Sir Ian McKellen has reportedly said he has “no doubt” the complexities and plot devices of Shakespeare’s work mean the playwright was gay.

The Daily Mail reports a comment made by McKellen that the relationship between two characters in The Merchant of Venice made it “obvious” the writer had sexual relationships with men.

Sir Ian, who has been an active actor for over 50 years, said: “I’d say Shakespeare slept with men.

“The Merchant of Venice, centering on how the world treats gays as well as Jews, has a love triangle between an older man, younger man and a woman.

“And the complexity in his comedies with cross-dressing and disguises is immense. Shakespeare obviously enjoyed sex with men as well as women.”

Some believe there is a gay subtext to the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, the characters McKellen refers to.

The late WH Auden once described Antonio as “a man whose emotional life, though his conduct may be chaste, is concentrated upon a member of his own sex.”

The actor Joseph Fiennes said he saw “very sensuous language” when playing Bassanio. While he did not believe in a sexual relationship between the characters, he did surprise his co-star Jeremy Irons with a kiss during one scene.

Irons, who played a similarly sexually ambiguous role as Charles Ryder in the TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, said he did not intend on playing the Antonio character as definitely gay.