The Reactionary Utopian
                     August 28, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     This just in from Berlin: A new biography of Johann 
Wolfgang von Goethe says the great German poet was 
actually gay. Never mind his idealization of "the eternal 
feminine," his five children, his legend as a Don Juan. 
He preferred men. According to the biographer Karl Hugo 
Pruys, Goethe's letters show his physical affection for 

     Many Germans hate the idea. I think it serves them 
right. Not only do they elevate Goethe to the level of 
Shakespeare, they also insist that Shakespeare reads 
better in German than in English. Such arrogance can't go 

     Meanwhile, from England, this just in about 
Shakespeare: An Oxford University scholar named Katherine 
Duncan-Jones, editor of the new Arden edition of 
Shakespeare's sonnets, says the famous "Dark Lady" was 
actually male. This would mean that nearly all 154 of 
Shakespeare's sonnets were addressed to men.

     John Kerrigan, editor of the New Penguin edition of 
the sonnets, agrees that the poems "are certainly 
homoerotic." But Anne Barton of Cambridge University 
insists that Shakespeare was "bisexual" and "reacted 
equally to both men and women's sexuality. Our society is 
only now coming to terms with this kind of thing."

     Funny how Shakespeare always seems to have 
anticipated whatever is trendy in our own time. Now it 
appears that Goethe did too.

     Goethe is outside my ken, but the notable thing 
about these three Shakespeare scholars, to my mind, is 
that, despite their disagreements, they seem willing to 
acknowledge two obvious facts. One is that the sonnets 
reveal the poet as a man of unconventional sexual tastes. 
The other fact is implicit in this one: the sonnets are 
autobiographical poems.

     Professor Duncan-Jones shows just how erratic (I 
nearly said "homoerratic") the orthodox Shakespeare 
scholars can be. She gets Shakespeare's identity wrong -- 
he was actually Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford -- but 
that's par for the course: she would be driven out of 
academia if she got it right. But she goes beyond anyone 
else. Nobody has ever nailed down the identity of the 
Dark Lady, but until now there has been general agreement 
among all scholars and readers of all persuasions that 
whoever the Dark Lady was, she was a woman. Professor 
Duncan-Jones is surely the first to get even her sex 

     Oh well. At least we seem to be agreed that no 
matter which sex she belonged to, the Dark Lady was a 
real human being. And the admission that whoever wrote 
these poems had some homosexual experience also means 
that the sonnets are about real experiences, since in 
Elizabethan times nobody would dare feign such a thing.

     I stress this because some orthodox professors have 
accused me of being "naive" for thinking the sonnets are 
autobiographical. Now it seems that that belief puts me 
in respectable company.

     Why should anyone deny that these passionate poems 
come from the poet's heart? For the simple reason that 
they describe the Earl of Oxford rather than the mythical 
"Shakespeare of Stratford." The poet is an aging 
nobleman, down in the heels, in some disgrace, learned in 
the law, and lame. This can only be Oxford, not the 
Stratford gent.

     You might expect the champions of the Stratford man 
to welcome the sonnets as evidence of their man's 
authorship. But they don't. On the contrary, they usually 
try to rule the sonnets inadmissible evidence. To hear 
some of them, you'd think that any reference to the 
sonnets was a violation of their client's Miranda rights 
and must be kept from being used against him in court. 
They'd hardly try to exclude the sonnets from the 
authorship debate if these poems supported the Stratford 
man's claim.

     But when the authorship question isn't at issue, 
many orthodox scholars lean to the view that the sonnets 
show that Shakespeare was gay, or at least bisexual.

     So the academic scholars, unanimously Stratfordian, 
are now torn between yesterday's trendy denial that the 
sonnets reveal anything about the poet's real life and 
today's trendy insistence that they reveal his kinky 
sexual nature.

     However, any admission that "Shakespeare" was really 
someone else would be an admission that the professional 
scholars -- from Cambridge to your local community 
college -- don't know what they're talking about.

[This column was originally published by Universal Press 
Syndicate September 16, 1997.]


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