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Although William Shakespeare was married to a woman, his sexuality has been a controversial and long discussed topic. In Shakespeare’s time, a man having relationships with another man was punishable by death. Therefore, it makes sense that he would hide his true sexuality from the public to keep a pristine record. Many readers speculate that his sonnets and plays allude to him romanticizing about a man. After reading Romeo and Juliet, it is apparent that it acts as a metaphor for homosexuality because of its blatant references to secret lovers and tragedy that could give insight into persecution in his time.
Before writing Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote some sonnets that are widely considered to be written about a man. In Sonnet 20, Shakespeare wrote, “Gliding the object whereupon it gazeth; A man in hue, all hues in his controlling, Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.” This suggests that the figure he is writing about has the looks of a man but attracts both women and men.
If the figure in question is man, as the sonnet suggests, Shakespeare is implying that the presumably narrator is attracted to a man. That isn’t the only metaphor in Sonnet 20, though. Additionally, he wrote, “And for a woman wert thou first created, Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting, And by addition me of thee defeated.” Put simply, this means the figure in question is a man that nature intended to be a woman, thus the attraction the narrator feels to him.
This further implies that the narrator is a male attracted to another male. Sonnet 20 provides evidence that Shakespeare was attracted to at least one other man and wrote his feelings in poem form.
Just the premise of Romeo and Juliet acts as a metaphor for homosexuality. In the play, Romeo falls in love with Juliet, but according to the society around him, he can’t be with her because she’s in the “wrong family”. This could be perceived as a man in Shakespeare’s time not being able to have a relationship with another man because they are of the wrong gender. Looking into the play more uncovers a metaphor for execution. In the play, Romeo and Juliet both end up dying because of the two families feud. This can be viewed as a metaphor for the execution homosexuals would receive in Shakespeare’s time. Just as Romeo and Juliet died because of society and the feelings of those above them, those accused of sodomy would die because of the society at that time. During Shakespeare’s time, Romeo and Juliet would have acted as an accurate representation of persecution.
Digging deeper into Romeo and Juliet gives some deeper insight into metaphors. In Act 2, the chorus states, “Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie, And young affection gapes to be his heir.” This means that Romeo’s old desires seem obsolete compared to his new romantic desires. Looking through the lens of sexuality, it becomes more along the lines of, “Romeo’s old desires of women are gone because he began to like men”. Romeo and Juliet also provides metaphors for danger of persecution. Serving as more proof from Act 2: Scene 1, he writes, “Tempering extremities with extreme sweet.” This means that there is extreme danger that comes with his love. Since gay men would be sentenced to death, having a relationship would entail extreme and deadly danger all for love. Act 2 works as a good example of metaphors in Shakespeare’s play.
Act 2: Scene 2 provides even more evidence later. This includes the famous line, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” In modern English, this becomes, “Why are you Romeo?” This implies that the Juliet (or rather, Julius) asks why Romeo must be a man and not a woman (a Montague and not a Capulet). Act 2 provides one last big piece of evidence. Later on, Romeo describes his love to Juliet by saying, “With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls, For stony limits cannot hold love out”. This roughly translates to, “My love flew me to you, stone walls cannot keep love out.” The stone wall he talks about is the law of Shakespearean England that prohibited relationships among two men. Clearly, there is an abundance of evidence that points to Romeo and Juliet being one big metaphor.
One might object the entire theory by stating that “Shakespeare was married to and had children with a woman named Anne Hathaway.” This is true; however, it is apparent that Shakespeare never truly loved Anne. In fact, according to “The Telegraph”, “William Shakespeare left his wife their ‘second best bed’ in his last will and testament.” That was it. If he had truly loved her, he would have left more than just the second-best bed. However, that isn’t the only reason. On top of that, it can be argued that the “Fair Youth” sonnets (those being Sonnet 1-126) were written to and about a man. It can be assumed that he loved the male “fair youth” more than he loved he actual wife. This shows that the fact that he had a wife had little to nothing to do with his sexuality.
In conclusion, there is a large amount of evidence that points to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet being a metaphor for homosexuality. Also, he wrote his feelings down in sonnet and play form because if the truth got out, his reputation would be ruined. On top of a shattered reputation, he would have been sentenced to death. Romeo and Juliet acts as a perfect metaphor for his feelings and the potential danger that could have come as a result. He was just a victim of unfortunate circumstance that managed to come out on top as one of the most famous people to ever live.
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