Was Shakespeare straight or gay? Perhaps this is the wrong question, perhaps it wasn’t an either/or issue in Elizabethan times, perhaps bi-sexuality was common among Elizabethan aristocrats. Elizabethan sexual mores may have resembled AncientGreek sexual mores. As John Hamill puts it, “nobody thought of themselves as ‘gay’ in the sixteenth century. The term ‘homosexual’ did not exist until a distinct homosexual subculture developed in the late nineteenth century.”
Queen Elizabeth’s successor, James I, was almost certainly bi-sexual. The chief philosopher in Shakespeare’s time, Francis Bacon, was probably bi-sexual, and Bacon’s brother (Anthony) was convicted of sodomy in France.1 Many of those in the circle of the Earl of Essex were homosexual, probably including Southampton, who had a special place in Shakespeare’s heart.2 The theater world, in which Shakespeare played such a prominent role, had a particular attraction for men with homosexual inclinations; all actors were male, many were children or teenagers, and cross-dressing was common.
In an earlier issue, I wrote, “I saw an Oxfordian film called Nothing Is Truer Than Truth (2018).... It argues that Oxford was bi-sexual, and that, when he was in Italy, he had a 16-year-old page-boy, whom he brought back to England.” John Hamill writes,
Shakespeare’s own homoerotic feelings seem to come through even in situations where no such desires would normally be present, a possible biographical revelation. For instance, in King Lear, the Fool nonchalantly reveals his own sexual bias as he lists what not to trust:
He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf,
Hamill says that Antonio and Bassanio are “driven apart” by a woman (Portia). “Again and again... the plots in Shakespeare’s plays turn on the intimate relationship of two male friends driven apart by a woman.” Hamill mentions several examples, including Othello and Iago driven apart by Desdemona.
Like The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night also has a character named Antonio. This Antonio is smitten with Sebastian. “After their first meeting,” Hamill writes, “Sebastian and Antonio were inseparable ‘for three months... no interim, not a minute’s vacancy, both day and night did we keep company.’” Hamill says that the name “Sebastian” is significant; St. Sebastian is “the (unofficial) patron saint of homosexuals.” (One thinks of the gay Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited.)
Besides “Sebastian,” another name with homoerotic overtones is “Ganymede,” which we find in As You Like It. In Greek mythology, Ganymede was the servant or “cup-bearer” of Jove, and aroused the jealousy of Jove’s wife, Juno. According to Wikipedia, “The [Ganymede] myth was a model for the Greek social custom of paiderastia, the socially acceptable romantic relationship between an adult male and an adolescent male.”
During the poet’s lifetime, several people accused him of homosexuality. “Gabriel Harvey, the Cambridge don... described him as ‘vain,’ ‘frivolous,’ ‘womanish,’ ‘no man, but minion.’”3 (The term “minion” meant catamite, male whore.)
Hamill thinks that Shakespeare defended himself against these accusations in Sonnet 121. The poet says in Sonnet 121 that what others condemn, his “feeling” approves. Conceding that he has “frailties” and “sportive blood,” he insists that what others “count bad... I think good.” The poet says that his critics are in no position to criticize because they themselves are faulty; they are “frailer” than he, and have “false adulterate eyes.” He concludes, however, by saying that his critics are right if they maintain that evil is universal, and that “all men are bad.”
on my frailties, why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight though they themselves be bevel4
There are isolated passages in Shakespeare’s plays that depict homosexual feeling. Hamill quotes a passage from Coriolanus, a passage in which Aufidius meets his “arch-enemy”:
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sighed truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold.
The poet’s homosexual impulses didn’t dampen his heterosexual impulses. Shakespeare/Oxford was married twice, had children, and had a child with a mistress. His works depict heterosexual passion in the most ardent tones. “Sex ran in him like the sea,” as John Masefield put it.
Hamill speaks of “the recurring theme of bi-sexuality.... Shakespeare did not portray sexual identity as rigidly polarized, nor did he present homosexual and heterosexual desires as incompatible or mutually exclusive.” Based on the poet’s life and work, it’s likely that he was bi-sexual.
In 1609, Shakespeare’s Sonnets were published, with a dedication that speaks of, “our ever-living poet,” a phrase that’s better suited to a deceased poet like Oxford than a living man like Mr. Stratford. If the author were alive in 1609, we would expect that the author would write the dedication, but this dedication is written by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe. Wikipedia says, “The initials ‘T.T.’ are taken to refer to the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, though Thorpe usually signed prefatory matter only if the author was out of the country or dead.” Mr. Stratford was neither out of the country nor dead, but Oxford had been dead for five years.
Bruce Smith, a Stratfordian scholar, writes, “By every indication, Shakespeare had nothing to do with publishing the volume of ‘Shakespeares Sonnets’ that the printer Thomas Thorpe put on the market in 1609.” The 1609 volume was “full of errors,” while Shakespeare’s narrative poems had been “very carefully proof-read.”5 And it isn’t likely that Thorpe pirated the book; Stratfordians admit that Thorpe was a “reputable publisher.” The author of the Sonnets had “nothing to do” with their publication because he was dead.
Here’s the original title page of the Sonnets:
The hypen in “Shake-speares” suggests a pseudonym; when “Shakespeare” was a real person’s name, it was never hyphenated. The two horizontal lines, where the author’s name usually appears, have a blank between them, suggesting a mystery about the author’s identity. Here’s the title page of Marlowe’s Rich Jew of Malta, with the author’s name between the lines:
The blank lines, like the hyphenated “Shake-speare,” suggest some sort of mystery about the author. I challenge Stratfordians to point out another title page with blank lines, and a case where a real person used the hyphenated “Shake-speare.”6
Carlyle called economics a “dismal science.” I’ve always felt that this was a good description of politics, and politics has never seemed so dismal as it does now. We’re coming up against problems for which there’s no solution, problems for which the only solutions are worse than the problems themselves.
Indeed, even to discuss politics seems to be impossible; CNN and Fox depict different universes, and those who live in those different universes are so far apart that any discussion seems impossible, any discussion seems certain to produce more heat than light. The man who understood these problems best was my former professor Ed Banfield, and he stopped writing about them because they were so dismal, so intractable, so controversial. But I’m writing about them (fools rush in where angels fear to tread).
Take the problem of police brutality. This problem has existed as long as there have been police. When people have power, they will sometimes abuse it — that’s human nature. But can you decrease police brutality without increasing criminal brutality? The killing of George Floyd is a perfect example of police brutality, the riots that followed are a perfect example of criminal brutality. The riots showed why police need substantial power, showed how innocent people are slaughtered when the police are overpowered.
Banfield pointed out that “the possibility of a riot exists wherever there are crowds of people.”7 When a crowd reaches a certain size, the police are overwhelmed, and criminals are empowered. To protest peacefully is an American tradition, enshrined in the First Amendment. But don’t peaceful protesters create the conditions for a riot, as well as creating the conditions for virus-transmission?
In some respects, the recent riots resemble the virus. Riots and epidemics have both existed as long as human beings have existed. A year ago, we knew that both were possible, even likely, yet when they occur, they take us by surprise. The virus illustrates the dark side of the universe, the riots illustrate the dark side of human nature.
George Floyd was arrested after passing a counterfeit bill (a twenty-dollar bill). This was just the latest in a series of crimes that Floyd had committed, a series going back more than twenty years. In 2007, “he plead guilty to entering a woman’s home, pointing a gun at her stomach and searching the home for drugs and money.”
Most such crimes are never punished; as Banfield says, “Most offenders know very well that the probability of their being apprehended (unless it be for homicide) is trivial.”8 The number of crimes far exceeds the number of convictions. So a person who is convicted 5 times probably committed 50 crimes. George Floyd committed a large number of crimes, perhaps more than 50.
“But consider his upbringing. Isn’t he the product of his upbringing?” True, everyone is the product of his upbringing, but should the innocent victims of Floyd’s crimes pay a price for his upbringing? Why should his victims be haunted by nightmares, why should his victims feel compelled to move out of their homes? If his upbringing is the responsibility of his parents, why should others pay a price for it?
Floyd’s parents may have had a difficult upbringing themselves, and his children may be having a difficult upbringing now. How can this cycle be broken? When people talk about racism, the implication is that Floyd isn’t responsible for his life, Floyd is a victim, a victim of racism. But the best way to break the cycle is for people like Floyd to take responsibility for their lives, not to see themselves as victims, not to shift responsibility to society’s racism. In earlier issues, I’ve discussed the importance of taking small steps — steps like making your bed, standing erect, practicing yoga, etc.
Banfield says that many social problems (such as crime) can best be understood as the result of a “present-oriented” frame of mind. Does the individual sacrifice for the future, or live for the present? Banfield quotes a series of philosophers who wrote about the importance of being future-oriented; for example, Banfield quotes Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.9
Banfield uses the term “lower class” to describe people who are present-oriented, irresponsible, childish, etc. All ethnic groups have some “lower class” people, just as all ethnic groups commit crimes and riot. But among African-Americans, there’s a “wider distribution... of lower social class characteristics associated with crime.”10
Society’s goal should be to raise up “lower class” individuals — make them less present-oriented, less impulsive; “the dominant aim of our society seems to be to middle-class-ify all of its members.”11 Around 1875, many immigrants to the U.S. had a peasant mindset, were present-oriented, “lower class.” Since then, many Americans, of all races, have risen to the “middle class” mindset, and have learned to control their impulses, and consider the future.
When we move forward in history, we find that more people have a middle-class mindset. When we move back in history, more people have a lower-class mindset. “In the Iliad,” Banfield writes, “everyone thinks and acts like a juvenile delinquent. In Europe, Bruno Bettelheim tells us, it was not until the seventeenth century that differences began to appear between the games, manner of dress, stories, and style of life of children and adults.”12
Each individual recapitulates, in his development, the development of the human race. Young people have the mindset of the Iliad, young people are present-oriented, and prone to crime. Banfield quotes Shakespeare: “I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.”13
Rioting has been a popular pastime with young men since time immemorial. “From the very earliest times,” Banfield writes, “harassing the watch, vandalism, and arson have been favorite pastimes of the young. In Pittsburgh in 1809 an editor proposed satirically that the city establish a ‘conflagration fund’ from which to buy twelve houses, one to be burned each month in a civil celebration.”14
Rioting isn’t about race — all races riot. And it’s not a protest against racism and poverty, it’s a sport, it’s done for excitement and profit. As John Locke said, “Robberies, murders, rapes, are the sports of men set at liberty from punishment and censure.”15 Rioters are “set at liberty” by big crowds, crowds that the police can’t control, and they’re set at liberty by police brutality, which gives them a justification, or rather a pretext, for mayhem.
Colleges were often the scene of riots. Thoreau’s grandfather, Asa Dunbar, started a riot at Harvard in 1766, a riot that became known as “The Great Butter Rebellion.” Food was thrown, chairs were smashed, and half the students were suspended. In England, boys often “took possession of the school, of which they barred the doors, and bade their master defiance from the windows [and the master] often struggled hard to force or surprise the garrison.”16
A few days ago, conservative commentators derided CNN’s Don Lemon for comparing the rioters to the Boston Tea Party. But there’s some truth to Lemon’s comparison: every revolution attracts hooligans, attracts young men who are fond of violence and excitement. But this isn’t an argument in favor of hooligans, it’s an argument against revolutions — most revolutions produce more harm than good (consider, for example, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Revolution of 1949).
Banfield’s analysis isn’t just the best explanation of the current riots, it also throws light on revolutions in general, and on history in general. The hooliganism of young men is embedded in human nature, it’s one of the constants of history. Banfield describes how it played a role in the French Revolution of 1848, in China’s Cultural Revolution, etc.17
My late wife taught at an inner-city school. Many of the students were African-American, and many of their fathers were in prison. When she assigned homework, one of the students said, “You can assign homework if you want, but I’m not going to do it.” How do you change this negative attitude? How do you develop a culture in which it’s “cool” to do homework, or a character that can stand against the prevailing culture?
Here in the Providence area, there’s a beauty-supply store that caters to black women. Who do you suppose owns and manages the store? A black man or a black woman? No, a Korean family. Surely this can’t be ascribed to racism, because most of the customers are black, and would doubtless be willing to patronize a black-owned store. It can only be ascribed to the culture in the African-American community — a present-oriented culture, a culture that seems averse to saving money and starting a business, as well as averse to doing homework.
Some people are saying that the U.S. is moving closer to civil war. In recent days, Trump proposed using the army to quell riots, and two of our top military leaders seemed to be positioning the army for a civil war — or rather, positioning the army to stay out of a civil war.
Shelby Steele, an African-American author, was interviewed recently:
|We as blacks cry victimization, and demand the larger society give us things. [The important question is] what black Americans can do to get out of the situation that we’re in.... We have to engineer ourselves....
We need, within the black community, to work on the institution of marriage. Our families have fallen to pieces. 75% of all black children are born out of wedlock, without a father. I don’t care how many social programs you have, you’re not going to overcome that....
We as black Americans have to begin to take our fate back into our own hands.... Stop crying “racism.” There’s a little racism out here — always was, and always will be.... Why is that an argument... to not be responsible for your own fate?18
|1.||“In France at that time, unlike England, sodomy was treated seriously as a capital crime, punishable by burning at the stake. However, it was Anthony’s luck to be good friends with the King of Navarre (later Henri IV of France), who personally intervened and had the sentence quashed.... The term sodomy was not specific to anal intercourse, as it is today, but was a general term for a variety of socially-taboo acts.”(John Hamill)
Hamill continues: “The closest that early modern English comes to a term for homosexuality is ‘sodomy.’ But to the Elizabethans, sodomy was solely an act; it was not a lifestyle. In other words, if a man committed an act of sodomy, what he did was called ‘buggering’ and the participants were not considered to be anything other than ordinary men who had committed the crime of ‘buggery.’ The concept of being a homosexual, that is, of homosexuality as a permanent condition, did not yet exist.”
Puritans were steadfastly opposed to homosexuality. If homosexuality was tolerated in 1500, at least among aristocrats, it was increasingly condemned as the Reformation gained strength; Hamill says that it went from being a minor sin to a criminal act; the jurist Edward Coke called it, “the most ‘detestable abominable sin amongst Christians, not to be named.’” When the Puritans came to power, they closed the theaters.
Perhaps we can generalize and say that, throughout history, homosexuality has been met with a strange blend of toleration and condemnation.
For more on the Bacon brothers, consider the works of Daphne du Maurier, the well-known novelist who wrote two non-fiction books about the Bacons. Hamill says that du Maurier was “a descendant of the Bacon family.” back
|2.||“Essex’s circle at Essex House became, in the 1590s, a center for ‘scholars, statesmen, spies and sodomites’... Indeed, of the basically homosexual orientation of the men who appear to have been Essex’s closest friends and associates — Anthony and Francis Bacon, and Henry Wriothesley [i.e., Southampton] — there can be no doubt.”(John Hamill, quoting Martin Green)
I still subscribe to the Prince Tudor Theory — that is, I view Southampton as the son of Shakespeare/Oxford and Queen Elizabeth. So the love that Shakespeare expresses for Southampton in the Sonnets is, in my view, paternal love, not sexual love. Some Oxfordians, such as John Hamill, reject the Prince Tudor Theory, and argue that the Sonnets depict a homosexual affair between the poet and Southampton. No one, as far as I know, argues that Shakespeare was both the father and the lover of Southampton, but perhaps this strange possibility shouldn’t be ruled out.
Many Oxfordians believe that Queen Elizabeth was both the mother and the lover of Shakespeare/Oxford. Her feelings for Oxford wouldn’t be those of a typical mother, since he didn’t grow up with her, just as Oxford’s feelings for Southampton wouldn’t be those of a typical father, since Southampton didn’t grow up with him. Adoption presents the opposite situation: despite the absence of a biological link, the adopting parent has parental feelings for the adopted child, because the child grows up with him.
Those who want to argue that Shakespeare was purely heterosexual could say, “If the passionate love in the Sonnets is paternal and non-sexual, then couldn’t other examples of passionate love between men, in the works of Shakespeare, be non-sexual — based on intense friendship rather than physical attraction?”
Hamill notes that “On the night Oxford died, June 24, 1604, Southampton was inexplicably arrested by order of the King.... This remarkable episode remains a mystery, but the timing would seem to suggest some sort of connection.” Those who subscribe to the Prince Tudor Theory would say, “Southampton was arrested because he had a claim to the throne, and was thus a threat to the King. His claim was based on the fact that he was Queen Elizabeth’s son.”
If I remember correctly, Oxford was arrested on the night of the Queen’s death. The explanation for this would be, “Oxford was arrested because he had a claim to the throne, as the son and/or husband of Queen Elizabeth.” The theory known as “Prince Tudor Two” says that Oxford was the son of the Queen, and was inserted, as an infant, into the family of the 16th Earl of Oxford. And some Oxfordians believe that, when Oxford was having an affair with the Queen, at around age 23, he was secretly married to her. back
|3.||John Hamill back|
|4.||In an earlier issue, I discussed Sonnet 121, but didn’t consider the possibility that the poet is defending himself against the charge of homosexuality.
The bi-sexuality in Oxford’s life matches the bi-sexuality in Shakespeare’s works, and (Hamill argues) strengthens the case that Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s works. back
Hamill points out that the title suggests a deceased author: “By its heading alone: ‘Shake-speares Sonnets, Never before Imprinted,’ the book not only communicates a sense of privacy breached, but that these are all the sonnets that ‘Shake-speare’ ever wrote, or ever will write. The title itself carries a sense of finality.” back
|6.||Richard Kennedy discussed the blank lines in a witty little pamphlet called “Between the Lines.”
|7.||The Unheavenly City Revisited, Ch. 9, p. 212 back|
|8.||Here the People Rule: Selected Essays, Ch. 18, p. 329 back|
|9.||Here the People Rule, Ch. 17, p. 313. On Smith, see p. 315
“As political scientist James Q. Wilson later explained in the introduction to Banfield’s book Political Influence: ‘The longer a person’s time-horizon, the greater his willingness to defer present pleasures for future benefits, the more convinced he is that his own behavior will determine what the future will bring, and so the higher his (or her) class position.’”(Craig Trainor in Quillette)
Wilson was a disciple of Banfield. Wilson became known for the “broken windows” theory of policing, which said that police should address small infractions in order to create an orderly atmosphere. Trainor thinks that Banfield may have influenced this theory: “Banfield advised city leaders to ‘intensify police patrols in high-crime areas; permit the police to “stop and frisk” and to make misdemeanor arrests on probable cause.’”
Some readers of this e-zine will ask, “How can you criticize a present-oriented mindset? You often praise Zen, which urges people to focus on the present.” It’s one thing to focus on the present because you choose to, it’s another thing to focus on the present because it’s the only mindset you’re capable of. As Kierkegaard said, faith is “immediacy after reflection,” hence it’s different from the immediacy of a child. Zen means being present-oriented after you’ve developed the capacity to be future-oriented. back
|10.||Here the People Rule, Ch. 18, p. 326, quoting Edward Green back|
|11.||Here the People Rule, Ch. 3, epigraph, quoting John Dollard back|
|12.||Here the People Rule, Ch. 18, p. 327 back|
|13.||Here the People Rule, Ch. 18, p. 326. The Folger Shakespeare says “between ten and three-and-twenty,” but the MIT Shakespeare says “between sixteen and three-and-twenty.” Perhaps the Bard couldn’t make up his mind! back|
|14.||The Unheavenly City Revisited, Ch. 9, p. 214 back|
|15.||Here the People Rule, Ch. 18, epigraph, p. 324 back|
|16.||See Johnson’s Life of Addison, quoted in Banfield, Here the People Rule, Ch. 18, p. 334 back|
|17.||On the 1848 revolution, see Here the People Rule, Ch. 18, p. 328. On China’s Cultural Revolution, see ibid, p. 327. back|
|18.||Another black conservative, Thomas Sowell, decried the recent wave of radicalism: “Even though I’m regarded as pessimistic, I was never pessimistic enough to think that things would degenerate to the point where they are now. We hear adult human beings talking about getting rid of the police, talking about reducing the number of police, reducing the resources put into police work at a time when murder rates have been skyrocketing....
“I never dreamed we’d come to this point. It just seems such utter madness, and what is frightening is how many people in responsible positions are caving in to every demand that is made, repeating any kind of nonsense that you’re supposed to repeat. I do believe that... we may well reach a point of no return.... The Roman Empire overcame many problems in its long history, but eventually it reached the point where it simply could no longer continue....
“If the election goes to Biden, there’s a good chance that the Democrats will then control [both] branches of Congress and the White House, and considering the kinds of things that they are proposing, that could well be the point of no return for this country.” back