He was baptized on 13 June 1574, the son of Richard Barnfield, gentleman. His obscure though close relationship with Shakespeare has long made him interesting to scholars. In November 1589 Barnfield matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, and took his degree in February 1592. He performed the exercise for his masters gown, but seems to have left the university abruptly, without proceeding to the M.A.
It is conjectured that he came up to London in 1593, and became acquainted with Watson, Drayton, and perhaps with Edmund Spenser. The death of Sir Philip Sidney had occurred while Barnfield was still a school-boy, but it seems to have strongly affected his imagination and to have inspired some of his earliest verses. In November 1594, in his twenty-first year, Barnfield published anonymously his first work, The Affectionate Shepherd, dedicated with familiar devotion to Penelope Rich, Lady Rich. This was a sort of florid romance, in two books of six-line stanzas, in the manner of Lodge and Shakespeare, dealing at large with the complaint of Daphnis for the love of Ganymede. As the author expressly admitted later, it was an expansion or paraphrase of Virgil's second eclogue Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexim.
Although the poem was successful, it did not pass without censure from the moral point of view because of its openly homosexual content. Two months later, in January 1595, Barnfield published his second volume, Cynthia, with certain Sonnets, and the legend of Cassandra, and this time signed the preface, which was dedicated, in terms which imply close personal relations, to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. This is a book of extreme interest; it exemplifies the earliest study both of Spenser and Shakespeare. Cynthia itself, a panegyric on Queen Elizabeth, is written in the Spenserian stanza, of which it is probably the earliest example extant outside The Faerie Queene.
In 1598 Barnfield published his third volume, The Encomion of Lady Pecunia, a poem in praise of money, followed by a sort of continuation, in the same six-line stanza, called The Complaint of Poetry for the Death of Liberality. In this volume there is already a decline in poetic quality. But an appendix of Poems in diverse Humours to this volume of 1598 presents some very interesting features. Here appears what seems to be the absolutely earliest praise of Shakespeare in a piece entitled A Remembrance of some English Poets, in which the still unrecognized author of Venus and Adonis is celebrated by the side of Spenser, Daniel and Drayton. Here also are the sonnet, If Music and sweet Poetrie agree, and the beautiful ode beginning As it fell upon a day, which were once attributed to Shakespeare himself.
In the next year, 1599, The Passionate Pilgrim was published, with the words "By W. Shakespeare" on the title-page. It was long supposed that this attribution was correct, but Barnfield claimed one of the two pieces just mentioned, not only in 1598, but again in 1605. It is certain that both are his, and possibly other things in The Passionate Pilgrim also; Shakespeare's share in the twenty poems of that miscellany being doubtless confined to the five short pieces which have been definitely identified as his.
Some claim that Barnfield now married and withdrew to his estate of Dorlestone (or Darlaston), in the county of Stafford, a house romantically situated on the River Trent, where he henceforth resided as a country gentleman. In 1605 his Lady Pecunia was reprinted, and this was his last appearance as a man of letters. It is further claimed that his son Robert Barnfield and his cousin Elinor Skrymsher were his executors when his will was proved at Lichfield; his wife, therefore, doubtless predeceased him. Barnfield, it has been supposed, died at Dorlestone Hall, and was buried in the neighbouring parish church of St Michaels, Stone, on 6 March 1627. However it now appears that this death was in fact his father, and that Richard Barnfield had died a few years earlier. He was for long neglected; but his poetry is clear, sweet, and musical, although lacking in range and extremely derivative. The sonnet sequence, in particular, can be read as one of the more obviously homoerotic sequences of the period. His gift indeed is sufficiently attested by work of his having passed for that of Shakespeare, albeit for only one ode.
Barnfield's Lady Pecunia and The Complaint of Poetry were used as sample texts by the early 17th-century phonetician Robert Robinson for his invented phonetic script.
Homosexuality in Renaissance England by Alan Bray
Paperback: 165 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 15, 1995)
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Alan Bray's Homosexuality in Renaissance England is a milestone work, one of those rare books that can be said to have virtually milestone work, one of those rare books that can be said to have virtually inaugurated a field of study--and one which remains a standard, comprehensive introduction to the subject. Since it was first published in England in 1982, however, it has been difficult to find in America.
Examining the image of the sodomite in sixteenth- and seventeenth- century literature and polemic, Bray demonstrates how widely that image differed from the everyday occurrences of male homosexual behavior in ordinary households and schools.
Homosexuality in Renaissance England explores how men who engaged in sodomy reconciled this behavior with their society's violent loathing for the sodomite, and shows how a social more that had remained stable for centuries changed dramatically toward the end of the seventeenth century.
Widely considered the best study of its kind Homosexuality in Renaissance England clearly shows why the modern image of "the homosexual" cannot be applied to the early modern period, when homosexual behavior was viewed in terms of the sexual act and not an individual's broader identity.
Bray's classic work goes on to show how the early eighteenth century saw the earliest emergence of a "homosexual identity." Finally available to a broad general audience in America, Homosexuality in Renaissance England is a must-read for anyone interested in sexuality during the early modern period.
Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester by Paul Hammond
Paperback: 294 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (September 26, 2002)
Amazon: Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester
Paul Hammond explores the representation of sexual relations between men in English literature of the seventeenth century. He includes detailed readings of Shakespeare's Sonnets, and shows how his plays added homosexual elements to his source stories. He also analyses the satirical representation of homosexual kings such as James I and William III, and the homoerotic poetry of Marvell and Rochester.
Looking for Sex in Shakespeare by Stanley Wells
Paperback: 124 pages
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (May 24, 2004)
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One of the best-known and most versatile of Shakespearian scholars considers the extent to which sexual meaning in Shakespeare's writing relies on interpretation by actors, directors and critics. Tracing interpretations of Shakespearian "bawdy" and "innuendo" from the eighteenth-century to the present, Stanley Wells pays special attention to interpretations of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Sonnets and homosexual relationships in the plays.
Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage by Claude J. Summers
Hardcover: 864 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (March 15, 2002)
Amazon: Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage
The revised edition of The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage is a reader's companion to this impressive body of work. It provides overviews of gay and lesbian presence in a variety of literatures and historical periods; in-depth critical essays on major gay and lesbian authors in world literature; and briefer treatments of other topics and figures important in appreciating the rich and varied gay and lesbian literary traditions. Included are nearly 400 alphabetically arranged articles by more than 175 scholars from around the world. New articles in this volume feature authors such as Michael Cunningham, Tony Kushner, Anne Lister, Kate Millet, Jan Morris, Terrence McNally, and Sarah Waters; essays on topics such as Comedy of Manners and Autobiography; and overviews of Danish, Norwegian, Philippines, and Swedish literatures; as well as updated and revised articles and bibliographies.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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