Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's Sonnet 20 and Byron's To Thyrza

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Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's Sonnet 20 and Byron's To Thyrza

Crompton states in his epilogue "...diverse sexual lifestyles still arouse apprehension even when they threaten no direct harm to others. In this particular matter, our culture faces business unfinished by the Enlightenment" (381). Examining Byron and Shakespeare's poetry, opens a window to the prevailing sexual attitude of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century and defines more clearly the intent of these poets. A sexual metamorphosis involving the realization of homosexual desires and nonconventional erotic preferences occurs in both Lord Byron's "To Thyrza" and William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 20", but the poets, known for the gender ambiguity in their prose and personal relationships, differ greatly in their portrayal of homosexuality and the effect that homosexuality had on both themselves and their poetry.

Byron’s homosexual temperament contrasted sharply to the orthodox attitudes shared by his society. Byron's bisexual nature troubled his adolescence, as homosexuals faced hostile public opinion during the early 1800's. Portraying the illegality and barbaric acts that homosexuals committed, newspapers of the day referred to gays as "monsters whose rarity matched their enormity" (Crompton 164). Secular England also condemned homosexuals for their "neglect of women" (164); however, Byron's good looks and glamour as a poet attracted women, and he was not unresponsive to his popularity.

Intense feelings of desire and affection towards men colors Byron's early life. A precocious child, Byron was an heir to the family title at age eight. A peer at age ten, his emotional and sexual life seemed to have developed correspondingly early. Seduced at...

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...peare displayed affection for a "Master mistress", also a male, but sublimates the desire due to disapproval of his own homosexual urges and fear of public ridicule and exile from society. Unlike Byron, Shakespeare's homosexual affair, fictitious or genuine, does not seem to involve a physical relationship but rather an emotional bond between two men.

The existence of homosexual desires is clearly demonstrated in Shakespeare's "Sonnet 20" and Byron's "To Thyrza." However, these poets' environment dictated the sexual metamorphosis that enabled them to maintain their sexual ambiguity and protect their anonymity in their respective works. These poems provide a framework to serve the duality that reflected this era in British society; preservation of a nation's preferred orthodox sexual identity, and the reality of its' authors heretical erotic feelings.
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