Shakespeare’s ‘visceral’ writing about women shows he was angry with one for giving him a sexually transmitted infection, an expert has suggested.
The Bard may have contracted syphilis after ‘getting up to no good’ in the East End of London, claimed Professor Sir Jonathan Bate of Oxford University.
"Sexual disgust’ with women may then have leaked into his works, he suggested. "I have to be very wary about speculating and projecting Shakespeare’s autobiography on his plays," he told the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
"There’s just little bits of circumstantial evidence. A couple of the late sonnets have reference to the mercury baths, which is where you went when you caught syphilis."
The professor, who was knighted in 2015 for services to literature, added that at the end of King James I’s reign, Shakespeare was not attending court with other actors, hinting that he may have been ill as there was a law banning those with syphilis from being within 400 yards of the monarch.
He also pointed to speeches in King Lear where the king expresses disgust with women. "There are various moments when there’s a kind of abhorrent behaviour, outbursts of anger and also outbursts of sexual disgust?… 'the sulphurous pit' and so on," he said.
But Dr Paul Edmondson, head of research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, accused the eminent Shakespearean of being ‘deliberately provocative’.
He said: ‘Nobody knows what Shakespeare died of, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever – none whatsoever – that he had syphilis or was treated for it.’