Stage Craft

Sir Ian McKellen Is Quite Certain That Shakespeare Was A Big Poof

No doubt Shakespeare was gay. His predilection was evident from his works. An unmistakenly feminine portrait of his patron Henry Wriothesley adds evidence that early sonnets to ‘fair youth’ were probably meant for males

Married, with children, he left his wife in Stratford to live in London. I’d say he slept with men. The Merchant of Venice, centering on how the world treats gays as well as Jews, has a love triangle between an older man, younger man and a woman. And complexity in his comedies with cross-dressing and disguises is immense. Shakespeare obviously enjoyed sex with men as well as women.”

Gandalf, a.k.a. Sir Ian McKellen, discloses his thoughts on The Bard’s sexuality to Cindy Adams


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  • Mike


  • Esculapio Mitiríades Torquemada de la Cueva

    So if he “enjoyed sex with men as well as women,” he wasn’t quite gay, was he.

  • CBRad

    Lots of people think Shakespeare must have been bi, but I think we should just keep him in the Maybe category. Too much mystery about Shakespeare’s life to know for sure. (Hey, some people think he wasn’t even the real author of some of those works).

  • MikeE

    @CBRad: yes, the same people who think Obama is a muslim…

  • Chas

    Shakespeare was at least bi, and I don’t think it was that big of a deal back then. Sonnet 20 clinches it:

    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 be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

  • Emily

    @Esculapio Mitiríades Torquemada de la Cueva:

    Nope, I am pretty sure he would still be pretty gay. Men and women use the term “gay” to describe their sexuality without getting into the specific details. So, if he was involved in same sex sex he’d be pretty gay ^^.

  • Emily

    @CBRad: Utter bullshite. He was the author, that is that. People always belittle geniuses. They really ought to study their English literature better.

  • Esculapio Mitiríades Torquemada de la Cueva

    @Chas: Chas, that poem has been analyzed to death, of course, with everyone finding in it whatever they want, but (I’ll play too): The last lines of that sonnet do seem to clinch it. They suggest that even though he can love a man, he would never have sex with one.

  • Esculapio Mitiríades Torquemada de la Cueva

    @Emily: So … “bisexual” isn’t a thing, then.

  • Steve

    “A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling, Much steals men’s eyes …”

    Of course he was gay.
    Of that there is not doubt.
    But, at 447 years of age,
    He is hardly a young sprout.

  • Kylew

    @Emily: “Utter bullshite. He was the author, that is that.”

    You seem awfully certain when a lot of literary and historical intellectuals are not. They don’t all seem to have something to gain by casting doubt on Shakespeare’s authenticity.

    What makes you so sure?

  • MikeE

    @Kylew: actually no. those who doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays are a lunatic fringe. just because they can baffle you with bullshit doesn’t mean they are dazzling you with brilliance.

  • Chris

    @Kylew: A lot of people are not sure about Shakespeare’s authorship, but they are not respected literature scholars or historians. At best they’re well-read amateurs with an agenda.

    What is less sure is how much of Shakespeare was co-written or adapted by Shakespeare from existing work. There’s even some things that are not in most complete Shakespeares that are now generally considered partially Shakespeare, like The Two Noble Kinsmen and Sir Thomas Moore. You will get no consensus on what parts of those Will actually wrote. What CRad actually said was “some people think he wasn’t even the real author of some of those works,” and that is true.

  • Chachi

    I don’t know about Shakespeare, but I’m almost positive the late, great Jack Benny was gay.

  • John

    As My Queer Studies Textbook says, “let us not put our ideas of what it means to be gay now, to try and find gay people in the past” or something along thoes lines. Which pretty much means that just because a gay man may leave his wife now to sleep around, in shakespearean time it wasn’t the case where you would have to move away to sleep with another man.

  • CBRad

    Anyway, I don’t know if those who doubt Shakespeare’s authorship of ALL of his works are genuine Elizabethan scholars or just a lunatic fringe, but- interestingly- two of the proposed alternate authors, Barnfield and Marlowe, were undeniably homosexual.

  • Bob

    I cannot imagine any sex in those days of bathing once or twice a year…lol…

  • Kylew

    @MikeE: Well I’ll bow to your expertise and that of Chris on this issue, not least because I have absolutely NO expertise in this area at all! ;-)

    I had thought that this was debate that was going on amongst well-respected minds in academia.

  • MikeE

    @Kylew: no prob.
    it’s a really weird “argument” that they’re making (the anti-shakespeareans).

    at first their arguments are almost logical and convincing… but under further scrutiny, the arguments fall apart like a house of cards due to ridiculous assumptions and actual false statements.

    let me give you one of the easier ones: “Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays, because he never traveled to the distant places he mentions in his plays”.

    They use this argument to indicate that someone of noble, or near-noble blood, who would have access to great travel and thus would be knowledgeable of all these “far away places”.

    The problem is, in Shakespeare’s plays, there are so many geographic errors that it is more likely that someone who NEVER visited those places actually wrote the plays. It is highly unlikely that someone with experience in travel would have purposefully made those errors.

    It’s just one of a hundred little details used in these arguments.

    The other is “there’s no proof that he ever went to school” (thus de facto supporting the idea that he was illiterate).

    I guess that COULD be an argument, until you realize that there’s no “proof” that he DIDN’T attend school either. From that time period, there is very little proof that ANYONE went to school. They didn’t exactly keep school records.

  • Stewart

    Please, Queerty, no. Ian McKellen may be well-known to worldwide audiences as Gandalf, but that comment was really uncalled for. This man is a legend.

  • David Basch

    Sir Ian makes a hasty conclusion. The poet’s portrayal of women disclose someone who thinks highly of then and understands their heart and psychology, things about which gays are not noted for.

    How to understand the “fair youth” ? He is an allegorical presence in the Sonnets, representing the poet’s higher soul, just as the “dark lady” represents the lower soul. Since the poet aspires to be godly, he prefers the “fair youth” to the lady, but both are “from him” and each is to him “friend.” You can read the outline of this allegory in which both “angels” appear in Sonnet 144 in which it is explicit.

    Shakespeare’s depthful understanding of character bespeaks a balanced person, hardly one
    bent by an abnormal sexuality. The poet shows his love for his wife in Sonnet 145, in which she has his great respect.

  • Esculapio Mitiríades Torquemada de la Cueva

    @David Basch: You sad, sad man.

  • CBRad

    @David Basch: It’s reasons like that that make me conclude that we can’t know for sure about Shakespeare. Also, how many of his works (expressing desire for others, of either sex) are meant to take the view of another person (like when he portrayed Shylock’s thoughts)? Etc. I’m sure he definitely could have been bi (as some of his chums were) but I’m happy to leave it as an infinitely debatable mystery. And maybe it’s cooler that way.

  • MikeE

    @Kylew: how about “Shakespeare’s depthful understanding of character bespeaks a balanced person, hardly one bent by an abnormal sexuality.”?

    “abnormal sexuality”?

    sad, man, very sad.

  • prohomo

    [email protected]David Basch: Now really, David, how silly of you to think we mighty homos are “abnormal” when we rule with our talents worldwide?! What silly, typical, arrogant heterosexual man.

  • prohomo

    [email protected]David Basch: Now really, David, how arrogant and prejudiced of you to think we mighty homos are “abnormal” when we rule with our talents worldwide?! What an ignorant, typical, arrogant heterosexual man.

  • Howard Schumann

    MikE – Are you talking about the “lunatic fringe” that includes Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Orson Wells, Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance, Paul Nicholson, Professor Mortimer Adler, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Clifton Fadiman, John Galsworthy, Sir John Gielgud, William James?

    Chris: Most of the above are writers and actors not academics who have a personal stake in supporting the orthodoxy.

  • Kurt

    Shakespeare could have been bisexual but he’s certainly not gay just because the elderpoof Sir Ian McKellen wants to pretend that he is and revise history to suit his own agenda and practise bisexual erasure.

  • Kylew

    @Kurt: Well, I have no idea about Shakespeare’s sexuality, and I love Ian McKellan, but I really it find this whole game of “Is he gay” or “he must be a closet fag because he’s attacking us” both distasteful and extremely childish. People’s sexuality is for them and those they choose to share it with, and this constant projection, or need to expand our “club” to include as many people as possible really plays into the hands of those who claim that we are trying to convert the straight population.

  • Mat

    Not to burst everyone’s gay bubble but the theater and performance art world is incredibly bisexual. It seems so indicative of so many actors and playwrights we sin’t fit into gay or straight very well. The casting couch is in the end the casting couch and we will in evidetably take sexual interest in anyone who will put out. Yes bisexuality exists and actors and playwrights often have a bad case of it.

  • Mat

    And as far as bisexual erasure it is a rather big pet peave of mine. I usually tell exclusively gay men “how many women are going to date me if I say I am gay”. Gay men are generally insensitive to this nuance because it does not concern them. Oh and the last time I dated a girl and guy at the same time my girlfriend also bi was OK with it bUT my boyfriend wanted an exclusive monogomous relationship. And then when he realized I was not exclusively his he said, “Fucking BITCHES stealing our men!!!” I laughed but it revealed an underlying resentment for bi guys.

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