Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Silvia Ruffo Fiore, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lagretta Lenker, Ph.D.


gender, homoerotic, homosexual, androgyny, queer, transgender, early modern, Renaissance


In the thesis I inquire into the nature of the same-sex bonds in Shakespeare’s comedies. I discuss seven pairs of characters and demonstrate how in his comedies, Shakespeare first created homosocial relationships, later homoerotic relationships, then bisexual relationships, and, finally, a couple that may be described as androgynous. I demonstrate that in the early comedies the relationships are primarily homosocial and serve the purpose of self-realization. The self-realization includes reaching of a balance between a “feminine,” and a “masculine” self, with the goal of becoming a mature, androgynous human being. Although there are some homoerotic undercurrents in both the male and female relationships created during this period, I do not believe that these relationships are intended to represent a permanent sexual orientation. I see them as a part of the pattern that occurs in most of the plays, which possibly reflects Shakespeare’s concept of the process of maturing into an adult who is ready to accept the bonds of marriage.

All of Shakespeare’s comedies contain homosocial relationships, sometimes with homoerotic undercurrents. The primary purpose of these relationships is the realization of the self. A young person enters into a relationship with another young person, a coeval, who resembles him/herself in numerous ways. They spend a lot of time together, involved in activities that are of interest to both of them. They see themselves in their friend. They identify not only with the persona, but also with the physique of the friend. Therefore, the (homo)erotic undercurrents that are present in some of the relationships are in fact the realization of the characters’ own eroticism and sexuality and are therefore not directed at the other character with the aim of gratification of sexual desire. The relationships with (homo)erotic undercurrents are merely a stage in the development of the self, and do not constitute a permanent sexual orientation. The final stage in the above pattern is marriage. Once the character has realized him/herself, (s)he is ready to marry.

The homoerotic undercurrents begin to emerge in 1598, and in 1599 Shakespeare creates Antonio and Sebastian as his first homoerotic couple. In the same play appear the first three bisexual characters: Olivia, Orsino, and Sebastian. Again, since the three characters reach self-realization and marry at the play’s end, the issue of bisexuality can be interpreted either as a lifestyle, or as a stepping stone in one’s development toward adulthood and marriage. Another possibility is that the occurrence of bisexuality and the androgynous twins Viola and Sebastian serve to open up space for an inward marriage. In other words, the twins represent the climax of the pattern of self-realization through friends and lover, and add the notion that the better we know ourselves, the more we are aware of our androgyny.

In the pattern that I trace through the four comedies, I demonstrate how Shakespeare uses homosocial, homoerotic, and bisexual relationships as means of learning about the true self, the self which reaches beyond the boundaries of gender, into—androgyny.