100 Heroes: Richard Barnfield

The gay man who showed Shakespeare how to write about love.

100 Heroes: Richard Barnfield

Richard Barnfield was an English poet.

We don't know a lot about him, but what makes him significant is his connection with William Shakespeare.


Born in 1574, Barnfield was educated at Oxford.

Barnfield published his first work in 1594, at the age of 21. Titled "The Affectionate Shepherd".

Drawing on the story of Daphnis and Ganymede from Greek mythology, the poem overtly explored same-sex desire - a taboo subject for writers of the period.

Barnfield's second volume of poetry, "Cynthia", was published in 1595. Again, this collection explicitly explored homoeroticism and desire between men.

Barnfield's third volume of poetry, "The Encomion of Lady Pecunia", was published in 1598. This collection included a reference to William Shakespeare.

The influence of Barnfield has long been obscured by the homophobia of literary scholars. What seems to now be generally accepted is that Barnfield's style of writing - specifically his sonnets - directly influenced the way that Shakespeare wrote sonnets.

Also notable that in this era there were only two poets who were publishing sonnets that explored homoeroticism and desire between men - Barnfield and Shakespeare.

It's clear that the two men knew each other, beyond that it's difficult to speculate. It's quite possible that they were writing sonnets to each other - using their words to celebrate their physical connection.

Barnfield died in 1620. His legacy lives on.