The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview

II -- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
[1564-1616]

IN 1609 Shakespeare's sonnets were published in a pirated edition, by one Thomas Thorpe, with the following dedication:

To The Onlie Begetter of
These Insuing Sonnets
Mr. W. H. All Happinesse
And That Eternitie
Promised
By
Our Ever-Living Poet
Wisheth
The Well-Wishing
Adventurer in
Setting
Forth.
T.T.

That seemingly simple dedication reflects all the mystery and ambiguity which surround the origin of Shakespeare's sonnets. It is not known whether "onlie begetter" pertains to the person who secured the manuscript for Thorpe; or to the person who inspired the author. Assuming the latter, it is still impossible to prove the identity of "Mr. W. H." He may have been Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were dedicated; this would date the writing of the sonnets around 1594. He may have been William Herbert, later the Earl of Pembroke, who was at one time the lover of Mary Fitton, lady-in-waiting to the queen and since resuscitated as "the dark lady of the sonnets"; this would date them around 1600. Or finally, "Mr. W. H." may have been some very obscure friend whom Shakespeare wished to honor -- if not an entirely fictitious personage invented for the sake

-25-

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