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Straight Acting

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781529390476

Price: £22

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‘Engrossing, enlightening and hugely entertaining’
SARAH WATERS, author of Fingersmith

‘Brilliant – so vivid and so sharp, fantastically clever and consistently fascinating’
KATHERINE RUNDELL, author of Super-Infinite

Was Shakespeare gay? The answer is both simpler and more complex than you might think . . .

Shakespeare’s work was profoundly influenced by the queer culture of his time – much of it totally integrated into mainstream society. From a relentless schooling in Latin and Greek homoeroticism, to a less formal education on the streets and in smoky taverns, from the gender-bending of the early comedies to the astonishingly queer literary scene that nurtured Shakespeare’s sonnets, this is a story of artistic development and of personal crisis.

Straight Acting is a surprising portrait of Shakespeare’s queer lives – his own and those in his plays and poems. It is a journey back in time and through Shakespeare’s England, revealing a culture that both endorsed and supressed same-sex desire. It is a call to stop making Shakespeare act straight and to recognise how queerness powerfully shaped the life and career of the world’s most famous playwright.

‘Magisterial and saucy . . . This fresh account kickstarts the queer canon of English literature: Shakespeare won’t go back in the closet again’
EMMA SMITH, author of This Is Shakespeare


At once magisterial and saucy, Straight Acting gets to the heart of Shakespeare's queer literary formation. Will Tosh writes with clarity and cheek, drawing on forgotten contemporaries, reminding us of the cultural status of ancient Greek texts and their sexual mores, and remapping a homoerotic geography of Elizabethan London. His account is deeply researched - but most importantly, it breaks down the barriers between lived experience and desires today, and four centuries ago. This fresh account kickstarts the queer canon of English literature: Shakespeare won't go back in the closet again
Emma Smith, author of THIS IS SHAKESPEARE
A scholarly romp through the rich complexities of Shakespeare's queer life, work and culture. Engrossing, enlightening and hugely entertaining
Sarah Waters, author of FINGERSMITH
Will Tosh's tour through the spaces of Shakespeare's childhood, youth and early years as a dramatist is utterly captivating. Marshalling his deep knowledge of the period and of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, he convinces us of the queerness of these times - and queerness not in the margins but in familiar structures of thought and feeling, in the everyday places where men learned, socialised, slept and were entertained, and in what Shakespeare wrote and had performed. He shows us that queerness wasn't just in a dance with the normal in Shakespeare's Stratford and London, it was in a profound sense part of what was normal. He thus pushes us to question how a sense of queerness weaves through our present and how it should figure in the ways we think about, stage and represent Shakespeare and his astonishing work now
Prof Matt Cook, Jonathan Cooper Chair of the History of Sexuality, University of Oxford
A remarkable work of scholarship. Will Tosh brings Shakespeare's world to life, revealing the queer connections between his life and works in an amusing and accessible manner
Paul Baker, author of CAMP!
Straight Acting is brilliant - so vivid and so sharp, fantastically clever and consistently fascinating. It will change the way people think about Shakespeare, in rich and valuable ways
Katherine Rundell, author of SUPER-INFINITE
As well as a deep analysis of one man's life, Straight Acting is a treasure trove of queerness from the Elizabethan era as a whole. I loved it, and it is required reading for anyone who thinks they know Shakespeare
Sacha Coward, author of QUEER AS FOLKLORE
A creative and capacious book that moves smoothly between recorded and speculative history . . . [Tosh] offers persuasive readings of expressions of same-sex desire in Shakespeare's writing. This is by any standard a lively and accomplished biography of Shakespeare . . . His gift, rather, is to bring scholarly rigour to bear on queerness in early modern England. Straight Acting shines the same light on Shakespeare's England as some of the Globe's best productions
Sophie Duncan, Literary Review
Snappy . . . a necessary provocation
Nick Curtis, Evening Standard