Straight Acting

The Hidden Queer Lives of William Shakespeare

Coming Soon


By Will Tosh

Formats and Prices




$39.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $30.00 $39.00 CAD
  2. ebook $17.99 $22.99 CAD

A dazzling portrait of Shakespeare as a young artist, revealing how his rich and complex queer life informed the plays and poems we treasure today

“Was Shakespeare gay?” For years the question has sent experts and fans into a tailspin of confusion. But as scholar Will Tosh argues, this debate misses the point: sex, intimacy, and identity in Elizabethan England were infinitely more complex—and queer—than we have been taught.
In this incisive biography, Tosh reveals William Shakespeare as a queer artist who drew on his society’s nuanced understanding of gender and sexuality to create some of English literature’s richest works. During Shakespeare’s time, same-sex desire was repressed and punished by the Church and state, but it was also articulated and sustained by institutions across England. Moving through the queer spaces of Shakespeare’s life—his Stratford schoolroom, smoky London taverns and playhouses, the royal court—Tosh shows how strongly Shakespeare’s early work was influenced by the queer culture of the time, much of it totally integrated into mainstream society. He also uncovers the surprising reason why Shakespeare veered away from his early work’s gender-bending homoeroticism.
Offering a subversive sketch of Elizabethan England, Straight Acting uncovers Shakespeare as one of history’s great queer artists and completely reshapes the way we understand his life and times.
Request Desk/Exam Copy


  • "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
  • "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
  • "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."
    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!

On Sale
Sep 17, 2024
Page Count
304 pages
Seal Press

Will Tosh

About the Author

Will Tosh is head of research at Shakespeare’s Globe, London. He is a scholar of early modern literature and culture, a dramaturg for Renaissance classics and new plays, and a historical adviser for television and radio. He is the author of two previous books, and he appears regularly in the media to discuss Shakespeare and his world. He lives in London.

Learn more about this author