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The Garden

Shakespeare’s Most Interesting Sonnet

William Shakespeare wrote the greatest sonnets in the English language. What makes this one so special?


XX

 

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,

Which 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.

-1609

The LGBTQ Shakespeare?

Even among Shakespeare’s most famous works, Sonnet XX stands out for its unique perspectives on gender and sexuality. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Notably, all theatrical roles in Shakespeare’s time were portrayed by men on the stage, and he did experiment with plot devices about mistaken gender identity that flirted with homosexual themes. Perhaps Elizabeth I had shifted the conversation to the point where a phrase like “master mistress of my passion” could fly under the radar of the burning stakes crowd. Then again, there’s a lot of evidence that Shakespeare is describing a very beautiful androgynous man or even an early transgender love interest in this work.

What do you think? Was Shakespeare fluid in his sexuality? Or is this just his trademark wordplay on a gender level?


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