As part of our celebration of LGBT History month, let’s take a look at the life and legacy of English playwright William Shakespeare.
April, 1564 (exact date unknown)
23 April 1616, aged 52
Born in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s father was a successful glove-maker, and he was educated at the local grammar school.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway – six months later, Hathaway gave birth to their first child. The couple subsequently had two more children.
Little is known of Shakespeare’s entry into theatre, or his move from Stratford-upon-Avon to London. But by 1592, several of his plays were being performed on London stages.
After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men. In 1599, a partnership of members of the company built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they named the Globe.
Shakespeare’s plays and his association with the King’s Men made him a wealthy man. His body of work includes 37 plays, as well as numerous sonnets and poems. He is perhaps the best-known playwright in the English language, and his works continue to be performed today.
The Fair Youth
Not a lot of detail is known about Shakespeare’s sexuality. The main evidence of his attraction to men is his sonnets. First published in 1609, 126 of the sonnets appear to be love poems addressed to a young man known as the ‘Fair Lord’ or ‘Fair Youth’ – this is often assumed to be the same person as the ‘Mr W.H.’ to whom the sonnets are dedicated.
The identity of the Fair Youth is unclear. The most popular candidates are Shakespeare’s patrons, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke – both of whom were considered handsome in their youth.