Follow TV Tropes


Ho Yay / William Shakespeare

Go To

  • On a Meta level, some of Shakespeare's plays have a male character wooing a female character who is both ''played'' by a man (often young men or boys whose voices haven't changed yet) and ''disguised'' as a man. End result: Two men on stage making out. That Other Wiki suggests that it might have been a very early form of Fanservice.
  • this Shakespeare is gay is a podcast dedicated to analysing the queer themes in each Shakespeare play.
  • In As You Like It, Orlando spends a large chunk of the play wooing Rosalind... while she's dressed as a man. To be fair, she instigates the craziness, saying that she can cure him of his love by pretending to be a false and changeable woman, but how involved he gets in the charade is up for debate, especially since she takes the name Ganymede (Zeus' cupbearer in Greek Mythology; in Renaissance England the name carried connotations of being the object of male gay affection).
    • There is also Les Yay between Rosalind and Celia. Le Beau even says that their love is "closer than the natural bond of sisters".
    • Not to mention Rosalind and Phoebe, who falls in Love at First Sight with Rosalind dressed as a man when Silvius is trying to get her to marry him.
  • In Antony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus certainly seems to have unrequited feelings for Antony. When he deserts him in a weak moment, he pretty much instantly regrets it, and eventually dies of a broken heart, with Antony's name on his lips.
    • Cleopatra and her handmaidens are also in Les Yay territory.
  • The Syracusian Antipholus and Dromio in The Comedy of Errors definitely had some sort of bromance going on. One production color-coded them in pink AND had them clinging to each other repeatedly which did NOT help.
  • Coriolanus is a Queer Romance. The title character betrays Rome to join with an invading army led by Aufidius. Aufidius's reaction can be paraphrased as "I love my wife, but this makes me happier than I was on my wedding day."
    • ...And then takes it to another level by describing a recurring dream of "fighting" with Coriolanus:
      Let me twine
      Mine arms about that body, where against
      My grained ash an hundred times hath broke
      And scarr'd the moon with splinters: here I clip
      The anvil of my sword, and do contest
      As hotly and as nobly with thy love
      As ever in ambitious strength I did
      Contend against thy valour. Know thou first,
      I loved the maid I married; never man
      Sigh'd 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. Why, thou Mars! I tell thee,
      We have a power on foot; and I had purpose
      Once more to hew thy target from thy brawn,
      Or lose mine arm fort: thou hast beat me out
      Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
      Dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me;
      We have been down together in my sleep,
      Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat,
      And waked half dead with nothing.
    • The BBC Shakespeare version has Aufidius give this speech while putting his hand under Coriolanus' shirt and basically getting to second base.
    • Aufidius kisses Coriolanus on the mouth before the above monologue in the National Theatre production with Tom Hiddleston and Hadley Fraser.
  • In Cymbeline, Guiderius gets a number of lines to Imogen expressing his love (fraternal, as he always insists afterwards) for Fidele, the boy that Imogen is disguised as.
    Guiderius: Were you a woman, youth, I would woo hard to be your groom. I'd bid for you as I'd buy.
  • Hamlet and Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet's close friend, confidant and ultimately the only one Hamlet really trusts throughout, and almost kills himself at Hamlet's death. And, he says the line "Goodnight sweet prince." If that line isn't Ho Yay, than what is? Not to mention the subtext almost doubles when you look at how crappily Hamlet treats his girlfriend, or the strong evidence that the characters were inspired by the scandal-ridden Brahe and Kepler.
    • The only reason Horatio doesn't kill himself is because Hamlet takes the poisoned goblet away and tells him not to. Act three, scene two, lines sixty-five to seventy-six (3:2:65-76), or thereabouts depending on your edition.
      Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man
      As e'er my conversation coped withal.
      O my dear lord-
      Nay, do not think I flatter.
      For what advancement may I hope from thee
      That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
      To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flattered?
    • And this:
      ...Dost thou hear?
      Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice,
      And could of men distinguish, her election
      Hath seal'd thee for herself: for thou hast been
      As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing;
      A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
      Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those
      Whose blood and judgement are so well comingle
      That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
      To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
      That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
      In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
      As I do thee.
    • Hamlet also mentions kissing Yorick in that famous scene. Could be platonic, but he specifically mentions kissing Yorick's lips. Depending on how you look at it, the fact that Hamlet was a child when Yorick was still alive could make this better or worse.
    • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They're practically canon. It only gets worse when Tom Stoppard gets his hands on them.
  • Hal/Hotspur from Henry IV, Part 1.
    But be he as he will, yet once ere night
    I will embrace him with a soldier's arm,
    That he shall shrink [tremble] under my courtesy.
    • And
      Come, let me taste my horse,
      Who is to bear me like a thunderbolt
      Against the bosom of the Prince of Wales:
      Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse,
      Meet and ne'er part till one drop down a corse.
  • In Henry V, III.viii was listed in our S.M's script as "Big Gay Love Scene". And then there's An intimate scene between Exeter and Harry in which Exeter weeps as he relates to Harry Suffolk and York's "testament to noble-ending love". Harry also gives Exeter his coat at some point earlier on.
  • Some of the male characters in Julius Caesar seem to love each other more than their wives.
    • Truth in Television there. Eminent Romans didn't marry for love, and a man who loved his wife was considered somewhat ridiculous.
      Cassius: Give me your hand.
      Brutus: And my heart, too.
      They embrace.
    • It's very difficult to play IV:III (the scene where Cassius and Brutus argue before the battle) nowadays without it looking like a homoerotic lovers' tiff, while alone in a tent together:
      Cassius: I denied you not.
      Brutus: You did.
      Cassius: I did not. He was but a fool that brought
      My answer back. Brutus hath rived my heart.
    • Just after that:
      Cassius: You love me not.
      Brutus: I do not like your faults.
    • Cassius then desperately laments he is "hated by one he loves," jealously accuses Brutus of loving Caesar more than him, and offers his dagger to Brutus, asking him to stab him in the chest because he cannot bear the misery. Ironically, he later asks the same of a servant after learning erroneously that Brutus is dead; the servant obliges. Brutus returns and kills himself upon Cassius' sword. Sound familiar?
  • In King Lear, there's a considerable amount between Lear and Kent. Kent is so loyal and devoted to Lear that he disguises himself as a servant to help him once he's been banished - and even braves the storm at his side. As Lear dies, Kent too implies he may kill himself later so they can be Together in Death.
  • In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Ford notes the Les Yay between his own wife and her best friend, Mistress Page, telling them "I think if your husbands were dead, you two would marry." Undercut slightly by Mistress Page's response ("Be sure of that—two other husbands") and the fact that Ford's (unjustified) marital jealousy is his defining character fault...
  • Some critics have suggested that Antonio from The Merchant of Venice (the only male protagonist with no female love interest) has an unrequited crush on his friend Bassanio.
    • That's a totally 'chaste' kiss in the 2004 film version, by the way. Even though the one of them closes his eyes, like he was totally expecting it. The actual kiss being preceeded, even, by Bassanio tenderly cupping Antonio's cheek for along moment before going for the lips. Yupp, chaste! Not to mention how Antonio chastely lures Bassanio into, if I remember correctly, chastely removing his jacket and climbing onto the bed with him to chastely suck his face off.
    • It's pretty obvious that Bassanio is only marrying Portia for her money. Bassanio also intends to bring Antonio along on their honeymoon, calls Antonio "my sweet" four times, and spends four days "feasting" with Antonio - nice euphemism - before showing up at Belmont. Unrequited, you say?
    • In the court scene where Shylock is bent on digging out Antonio's flesh and won't relent to any pleas for mercy, Bassanio blatantly says that though he loves his wife, he would willingly trade her to save Antonio. Make of that what you will...
    • What sane guy will risk having his flesh carved out just to help a friend who's run out of cash and wasted all the borrowed money as well. Antonio probably wasn't that generous with all his other friends or it would be a miracle how he managed to run a business!
    • He also says something to Bassanio when he comes to ask for money that can roughly be summarised as "My purse and my heart are always open to you''.
    • Antonio calls himself a "tainted wether" (roughly meaning "castrated ram"). That's not a hint or a subtle nudge, that's a direct, blatant euphemism (in Elizabethan English). There's not really a grey area as to his sexuality.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
    • Between Oberon and his 'gentle Puck'.
    • In the 2013 Globe production, when Oberon learns that Puck's ensured that Titania has fallen in love with the donkey-headed Bottom, he swings across the stage, snatches Puck up, dips him so low his legs are off the ground, and kisses him full on the lips. It lasts about half a minute.
      • Puck, for his part, is positively swooning during this exchange.
    • In the same production, Titania displays much physical affection to her mostly female entourage. However, the effect is diminished as the servant fairies are crosscast rather than gender flipped.
    • The BBC 2016 version even adds another side to the love dodecahedron, with briefly Demetrius falling for Lysander.
      • This version also switches up some lines, making it so Titania and Hippolyta are in love. They even share a good, long kiss at the end.
    • The 2016 Globe production gender-swaps Helena into Helenus and strongly implies that his reunion with Demetrius is because Demetrius has accepted his own sexuality. (This also means there's a love triangle between the three guys while Lysander is under the influence of the love potion.) Of course, this can be a Broken Aesop as Demetrius ends up with them due to being brainwashed.
    • The 2004 Greenwich Playhouse production similarly gave the play a queer makeover by swapping around the parts of Lysander and Helena (i.e. Helena became Hermia's lover, while Lysander became Demetrius' jilted ex). In this version, the two women decided to elope together, while Lysander forlornly followed Demetrius into the forest and ended up as the subject of a tug-of-war between him and Helena during the quarrel scene.
      • The 2010 Mauckingbird Theatre Company production did the same thing, but without swapping their names.
  • Othello, which has one scene where Iago convinces Othello Cassio's having an affair with his wife by making up a story that he was practically molested by Cassio, when they shared a bed and Cassio in his sleep thought Iago was Desdemona. In detail.
    • Some scholars — and many a high school English teacher — have proposed that Iago's true motivation is unrequited love for Othello. You can find evidence for this in his dialogue.
    • The play's "climax" (by the Elizabethan definition, i.e., the midpoint) is a vow of fealty between Othello and Iago eerily reminiscent of a wedding ceremony.
      Othello: *kneels* In the due reverence of a sacred vow
      I here engage my words.
      Iago: Do not rise yet. *kneels*
      Witness, you ever-burning lights above,
      You elements that clip us round about,
      Witness that here Iago doth give up
      The execution of his wit, hands, heart,
      To wrong'd Othello's service! Let him command,
      And to obey shall be in me remorse,
      What bloody business ever.
      *they rise*
      Othello: I greet thy love,
      Not with vain thanks, but with acceptance bounteous,
      And will upon the instant put thee to't:
      Within these three days let me hear thee say
      That Cassio's not alive.
      Iago: I am your own for ever.
    • The 2001 re-imagining featuring Eamonn Walker and Christopher Eccleston included a scene in which Iago takes a cheek swab from Othello for a DNA test. He leaves the swab in Othello's mouth for an awfully long while...
    • In the 2015 Stratford production had Les Yay between Desdemona and Emilia, which turned their final scene together before the murders into a massive Tear Jerker.
  • Richard II and Aumerle. In the 2013 RSC production with David Tennant they actually make out. The Hollow Crown also makes their relationship explicitly gay.
  • In Richard III, about the executed little boys:
    ’Lo, thus’ quoth Dighton, ’lay those tender babes:’
    ’Thus, thus,’ quoth Forrest, ’girdling one another
    Within their innocent alabaster arms:
    Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
    Which in their summer beauty kiss’d each other.
  • The Romeo/Mercutio subtext almost distracts from the Romeo and Juliet text. This is taken to extreme levels in the quasi-modern Luhrmann version, which portrays Mercutio as a Camp Gay.
    • Hell, it was pretty blatant in the Zeffirelli version as well. They're about two inches away from each other during the Queen Mab speech. This may have been intentional, given Zeffirelli's inclinations. Though, with Romeo's pining for Rosaline and then (supposedly) more mature pining for Juliet, it's very likely that much of it could have been unrequited.
    • David Tennant wrote an essay that touched upon this. He and Adrian Schiller chose to deliberately play the relationship as homoerotic, with Romeo spurning Mercutio's advances.
    • Within the original text, the whole "Nay, good goose, bite not" exchange comes across as incredibly flirtatious. Playful ear biting and banter aside, the conversation revolves around Romeo's penis. And of course, there is Mercutio's Queen Mab speech. It is Romeo's love and melancholy towards Rosaline which prompts Mercutio's cynical and somewhat unhinged rant, so it is easy to interpret his feelings as jealousy.
    • It's also fair to note the Mercutio/Benvolio subtext. After all, Benvolio disappears from the play completely after Mercutio's death. While most adaptations show Mercutio dying in Romeo's arms, in Shakespeare's text, he dies offstage by Benvolio's side.
    • Romeo/Tybalt: "Love thee better than thou canst devise"?
    • While evidence in the original text is scarce, many adaptations portray Tybalt and Mercutio this way, often with sexual taunting, sometimes with a "Take That!" Kiss, and once in a film from Quebec, even a BDSM sex scene that leads to an extremely masochistic Mercutio's death.
    • Even the scarcity of Tybalt/Mercutio evidence is arguable. When Mercutio first describes Tybalt, his speech is falsely admirative and as custom for Shakespeare, completely innuendo-laden. The best line would be "More than prince of cats, I can tell you". The innuendo relating to the word "cat" dates even back to then, so it can be interpreted as Mercutio implying Tybalt's interests extend beyond women. There's also this entire exchange, which to modern ears is simply hilarious. Of course, which parts are intentional double entendres and which suffer from a case of Have a Gay Old Time is very debatable:
      Mercutio: And but a word with one of us ? Couple it with something. Make it a word and a blow.
      Tybalt: You shall find me apt enough to that, sir, an you will give me occasion.
      Mercutio: Could you not take some occasion without giving?
      Tybalt: Mercutio, thou consort'st with Romeo.
    • Not to mention back in Shakespeare's days there were no female actors....
  • Tranio towards Lucentio, in The Taming of the Shrew, which includes:
    I am content to be Lucentio,
    Because so well I love Lucentio.
  • In The Tempest, Prospero and Ariel can be interpreted this way. Prospero is inordinately fond of calling him by pet names ("my bird", "my chick", "my delicate Ariel").
    Ariel: Do you love me, master? No?
    Prospero: Dearly, my delicate Ariel.
    • Antonio and Sebastian spend most of the time giggling and making witty comments to each other in the background of the scenes, or else plotting together and saying things that amount to, 'when I'm king, I'll love you.' It doesn't help that they have the same names as a certain pair from Twelfth Night.
    • Stephano and Trinculo have some subtext as well.
  • In Troilus and Cressida, there are multiple hints at Achilles and Patroclus being in a sexual relationship. They always enter and exit scenes together, share a tent, and Achilles even mentioned that "Of this my privacy I have strong reasons" when Ulysses mentions him staying in his tent instead of fighting. There is a direct reference to a sexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in this exchange between Patroclus and Thersites:
    Prithee be silent, boy. I profit not by thy talk. Thou art thought to be Achilles' male varlet.
    'Male varlet', you rogue? What's that?
    Why, his masculine whore.
    • Achilles and Patroclus of the original Illiad were often thought of as lovers, an interpretation that Shakespeare agreed with.
    • Pandarus, Cressida's uncle, has an obvious interest in hooking up his niece with his buddy, Troilus. Beyond his devotion to Troilus in his serving as a go-between, Pandarus also praises Troilus looks and good qualities frequently. And when Cressida is forced to go to the Greek camp from Troy, Pandarus' main concern is not about her welfare, but that this will break Troilus' heart.
      "I could live and die i' the eyes of Troilus."
  • Antonio from Twelfth Night seems to be very fond of Sebastian, going to far as to travel into the land of his longtime enemy, Orsino, in order to follow Sebastian. Those Antonios, man!
    "If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant."
    • In the above quote, which comes in their first scene together, there are puns on "murder" ("to die" could also mean "to orgasm") and "servant" (both in the still-familiar sense of "servicing" someone and as an archetype in courtly love). Ambiguity goes out the window very early on.
    • With some productions with mostly-female casts and an attempt to avoid confusion by in-show crossdressing in both plays, both came off 100% as unrequited crushes.
    • The 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of Twelfth Night included fairly blatant heartbreak on Antonio's part, and "thank God I'm not gay" on Orsino's.
    • Olivia's speech "But yet I cannot love him" has certain undertones.
    • Not to mention that it's hard not to think of swapping possibilities among Orsino/Viola/Olivia/Sebastian, even after the Mistaken Identity is cleared up...
  • Proteus and Valentine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona can come across as Ambiguously Gay, right from their opening speeches to each other. Proteus' Face–Heel Turn and errant pursuit of Silvia can, accordingly, be seen as motivated not so much by actually wanting her as by jealousy of her and a desire to keep Valentine away from her, and the remorse he expresses at the end of the play is only on account of betraying his bond with Valentine (and not for, you know, nearly raping Silvia).
    • Julia and Silvia have a Les Yay moment while the former is disguised as a boy.
    • A certain Greenwich Theatre production explicitly made the two gents lovers.
  • Many of the Sonnets, including the famous "Shall I compare thee to a summers day?" were written about a Fair Youth, not a woman.
    • The epicenter of Shakespearean Ho Yay is Sonnet 20, which combines a straightforwardly homoerotic surface meaning with enough double and triple entendres that, in some editions, the annotations explaining them are longer than the poem itself:
      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 though 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 pricked thee out for women's pleasure,
      Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.