Hay Festival: Fry on Shakespeare and sexuality

“Shakespeare was gay,” Stephen Fry told a Hay audience. “And that’s not just because I want to make him part of my clan. The evidence is incontrovertible”.

Fry said that the most powerful love expressed in Shakespeare’s literature was in the sonnets addressed to a young man. Educated youths in Shakespeare’s time would have encountered “more obviously homosexual literature” than young scholars do today, said Fry, adding that the evidence for Shakespeare’s relationships with young men was entrenched in his literature.

Sonnet 20 – ‘a Woman’s Face’ – is obviously addressed to a pretty young man, and Fry said it was beautiful precisely because “we can see Shakespeare falling in love”.
Fry described how Shakespeare manipulated the iambic pentameter to show the difference between love and lust.

In Sonnet 18 – ‘Shall I compare thee..’ — Shakespeare ensured there were no pauses or run-on-lines in the rhythm of the poem until the very last line when a brief pause was used for effect. Contrast this, Fry said, with Leontes’ fractured, jealous speech in ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and we can see “the true genius of Shakespeare”.

Hailed in the West End and on Broadway for his Malvolio, Fry was speaking about the bard and love in the sell-out ‘Shakespeare 450 series’ event, sponsored by The Folio Society.

In front of a rapturous Festival audience, Fry was presented with The Folio Society’s spectacular Letterpress edition of ‘Twelfth Night’.