Sir Ian McKellen insists Hamlet is bisexual

Sir Ian McKellen insists Hamlet is bisexual as he returns to play the young prince again at the age of 82 in age-blind version of the Shakespeare play

  • Speculation over sexuality of the character has long been rife among scholars 
  • Theatre veteran first played the Prince of Denmark in the tragedy 50 years ago
  • He takes the part on in production opening at Theatre Royal Windsor next week

Sir Ian McKellen insists Hamlet is bisexual, as he returns to play the young prince once more at the age of 82 in an age-blind interpretation of the Shakespeare play. 

The theatre veteran first played the Prince of Denmark in the tragedy 50 years ago and will take on the part again in a production opening at the Theatre Royal Windsor next week.

It is thought Hamlet was meant to be around 30 years old, while speculation over the character’s sexuality has long been rife.

Sir Ian McKellen insists Hamlet is bisexual, as he returns to play the young prince once more at the age of 82 in an age-blind interpretation of the Shakespeare play

The theatre veteran first played the Prince of Denmark in the tragedy 50 years ago and will take on the part again in a production opening at the Theatre Royal Windsor next week 

The actor will lead the Theatre Royal Windsor’s summer season company in Hamlet from June 21. Pictured: McKellen and the cast of Hamlet during their rehearsal 

Could Hamlet be bisexual? 

Speculation over the character’s sexuality has long been rife. 

Scholars have previously pointed out that while Hamlet is romantically involved with Ophelia, their relationship appears strained.

The prince is cruel to her, and she becomes a lightning rod for his anger over Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius, while others highlight the fact the pair simply share very little time on stage together. 

Hamlet also appears to have complex relationships with many of the male characters, including Rosencrantz who tells him in the play: ‘You did love me once’.

Similarly, he is extremely close to Horatio, telling him: ‘Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice and could of men distinguish, her election hath seal’d thee for herself…give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart, as I do thee.’

Meanwhile, the sexuality of Shakespeare himself has also been a topic of debate, despite his well-documented marriage to Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children.

Some scholars argue analysis of his sonnets suggests he is bisexual, as they are described as love poems addressed to a man, while also featuring puns relating to homosexuality. 

Scholars have previously pointed out that while Hamlet is romantically involved with Ophelia, their relationship appears strained.

The prince is cruel to her, and she becomes a lightning rod for his anger over Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius, while others highlight the fact the pair simply share very little time on stage together. 

Hamlet also appears to have complex relationships with many of the male characters, including Rosencrantz who tells him in the play: ‘You did love me once’.

Similarly, he is extremely close to Horatio, telling him: ‘Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice and could of men distinguish, her election hath seal’d thee for herself…give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart, as I do thee.’

Meanwhile, the sexuality of Shakespeare himself has also been a topic of debate, despite his well-documented marriage to Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children.

Some scholars argue analysis of his sonnets suggests he is bisexual, as they are described as love poems addressed to a man, while also featuring puns relating to homosexuality. 

Speaking about the upcoming performance, Sir Ian told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row: ‘When you come see me you won’t see an old man pretending to be a young man, you’ll see a man pretending to be a prince, pretending to be an intellectual, pretending to be a neurotic, pretending to love his mother, pretending to love girls and boys.

‘You didn’t know that was in Hamlet did you?

‘It’s there, Rosencrantz to Hamlet: ‘You did love me once’.’

Discussing returning to the role in his 80s, Sir Ian said: ‘I suppose I thought I might be playing Polonius, ‘No we’d like you to play Hamlet’, said Sean (Mathias, theatre director).

‘There was a pause, I thought that sounds like a bit of a silly idea, and then I thought no if that’s what you want to do, if you want to just say at the beginning of the show; ‘Here is a group of actors – all sizes, shapes and ages, and colours and ethnicities, and experience – and we’re going to tell the old familiar story, but perhaps not in the old familiar way’, that seemed to me an adventure worth going on.’


Emmanuella Cole (left) and Francesca Annis (right) will star alongside McKellen in the production this summer 


The production will see Jenny Seagrove (left) play Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and Steven Berkoff (right) play Polonius


Alis Wyn Davies (left) and Ben Allen (right) will also star in Hamlet which will open to the public from June 21 


The company also includes actors Asif Khan (left) and Nick Howard-Brown (right) 


Joining the Lord of The Rings star will be Llinos Daniel (left) and Ashley D. Gayle (right) 

Missy Malek will join the cast for the production which will see McKellen play the Prince of Denmark for ten weeks

Sir Ian came out during a BBC radio appearance in 1988 and said he could not recall if it was planned or a spontaneous decision.

He said: ‘I can’t tell you for certain, but I know I’d been thinking about it and discussing with friends who were open about their sexuality as to whether it would be an appropriate thing for me to do.

‘People I talked to, principally Armistead Maupin, author of Tales Of The City, he said it would be important for me in my development as a person, but he said it would be important for other people.

‘Well, that rather appealed to me, coming from a family of ‘do-gooders’.

‘I hadn’t felt up to that time that I was disadvantaged by the laws of the land which made it illegal for me to make love, because I simply broke the law.

‘But of course when I grew up and understood what the actual laws were – and this pernicious new little law (Section 28) that was being brought in, very mean spirited, inhibiting children to being introduced to the fact of homosexuality in society – it was only when I realised that there was grave injustice, that I realised it was a grave injustice against me and I took it personally, and once I’d taken it personally it became obvious not what I had to do, but wanted to do.’

Asked if it liberated him, he replied: ‘Totally, oh yes.

‘Once you are free as everyone else is, to choose to be your own person and express yourself in your own way – which when you’re in the closet you can’t and don’t do – your life of course changes in every aspect for the better, particularly in relationships with other people.

‘Is it any wonder that my acting got better? It did, almost overnight.

‘Now my acting is not about disguise but about revelation.’

The full interview is on Front Row on June 18 from 7pm on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.

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