/emc/1-2/halpern. html.