A widley held belief contends that the sonnets were published without Shakespeare’s constent. Had Shakespeare endosed their publication, many believe he would have provided their printer with an authoratative text and a dedication. However, “Shakes-peares Sonnets” contains no dedication from the author and the text has many errors. Some critics also maintain that some sonnets are unfinished and that the sequence is too incoherent to have been intended for publication.

Exponents of this view have argued that someone whom Shakespeare trusted betrayed him by giving the poems to their first publisher, Thomas Thope, or that a theif, perhaps motivated by anomisity or personal profit, siezed the poets manuscript and sold it on. Some hold that the publication of the sonnets surely upset Shakespeare, whose poems dealt with scandlaous forms of love; homoerotic and adulterous. Others variously insist that these subjects are more shocking to post-Victorian readers than to Jacobean ones; that, whilst the sonnets voice strong feelings, these were entirley appropriate to the form; and that emotions expressed in his sonnets do notmirror Shakespeare’s own any more than those of dramatic characters in his plays.

Certain features of the sonnet form – not least the first person narrative and themes of love – do give the impression of offering direct access to their author’s inner world. Since there has long been intense curiosity about the ‘youth’ addressed in the sonnets , clues to his identity have also been extracted with no little strain from the frontispiece of the first edition. The author of this dedication, T.T, was Thomas Thorpe, the publisher. But the identity of the “begetter” of the sonnets, “Mr W. H.” remains a mystery. Some think this is a misprint for “Mr W. S.” or “Mr W. Sh.”, as in WIiliam Shakespeare. Others suspect that the “begetter” refers to the scoundrel who may have conveyed the poems to Thorpe against Shakespeare’s wishes.  But the most wideley held assumption is that the “beggetter” must be the person who inspired the “ensuing sonnets”, the majority of which address a young man.

“Shakes-peares Sonnets” frontpiece, complete with dedication to mysterious “T. T.”

Working from the scant evidence offered by the initials W. H., literary dtectives have proposed many cnadidates. One is Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece in the mid-1590s. Another is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, whose name figures among those to whom the First Folio was dedicated in 1623. A third candidate is Sir William Hervey, stepfather of the Earl of Southampton, who may hve commissioned lyrics urging the young man to marry and produce an heir – the first 17 sonnets o fthe sequence treat this theme. Of these candidates, however two were earls and one was a gentleman, referred to as “Sir”. None would have been called “Mr” save by error or to suggest intimacy. In the end, these probing enigmas of Shakespeare’s sonnets are forced to speculate; information is poor, scarce and inconlcusive.


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