Massey on Shakspeare's Sonnets (1)

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 The Secret Drama of Shakspeare's




- I -




Henry Wriothesley
3RD Earl of Southampton

William Shakspeare
(portrait apocryphal)


    ONLY Twice does Shakspeare speak to us in prose outside of his Plays.

    The first time is when he dedicates the poem of Venus and Adonis, as the First heir of his Invention, to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, and says, "If your Honour seem but pleased I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour."  In the year following this promise was fulfilled.  To the same friend the Poet offered the fruit of his "graver labour" in the poem of Lucrece.  In the second dedication he again looks forward and speaks of literary work to be done in the future.  "What I have done is yours," he says.  "What I have to do is yours,—being part in all I have devoted yours."  "What I have to do is yours" implies future work; all future work will be a continuation of all past work, and both are included in the inclusive "all I have devoted yours," i. e. all which I have devoted to you.

    Now, whether the work thus spoken of had been done in the past, or is being done in the present, or is to be done in the future according to an agreement or understanding, Shakspeare himself here tells us that such past, present, and future work was wholly and solely devoted to his young friend, the Earl of Southampton. So stands the record in Shakspeare's own writing when he makes another promise more emphatic than the one he had just fulfilled, and again pledges himself by another reference to work in hand, more express in meaning than was his primary dedication.  From this personal record we learn that he has work in hand which is pre-dedicated at the time of writing to the same friend.  This second and more serious promise given publicly had no fulfilment, unless the work devoted to Southampton was the Sonnets of Shakspeare, known four years later to be circulating amongst the poet's "Private Friends."  But, as Mrs. Cowden Clarke observed in a letter addressed to me (July 25, 1866),

    "Shakespeare was not the man to write lightly and meaninglessly such words as 'The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end,' and 'what I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have devoted yours!'  Shakespeare was not the man to write thus to his friend Southampton overtly, and to write to his friend of the Sonnets as he there does, unless they were one and the same person."

    The earliest notice we have of Shakspeare's Sonnets yet identified by name is from the pen of Francis Meres, Master of Arts of both Universities, in his work entitled 'Palladis Tamia; Wit's Treasury, being the second part of Wit's Commonwealth,' which was published in the year 1598.  Meres at that date recognizes Shakspeare as the foremost writer, the most all-round poet, of the Elizabethan age, and proclaims him to be one of the very best in Comedy, in Tragedy, and in Lyrical Poetry.  The writer shows that he was up to date in his familiarity with Shakspeare's writings, for he quotes an expression used by Falstaff in the first part of Henry IV., II. iv.[1]—a play which had only been entered on the Stationers' Register Feb. 25th, 1597-98.  Meres was also greatly impressed with the English glory of Shakspeare's language.  "As Epius Stolo said that the Muses would speak with Plautus' tongue if they would speak Latin, so I say that the Muses would speak with Shakspeare's fine, filèd phrase, if they would speak English."  And of the Poems and Sonnets Meres remarks that "As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare; witness his 'Venus and Adonis,' his 'Lucrece,' his sugred Sonnets among his Private Friends."  This mention of the Sonnets supplies us with an important link of connection.  We learn from Meres that in the year 1598 the Sonnets of Shakspeare were known and somewhat renowned in MS. for him to proclaim their sweetness as Love-Poetry, and they were also numerous enough to be classed and concisely reviewed by him among the Poet's other Works.  Meres was a Warwickshire man.  He is characterized by Heywood in his Apology for Actors as "an approved good Scholar whose work was learnedly done."  Thus, according to Francis Meres, in 1598, Shakspeare had made his "Private Friends," for whom he had written the Sonnets; and if the Sonnets be the same, the private friendship publicly recognized by the Critic must of course have included that which is celebrated by the Poet in his first 126 Sonnets.

    The Title to Thorpe's Collection, printed in 1609, reads with an echo to the words of Meres—Shakspeare's Sonnets, never before Imprinted, though so often spoken of, and so long known to exist in MS.

    An understanding on the subject is implied in the familiarity of phrase.  The inscriber appears to say, "You have heard a great deal about the 'Sugred Sonnets,' mentioned by the critic, as circulating amongst the poet's private friends; I have the honour to set them forth for the public."
    The Sonnets were published in 1609, with this inscription:—



r . W . H . ALL . HAPPINESSE .



BY .






FORTH .      T. T.

The book is inscribed by Thomas Thorpe, a well-known publisher of the time who was himself a dabbler in literature.  He edited a posthumous work of Marlowe's, and was the publisher of plays by Marston, Jonson, Chapman, and others. Shakspeare makes no sign of assent to the publication; whereas he prefaced his Venus and Adonis with dedication and motto; the Lucrece with dedication and argument.

    After the Sonnets were printed by Thorpe in 1609, we hear no more of them for thirty-one years.  In 1640 a new edition appeared with an arrangement totally different from the original one.  This was published as 'Poems written by Wil. Shakspeare, Gent. Printed at London by Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by John Benson.'  In this arrangement we find some of the pieces printed in the Passionate Pilgrim mixed up with the Sonnets, and the whole of them have titles which are chiefly given to little groups.  Sonnets 18, 19, 43, 56, 75, 76, 96, 126 are missing from the second edition.  This publication of the Sonnets as Poems on distinct subjects shows, to some extent, how they were looked upon by the readers of the time.  The arranger, in supplying his titles, would be following a feeling and answering a want.  Any personal application of them was very far from his thoughts. Sonnets 88, 89, 90, and 91 are entitled A Request to his Scornful Love.  109 and 110 are called A Lover's excuse for his long Absence. Sonnet 122, Upon the Receipt of a Table Book front his Mistress; and 125, An Entreaty for her Acceptance.  The greater part of the titles however are general, and only attempt to characterize the sentiment.

    The most remarkable feature of this publication is Benson's address, to which sufficient attention has never been directed.


    "I here presume, under favour, to present to your view some excellent and sweetly composed poems of Master William Shakespeare, which in themselves appear of the same purity the author himself, then living, avouched!  They had not the fortune, by reason of their infancy in his death, to have the due accommodation of proportionable glory with the rest of his ever-living works.  Yet the lines will afford you a more authentic approbation than my assurance any way can to invite your allowance; in your perusal, you shall find them, serene, clear, and elegantly plain,—such gentle strains as shall recreate and not perplex your brain.  No intricate or cloudy stuff to puzzle intellect, but perfect, eloquence, such as will raise your admiration to his praise.  This assurance will not differ from your acknowledgments, and certain I am my opinion will be seconded by the sufficiency of these ensuing lines.  I have been somewhat solicitous to bring this forth to the perfect view of all men, and in so doing glad to he serviceable for the continuance of glory to the deserved author in these his poems."

    At first sight one might fancy that Benson referred to the purity of Shakspeare's life as avouching for the purity of the Sonnets.  But after long questioning the conclusion is forced upon me that Shakspeare had himself defended them against some such "exsufflicate and blown surmises" or conjectures of his day as we find extant in ours.  Benson emphatically states that the author himself when living avouched their purity!

    To avouch is to affirm or testify, and therefore the plain English of this must be that Shakspeare, in his life-time, gave his own personal testimony to the purity of his Sonnets.  This vindication would not have been made unless some contrary charge had been brought against them.  Benson having heard of this looked into the Sonnets for himself, and found they justified the claim that Shakspeare had made on their behalf.  Therefore he says, "I have been somewhat solicitous to bring this forth to the view of all men," with intent to do justice to the Sonnets and their Author.

    In the editions that followed the first two, sometimes the one order prevailed, sometimes the other.  Lintot's, published in 1709, adhered to the arrangement of Thorpe's Collection.  Curll's, in 1710, follows that of Cotes.  Gildon gave it as his opinion, that the Sonnets were all of them written in praise of Shakspeare's mistress.  Dr. Sewell edited them in 1728, and he tells us, by way of illustrating Gildon's idea, that "a young Muse must have a Mistress to play off the beginnings of fancy; nothing being so apt to elevate the soul to a pitch of poetry, as the passion of love." This opinion, that the Sonnets were addressed to a mistress, appears to have obtained, until disputed by Malone and Steevens.  In 1780, the last-named critic published his Supplement to the Edition of Shakspeare's Plays (1778), and the notes to the Sonnets include his own conjectures and conclusions, together with those of Dr. Farmer, Tyrwhitt, and Steevens.  These four generally concur in the belief that 128 of the Sonnets are addressed to a man; the remaining 28 to a lady.  Malone considered the Sonnets to be those spoken of by Meres.  Dr. Farmer thought that William Harte, Shakspeare's nephew, might be the person addressed under the initials "W. H."  However, the Stratford Register soon put a stop to William Harte's candidature, for it showed that he was not baptized until August 28, 1600.  Tyrwhitt was struck with the peculiar lettering of a line in the 20th Sonnet,—

A man in Hew all Hews in his controlling,

and fancied that the Poet had written it on the colourable pretext of hinting at the "only begetter's" name, which the critic conjectured might be William Hughes.

    The Sonnets were Steevens' pet abhorrence.  At first he did not reprint them.  He says, "We have not reprinted the Sonnets, &c. of Shakspeare because the strongest Act of Parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service, notwithstanding these miscellaneous poems have derived every possible advantage from the literature and judgment of their only intelligent editor, Mr. Malone, whose implements of criticism, like the ivory rake and golden spade in Prudentius, are, on this occasion, disgraced by the objects of their culture. Had Shakspeare produced no other works than these, his name would have reached us with as little celebrity as time has conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sonneteer."  Afterwards he broke out continually in abuse of them.  The eruption of his ill-humour occurs in foot-notes, that disfigure the pages of Malone's edition of Shakspeare's poems.  He held that they were composed in the "highest strain of affectation, pedantry, circumlocution, and nonsense."  "Such laboured perplexities of language," he says, "and such studied deformities of style prevail throughout these Sonnets, that the reader (after our best endeavours at explanation!) will frequently find reason to exclaim with Imogen—

"I see before me, man,—nor here, nor here,
 Nor what ensues, but have a fog in them
 That I cannot look through."

"This purblind and obscure stuff," he calls their poetry.  And in a note to Sonnet 54 he asks with a sneer, "but what has truth or nature to do with sonnets?"  Steevens however was not altogether without warrant for his condemnation if he read the Sonnets as utterances entirely personal to the Poet.

    Boswell, second son of Dr. Johnson's biographer, in editing a later edition of the work in which Steevens' notes are printed, had the good sense to defend the Sonnets against that censor's bitterness of contempt, and the good taste to perceive that they are all aglow with the "orient hues" of Shakspeare's youthful imagination.  He ventures to assert that Steevens has not "made a convert of a single reader who had any pretensions to poetical taste in the course of forty years," which had then gone by since the splenetic critic first described the Sonnets as worthless. Boswell also remarks anent the personal interpretation that the fondling expressions which perpetually occur would have been better suited to a "cockered silken wanton" than to "one of the most gallant noblemen that adorned the chivalrous age in which he lived."

    In 1797 Chalmers had endeavoured to show that the Sonnets were addressed to Queen Elizabeth, although Her Majesty must have been close upon sixty years of age when the Sonnets were first commenced.  He argues that Shakspeare, knowing the voracity of Elizabeth for praise, thought he would fool her to the top of her bent; aware of her patience when listening to panegyric, he determined, with the resolution of his own Dogberry, to bestow his whole tediousness upon her.

    Dr. Drake, in his Shakspeare and his Times (18I7), was the first to conjecture that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, was the youthful friend of Shakspeare who was addressed so affectionately in the Sonnets, as well as inscribed to so lovingly in the dedications of his poems.  He thought the unity of feeling in both identified the same person, and maintained that a little attention to the language of the times in which Thorpe's inscription was written, would lead us to infer that Mr. W. H. had sufficient influence to "obtain the manuscript from the Poet, and that he lodged it in Thorpe's hands for the Purpose of publication, a favour which the bookseller returned by wishing him all happiness and that eternity which had been promised by the bard in such glowing colours to another, namely, to one of the immediate subjects of his Sonnets."  Drake contended, logically enough, that as a number of the Sonnets were most certainly addressed to a female, it must be evident that "W. H." could not be the "only begetter" of them in the sense which is primarily suggested.  He therefore agreed with Chalmers and Boswell that Mr. W. H. was the obtainer of the Sonnets for Thorpe, and he remarks that the dedication was read in that light by some of the earlier editors.  Having fixed on Southampton as the subject of the first 126 Sonnets' Drake is at a loss to prove it.  He never goes deep enough, and only snatches a waif or two of evidence floating on the surface.  When he comes to the latter Sonnets he expresses the most entire conviction that they were never directed to a real object. "Credulity itself, we think, cannot suppose otherwise, and, at the same time, believe that the Poet was privy to their publication."

    About the year 1818 Mr. Bright was the first to make out that the "Mr. H." of Thorpe's inscription was William Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke.  It is said he laboured for many years in collecting evidence, brooded his cherished idea secretly, talked of it publicly, and was then anticipated in announcing it by Mr. Boaden in 1832.  Mr. Boaden argued shallowly, that the Earl of Southampton could not be the man addressed by Shakspeare, and assumed desperately that William Herbert was!  He held him to be the "only begetter," or Inspirer.  Thus Mr. Bright escaped the infamy of persistently trying to tarnish the character of Shakspeare for the sake of a pet theory; that is, if his discovery included the personal interpretation elaborated later by Charles Armitage Brown, which will be dealt with in my next chapter.

    Wordsworth, in his Essay supplementary to the famous preface, printed with the Lyrical Ballads, has administered a rebuke to Steevens, and reprehended his flippant impertinence. He says, "There is extant a small volume of miscellaneous poems, in which Shakspeare expresses his own feelings in his own person.  It is not difficult to conceive that the editor, George Steevens, should have been insensible to the beauties of one portion of that volume, the Sonnets; though in no part of the writings of this Poet is found in an equal compass a greater number of exquisite feelings felicitously expressed.  But from a regard to the critic's own credit he would not have ventured to talk of an Act of Parliament not being strong enough to compel the perusal of these little pieces, if he had not known that the people of England were ignorant of the treasures contained in them; and if he had not, moreover, shared the too common propensity of human nature to exult over a supposed fall into the mire of a genius whom he had been compelled to regard with admiration, as an inmate of the celestial regions, 'there sitting where he durst not soar.' "

    This was written by Wordsworth in 1815; he had read the Sonnets for their poetry, independently of their object, but held that "with this key Shakspeare unlocked his heart," which has become the one Article in the Credo of some readers of the Sonnets. About the same time Coleridge lectured on Shakspeare at the Royal Institution, and publicly rebuked the obtuse sense and shallow expressions of Steevens.

    Coleridge thought that the person addressed by Shakspeare was a woman.  He fancied the 20th Sonnet might have been introduced as a blind.  He felt that in so many of the Sonnets the spirit was essentially feminine, whatever the outward figure might be, sufficiently so to warrant our thinking that where the address is to a man it was only a disguise; for, whilst the expression would indicate one sex, the feeling altogether belied it, and secretly wooed or worshipped the other.  Poet-like, he perceived that there were such fragrant gusts of passion in them, such "subtle-shining secrecies" of meaning in their darkness, as only a woman could have called forth; and so many of the Sonnets have the suggestive sweetness of the lover's passionate words, the ecstatic sparkle of a lover's eyes, the tender, ineffable touch of a lover's hands, that in them it must be a man speaking to a woman.[2]

    Charles Knight maintained that certain of the Sonnets, such as Nos. 56, 57, and 58, and also the perfect love-poem contained in Sonnets 97, 98, and 99, were addressed to a female, because the comparisons are so clearly, so exquisitely the symbol of womanly beauty, so exclusively the poetic representatives of feminine graces in the world of flowers, and because, in the Sonnets where Shakspeare directly addresses his male friend, it is manly beauty which he extols.  He says nothing to lead us to think that he would seek to compliment his friend on the delicate whiteness of his hand, the surpassing sweetness of his breath.  Mr. Knight has found the perplexities of the personal theory so insurmountable, that he has not followed in the steps of those who have jauntily overleaped the difficulties that meet us everywhere, and which ought, until fairly conquered, to have surrounded and protected the Poet's personal character as with a chevaux-de-frise.  He wisely hesitated rather than rashly joined in making a wanton charge of immorality and egregious folly against Shakspeare.  He considered that many of the Sonnets must be dramatic in sentiment, and as a printer found plenty of proofs that they were not printed in the written order, nor overlooked by the author.  He likewise considered it impossible that William Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, could have been the "only begetter" of the Sonnets.[3]

    Hallam inclined to the personal theory of the Sonnets, and evidently thought we might assume that William Herbert was the youth of high rank, as well as personal beauty, accomplishment and licentious life, whom Shakspeare so often addressed as his dear friend.  He remarks that, "There is a weakness and folly in all excessive and misplaced affection, which is not redeemed by the touches of nobler sentiments that abound in this long series of Sonnets."  "No one," he says, "ever entered more fully than Shakspeare into the character of this species of poetry, which admits of no expletive imagery—no merely ornamental line."  But, so strange, so powerful is the Poet's humiliation in addressing this youth as "a being before whose feet he crouched, whose frown he feared, whose injuries—and those of the most insulting kind, the seduction of the mistress to whom we have alluded—he felt and bewailed without resenting;" that on the whole, "it is impossible not to wish the Sonnets of Shakspeare had never been written."

    Mr. Dyce, in 1864, rested in the conclusions which he had reached thirty years before.  He then said, "For my own part, repeated perusals of the Sonnets have well-nigh convinced me that most of them were composed in an assumed character, on different subjects, and at different times, for the amusement—if not at the suggestion—of the author's intimate associates (hence described by Meres as 'his sugred Sonnets among his private friends'); and though I would not deny that one or two of them reflect his genuine feelings, I contend that allusions scattered through the whole series are not to be hastily referred to the personal circumstances of Shakspeare."  He left the problem where he found it, and made no attempt to make it double.

    Mr. Bolton Corney, who presented me with a copy of the pamphlet he printed for private circulation, has recorded his conviction that the Earl of Southampton was the "Begetter" of the Sonnets; that they were written in fulfilment of a promise made to the Earl in 1594; that the Sonnets mentioned by Meres in 1598 formed the work which was promised in 1594 and reached the press in 1609, but that they are, with slight exceptions, mere poetical exercises.  He protests against the theory that they relate to transactions between the Poet and his Patron:—1. Because as an abstract question the promise to write a poem cannot imply any such object2. Because in the instance of Lucrece no such object could have been designed.  3. Because, in the absence of evidence, it is incredible that the man of whom divers of worship had reported his uprightness of dealing should have lavished so much wit in order to proclaim the grievous errors of his patron—and of himself.  He denounces the vaunted discovery of Mr. Brown as a most unjustifiable theory, a mischievous fallacy.  He accepts M. Chasles' reading of Thorpe's inscription, and thinks a Frenchman has solved the Shakspeare problem which has resisted all the efforts of our "homely wits."  Believing that the Earl of Southampton was really the "only begetter" of the Sonnets, and that the inscription addresses the "only begetter" as the objective creator of them, Mr. Corney feels compelled to accept M. Chasles' interpretation; he thinks that William Herbert dedicates the Sonnets to the Earl of Southampton, and that Thorpe merely adds his wishes for the success of the publication.  He assumes that the initials "W. H." denote William Lord Herbert.  Thus, he holds that the sense of the inscription is:—To the only begetter (the Earl of Southampton) of these ensuing Sonnets, Mr. W. H. (William Herbert) wishes all happiness, and that eternity promised (to him) by our ever-living Poet.  This was the private inscription, in imitation of the lapidary style, written on the private copy which had been executed for the purpose of presenting to the Earl; and Thorpe, in making the Sonnets public, let this dedication stand, merely adding that the "well-wishing adventurer in setting forth" was "T. T."

    There have been various minor and incidental notices of the Sonnets, which show that the tendency in our time is to look on them as Autobiographic.  Mr. Henry Taylor, in his Notes from Books, speaks of those Sonnets in which Shakspeare "reproaches Fortune and himself, in a strain which shows how painfully conscious he was that he had lived unworthily of his doubly immortal spirit."  Mr. Masson [4] states resolutely, that the Sonnets are, and can possibly be, nothing else than a record of the Poet's own feelings and experience during a certain period of his London life; that they are distinctly, intensely, painfully autobiographic.  He thinks they express our Poet in his most intimate and private relations to man and nature as having been "William the Melancholy," rather than "William the Calm," or "William the Cheerful."  Mr. Masson once wrote a work on the Sonnets which has not been published.

    The Sonnets seem to have placed Ulrici in that difficult position which the Americans describe as "facing North by South."  To him the fact that Shakspeare passed his life in so modest a way and left so little report, is evidence of the calmness with which the majestic stream of his mental development flowed on, and of the clear pure atmosphere which breathed about his soul.  Yet, we may see in the Sonnets many traces of the painful struggles it cost him to maintain his moral empire.  His mind was a fountain of free fresh energy, yet the Sonnets show how he fell into the deeps of painful despondency, and felt utterly wretched.  They tell us that he had a calm consciousness of his own greatness, and also that he held fame and applause to be empty, mean, and worthless.  This is Ulrici's cross-eyed view.  He reads the Sonnets as personal confessions, and he concludes that Shakspeare must have been so sincere a Christian, that being also a mortal man, and open to temptation, he, having fallen and risen up a conqueror over himself, to prove that he was not ashamed of anything, set the matter forth as a warning to the world, and offered himself up as a sacrifice for the good of others, most especially for the behoof of the young Earl of Pembroke, for, according to Ulrici, he alone can be the person addressed.

    Gervinus, in his Commentaries on Shakspeare, is of opinion that the Sonnets were not originally intended for publication, and that 126 of them are addressed to a friend; the last 28 bespeaking a relation with some light-minded woman.  It is quite clear to him that they are addressed to one and the same youth, as even the last 28, from their purport, relate to the one connection between Shakspeare and his young friend.   Gervinus considers that these should properly be arranged with Sonnets 40-42.   He maintains that the real name of the "only begetter was not designated by the publisher, the initials W. H. were only meant to mislead; that this "Begetter" is the same man whom the 38th Sonnet calls in a similar sense the "Tenth Muse," and whom the 78th Sonnet enjoins to be "most proud" of the Poet's works, because their influence is his, and born of him.  He does not believe that the Earl of Pembroke could be the person addressed, the age of the Earl and the period at which the Sonnets were written making it an impossibility.  He thinks the Earl of Southampton is the person, he being early a patron of the drama, and a nobleman so much looked up to by the poets and writers of the time, that they vied with each other in dedicating their works to him.  Gervinus also thinks that a portion of Sonnet 53 directly alludes to the poems which the Poet had inscribed to the Earl, and that he points out how much his friend's English beauty transcends that old Greek beauty of person, which the Poet had attempted to describe, and set forth newly attired in his Venus and Adonis.  This foreign critic wonders why in England the identity of the object of these Sonnets with the Earl of Southampton should have been so much opposed.  To him it is simply incomprehensible, for, if ever a supposition bordered on certainty, he holds it to be this.

    When writing my article on Shakspeare and his Sonnets, which appeared in the Quarterly Review for April 1864, I was not aware of, or should have mentioned, the fact that Mrs. Jameson had already suggested a portion of my hypothesis independently attained.  Mrs. Jameson says of the Sonnets, "It appears that some of them are addressed to his amiable friend Lord Southampton; and others I think are addressed in Southampton's name to that beautiful Elizabeth Vernon to whom the Earl was so long and so ardently attached."

    According to Herr Bernstorff [5] the Sonnets do not speak to beings of flesh and blood, no Earls of Southampton or Pembroke, no Queen Elizabeth or Elizabeth Vernon, no corporeal being, in short, nobody whatever, but Shakspeare's own soul, or his genius or his art.  This author considers that the Sonnets are a vast allegory, in which Shakspeare has mashed his own face; he has here kept a diary of his inner self, not in a plain autobiographic way, but by addressing and playing a kind of bo-peep with his döpple-ganger.

    It is Shakspeare who in the 1st Sonnet is the "only herald to the blooming spring" of modern literature, and the world's fresh ornament.   The "beast that bears" the speaker in Sonnet 51 is the Poet's animal nature.  The "sweet roses that do not fade" in Sonnet 54 are his dramas.  The praises so often repeated are but the Poet's enthusiasm for his inner self.  All this is proved by the dedication, which inscribes the Sonnets to their "only begetter," W. H.—William Himself.  The critic has freed the Shakspearian Psyche from her Sonnet film, and finds that she has shaken off every particle of the concrete to soar on beautiful wings, with all her inborn loveliness unfolded, into the empyrean of pure abstraction!  There sits the Poet sublimely "pinnacled, dim in the intense inane," at the highest altitude of self-consciousness, singing his song of self-worship; contemplating the heights, and depths, and proportions of the great vast of himself, and as he looks over centuries on centuries of years he sees and prophesies that the time will yet come when the world will gaze on his genius with as much awe as he feels for it now.  "Is this vanity and self-conceit?" the critic asks, and he answers, "Not a whit, simple truthful self-perception!"  Into this region has he followed Shakspeare, where "human mortals" could not possibly breathe.  He keeps up pretty well, self-inflated, for some time, but at length, before the flight is quite finished, our critic gives one gasp, showing that he is mortal after all, and down he drops dead-beaten in the middle of the latter Sonnets.

    Mr. Heraud says [6]—"After a careful reperusal, I have come to the conclusion that there is not a single Sonnet which is addressed to any individual at all."  He maintains that the "Two Loves" of Sonnet 144 are "the Celibate Church on the one hand, and the Reformed Church on the other!"  And in the latter Sonnets, our Poet is reading his Bible—"Has the very Book open before him, he is in fact reading the Canticles; and there he finds the Bride, who is 'black but comely'—at once the bride of his CELESTIAL FRIEND and his own."  This is too good to omit, although I can only make a note of it; good enough surely, if boundless folly can reach so far, to tickle Shakspeare in eternity and make him feel a carnal gash of the old human jollity!

    But, it may be asked, why recognize such rootless and literally groundless imaginings as these?  Wherefore notice such vain shadows at all in the presence of realities firm and fast as the centre?  What says Delius in Randolph's Muses' Looking-Glass when he has been censured for his fear of Shadows?  "Who knows but they come leering after us to steal away the substance!"

    Every red herring trailed across the true scent will be sure to mislead some deluded followers.  But the Sonnets are no more allegorical than they are autobiographical; neither were they intended to set forth that system of philosophy which Mr. Richard Simpson sought for in them.  The editor of the "Gem edition "at one time accepted the personal theory, and according to his own admission could make but little way with it. [7] Although each Sonnet "is an autobiographic confession," he remarks, "we are completely foiled in getting at Shakspeare himself," and these "revelations of the Poet's innermost nature" appear to "teach us less of the man" than the tone of mind which we trace or seem to trace in his dramas.  The "strange imagery of passion which passes over the magic mirror has no tangible existence before or behind it."  And yet these Sonnets are autobiographic.  It is Shakspeare showing himself to us, they say (with M. Chasles), not only in person, for they insist that he has sounded the depths of his heart in "a drama more tragic than the madness of Lear or the agonies of Othello."  According to this view our great Poet has written an autobiography that is impersonal, a subjective revelation which reveals nothing definite, and he has also mixed up the sexes in a confusion that is unparalleled in poetry.  But this was the greatest master of expression, the one man whose art of uttering just what he meant to say and suggest was incomparable, supremely potent, and of infinite felicity!

    According to Mr. Henry Brown, "nothing at all satisfactory had appeared in elucidation of the Sonnets" previous to the publication of his queerly-called book. [8]  From this we learn that the Sonnets are an "intentional burlesque," an "allegorical parody," from beginning to end.  The "entire Sonnets are a satire upon the reigning custom of Mistress-Sonneting," although no one but him has "observed that the drift of the Poet is parody." In his loftiest moods and Most solemn music the singer has no other object than to "ape the bombast of the Sonneteers" and at the same time out-bombast them.  It was Shakspeare's crowning or rather fool's-capping conceit to marry his young friend to his own immortal muse, seeing that he would not get married himself!  This friend is held to be Master Will Herbert, who is the actual Adonis of the poem which Shakspeare dedicated to Southampton when Herbert was in his thirteenth year!  Mr. Brown's adoption of Stella as the "dark lady" of the Latter Sonnets without one word of explanation has in it all the Elizabethan audacity of unacknowledged borrowing, whilst his Holywell Street title of "Lady Rich's illicit amours revealed" made me shrink, ashamed of having introduced her name into the Sonnet controversy.

    In 1872 the first 126 Sonnets were translated into German by Herr Fritz Krauss and called Shakespeare's Southampton-Sonette, [9] my theory of their nature and significance being frankly adopted and sustained in the author's commentary.  Since then Herr Krauss (now deceased) has written an original work in Support of my contention that Lady Rich was the subject of the Latter Sonnets suggested to the Poet by William Herbert, but this book, a posthumous publication, I have not seen.

    In his History of the English People [10] Mr. J. R. Green has some remarks on the Sonnets: Speaking of Shakspeare he says, "His supposed self-revelation in the Sonnets is so obscure that only a few outlines can be traced even by the boldest conjecture.  In spite of the ingenuity of commentators, it is difficult and even impossible to derive any knowledge of Shakspeare's inner history from the Sonnets.  If we take the language as a record of his personal feelings, his new profession as an actor stirred in him only the bitterness of self-contempt.  He chides with Fortune 'that did not better for my life provide than Public means which public manners breed.'  'Thence comes it,' he adds, 'that my name receives a brand, and almost thence my nature is subdued to that it works in.'  But the application of the words is more than a doubtful one.  The works of Mr. Armitage Brown and Mr. Gerald Massey contain the latest theories as to the Sonnets."

    Some persons seem possessed with an esthetic passion for unrealizing and de-vitalizing the Sonnets.  There have been recent editors who deliberately set themselves to evaporate the actual facts into the mistiest forms of fancy by affixing their own misleading subject-titles to send them off into the "intense Inane" delightedly as children blowing bubbles.

    Professor Dowden is of opinion that Shakspeare wrote whole series of Sonnets upon such abstract themes as Time, Beauty, Goodness, and Verse; that he takes these ideas as topics; that "Love as love is the one eternal thing," and,  as shown by the last of the first series (125), "that is the end of the whole matter."  In vain does Shakspeare protest that it is not so; that he did not write about ideas; that he detested the feigning of idealists like Drayton as much as he did false hair and face-painting.  His protest is even passionate

"So is it not with me as with that Muse
        Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse."

He did not dally with the shadows of ideas, but wrote of persons, especially of one and about one—"To one, of one, still such and ever so."  And for one, one only, as he tells his friend Southampton.  However, Professor Dowden thinks otherwise, and so, as he remarks, "that is the end of the matter!" [11] Shakspeare was dramatic-minded above all other men, and the least immured in himself.  He wrote of persons, events, circumstances, and the affairs of others, not about his own; and the subjective mind of the Brownites cannot see that the same man wrote the same way at times in his Sonnets.

    One of the latest deliverances on the subject is by Mr. Furnivall in his introduction to the Leopold Shakspeare, who says that "the Sonnets are in one sense Shakspeare's Psalms.  Spiritual struggles underlie both poets' work.  For myself I'd rather accept any number of 'slips in sensual mire' on Shakspeare's part to have the 'bursts of (loving) heart' given us in the Sonnets."  "He tells me," says Mr. Furnivall, "what his false swarthy mistress was," and also "of the weakness of his own nature."  Mr. Furnivall, holding on to the coat-tails of Armitage Brown, also holds that the disreputable experience attributed by him to Shakspeare was the Poet's "best preparation" for the "Unhappy Third Period" in which our great dramatist wrote his greatest plays.  Mr. Furnivall treats Shakspeare as if he were a recent hysterical convert of the Salvation Army—the greater sinner the purer saint—or as if he had prepared himself for his devotions on Sunday by a prolonged and profound debauch on Saturday night.  Mr. Furnivall does not argue or listen to evidence; he only issues his fiat.  "The Book on the Sonnets has yet to be written; and I hope Professor Dowden'll do it.  The best book yet written is Armitage Brown's." [12]  There is but one reading possible for him, that is the autobiographic.  "Were it not for the fact," he tells us, "that many critics worthy of the name of Shakspeare Students and not Shakspeare fools have held the Sonnets to be merely dramatic, I could not have conceived that poems so intensely and evidently autobiographic and self-revealing; poems so one with the spirit and inner meaning of Shakspeare's growth and life, could ever have been conceived to be other than what they are, the records of his own loves and fears."  So the man in Punch did not know whether the Claimant was the rightful heir or not, but he could not bear to see a fellow done out of his own!  Mr. Furnivall continues, "I know that Mr. Browning is against this view, and holds that if Shakspeare DID 'unlock his heart in Sonnets,' the less Shakspeare he."  As I am personally responsible for the first effort made to substantiate a dramatic theory of the Sonnets, I may be allowed to say here that no writer known to me has ever maintained the opinion that they are merely dramatic.  My contention is at present, as it was before, that the Sonnets are both, Personal and Dramatic; Personal when spoken by Shakspeare, and Dramatic when spoken by his friends.  The problem is to identify and distinguish the different speakers and to present  the proof by means of the internal evidence and historic data.  Mr. Furnivall quotes from some rhapsody sopped in sentiment—"Honour again to the singers of brief poems, to the Lyrists and Sonneteers!  O Shakspeare! let thy name rest gently among them, perfuming the place.  We swear that these Sonnets and Songs do verily breathe 'not of themselves but thee;' and we recognize and bless them as short sighs from thy large and poetic heart, burdened with diviner inspiration."  This, says Mr. Furnivall, in italics, "this is the teaching that such of our modern poets as are not mere tinkling cymbals, but have souls, need, and that the students of Shakspeare's Sonnets must recollect."  He belongs to that subjective brood of mind which can read not only David's Psalms but also Mrs. Barrett Browning's Sonnets or Tennyson's In Memoriam into Shakspeare's Sonnets, and then try to interpret the one by the other, oblivious of the fact that the objective dramatic mind of Shakspeare was antipodal to that of Tennyson and Mrs. Browning.  The folly of inferring that Shakspeare's Sonnets are autobiographic because those of Mrs. Barrett Browning are so, or on account of In Memoriam being entirely personal to the writer, could not be surpassed.  Mr. Furnivall and those for whom he speaks assert that "no one can understand Shakspeare who does not hold that the Sonnets are autobiographical."  But they present no evidence for their belief, which is really as baseless as the Baconian theory; and they suppress or ignore the facts that are fatal to their faith. My contention is that no one can understand Shakspeare who does look on them as autobiobraphical, and it is my business now to demonstrate that the Sonnets are partly personal and partly dramatic.  A view which ought to recommend itself to our national love of a compromise, independently of all that has to be urged on behalf of its likelihood and verity.

    The latest contribution to the Sonnet literature in England is by Mr. Thomas Tyler. [13]  He supports the theory that the Sonnets are autobiographical, and that William Herbert was the young friend who is addressed in them by Shakspeare.  Mr. Tyler considers the Sonnets were written during the years 1598-1601.  The chief interest of his communication lies in the introduction of a new claimant, one Mary Fytton, as that Dark Lady of the latter Sonnets, who they say was mistress in common to Shakspeare and the Earl of Pembroke.  Mistress Fytton was one of the Ladies of Honour, who was fully in the Queen's favour in the year 1600, as is shown by her dancing with Elizabeth at a masque and playing the leading part.  Mr. Tyler vouches for her being "on specially intimate terms with the Queen."  He establishes Herbert's connection with Mrs. Fytton by means of a document in the Record Office, which may be dated approximately October 1602.  This paper states:—"One Mrs. Martin, who dwelt at Chopinge Knife near Ludgate, told me that she had seen priests marry gentlewomen at the Court in the time when that Mrs. Fitton was in great favour, and one of her Majesty's Maids of Honour, and during the time that the Earl of Pembroke favoured her she would put off her head tire, and tuck up her clothes, and take a large white cloak, and march as though she had been a man to meet the said Earl out of the Court."

    Mr. Tyler connects this with another letter.  He says, "On January 19, 1601, William Herbert became, through the death of his father, Earl of Pembroke.  There is in the Record Office a letter from Tobie Matthew to  Dudley Carleton, written two months later (March 25), containing a statement which probably has an important relation to our present subject.  'The Earl of Pembroke is committed to the Fleet: his Cause is delivered of a boy who is dead.'  The words 'his Cause' must mean the woman who had been the cause of Lord Pembroke's getting into trouble."  The link between the nameless "Cause" and Mrs. Fytton has to be inferred or forged.  Mr. Tyler presents no proof, although he alleges that when Pembroke "had been committed to the Fleet, Mistress Fytton was his Cause."  If it was Mary Fytton, and she was the character portrayed in the Latter Sonnets, one can hardly see why the child should have been fathered on Herbert.  Why should it not have been Shakspeare's or anybody's?

    The sole ground, however, for supposing that Mistress Fytton was Shakspeare's paramour is that she was Herbert's Light o' love, or one of them, and Herbert was one of Shakspeare's "Private Friends." Still, Mr. Tyler does not think that Mistress Fytton, who was a Maid of Honour in especial favour with the Queen in 1600, could have lodged with Shakspeare, because in line 12 of Sonnet 144 the speaker says,

"I guess one Angel in Another's Hell."

This being the Hell where Mary Fytton lodged; the place no doubt where Shakspeare (or another speaker) spent his "Hell of time" (Sonnet 120), and for which he tells us that he was "paying too much rent" (Sonnet 125).  Further comment is here reserved, with the exception of one observation.  There is at present an insuperable difficulty in the way of accepting Mistress Fytton as the lady of the Latter Sonnets, inasmuch as Fytton was her maiden name.

    Mr. Tyler adduces no evidence to show that she was a married woman at the time the Earl of Pembroke favoured her.  The imprisonment of Pembroke for such a cause would imply the seduction of an unmarried woman who was a Maid of Honour. The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is a married woman notorious for her faithlessness.  "In act thy bed-vow broke" proves the marriage state; and it must be shown that Mistress Fytton was a married woman at the time that Sonnet 152 was written, before any other claims can be admitted on her behalf, notwithstanding the punning appropriateness of her maiden name.  This difficulty should have been fully faced at once.  But it seems that the Herbertists can shut their eyes to everything that is against their view, and take in or be taken in by anything that appears to be in their favour.  They will strain at the least little gnat, and swallow camels by the dozen.  They remind me of those Africans who cannot face a dead fly in their drink, but who will hunt each other's heads for live delicacies.  Mr. Tyler somewhat impotently suggests that Mrs. Fytton may have been married and "re-assumed her maiden name of Fytton."  What! and been allowed by Elizabeth to masquerade at Court as an impostor as well as a prostitute! i.e. as the mistress of Herbert and Shakspeare?

    The Latter Sonnets were extant in 1599 as proved by the Passionate Pilgrim, therefore the Dark Lady was then a married woman of the vilest reputation—so bad that she was in the "refuse of her deeds "—so common as to be the wide world's common-place" and "the bay where all men ride" as early as 1599!  Consequently this cannot be Mary Fytton, who still bore her maiden name as an honourable Lady at Court, even if she were seduced by Herbert in 1600, and found out in 1601.  Thus far Mr. Tyler's hypothesis rests mainly on three supports afforded by the words "If," "Probable," and "May-be," which have to do duty in place of verifiable facts and conclusive criteria, and at present he has but led his followers into an IMPASSE.


- II -


    ADMITTING as we all do that Shakspeare wrote his Sonnets, there are but two ways of reading them.  Either the Poet is the Speaker throughout, or else some of them are spoken by other persons, for whom they were written; e.g. the "Private Friends" among whom the Sonnets circulated during many years—as we learn from Meres in 1598, and from other evidence now adduced.  This latter interpretation is mine, in opposition to the personal theory of Charles Armitage Brown.

    One editor of the Sonnets, the late Robert Bell, writing in the Fortnightly Review, was constrained to admit that—"Whatever may be the ultimate reception of Mr. Massey's interpretation of the Sonnets, nobody can deny that it is the most elaborate and circumstantial that has been yet attempted. Mr. Armitage Brown's essay, close, subtle, and ingenious as it is, recedes into utter insignificance before the bolder outlines, the richer colouring, and the more daring flights of Mr. Massey.  What was dim and shapeless before, here grows distinct and tangible; broken gleams of light here become massed, and pour upon us in a flood; mere speculation, timid and uncertain hitherto, here becomes loud and confident, and assumes the air of ascertained history.  A conflict of hypotheses had been raised by previous annotators respecting the facts and persons supposed to be referred to in the Sonnets, and the names of Southampton, Herbert, and Elizabeth Vernon flitted hazily through the discussion.  It has been reserved for Mr. Massey to build up a complete narrative out of materials which furnished others with nothing more than bald hints, and bits and scraps of suggestions."

    In his Notes to A Treasury of English Sonnets Mr. David M. Main remarks on the subject of Shakspeare's Sonnets and their interpreters, "The reader must pursue (this) for himself in the elaborate works devoted to the subject, especially those of Mr. Charles Armitage Brown, and Mr. Gerald Massey, the protagonists of the two great opposite theories of the Sonnets as, according to the former, autobiographic, personal; and, according to the latter, dramatic (vicarious) or impersonal.  Whichever of these works may ultimately determine his faith—I cannot doubt that it will be Mr. Massey's masterly and luminous exposition." [14]  Mr. Main, however, did  not point out that my contention is for both Dramatic and Personal Sonnets. When my work was first published, that happened which a writer has most reason to deprecate, whose object it is to set the facts in battle-array and fight it out.  No sustained attempt was ever made to grapple with my arguments or to rebut my evidence; and cross-examination has been declined for more than twenty years.  There was some distant biting of thumbs at my theory, and doubtless considerable back-biting, but no acceptance of the challenge which was then made, and is now repeated.

    In trying to present a rational rendering of Shakspeare's Sonnets I had from the outset to argue with or rather against an established mania from which some readers have suffered and others still suffer acutely.  They dare not discuss the evidence, they cannot present any valid arguments for their fanatical faith, they will not face the facts; but they speak virulently, and at times rave rabidly against any one who questions the personal nature of the Sonnets; or else they assume the position of "I am Sir Oracle" and deliver an adverse verdict without any show of right or reason.  When Alexander was counselled to give battle at Arbela and attack the enemy by night, he declined, saying he would not steal the victory.  But this is what the supporters of the Brownite theory are always trying to do with readers who are entirely in the dark concerning the facts that are fatal to their assumptions.  They want to filch the victory without fighting the battle.  Still worse if possible are those who pose as judicious doubters of any and every solution that may be proposed.  Such people never make a discovery themselves and never recognize one when it is made.  They "venture to doubt" whether the mystery ever will be penetrated, the friend identified, the Rival Poet named, the Dark Lady recognized, the problem solved. Enough for them to raise a subjective mist and call it Shakspeare's mystery, which they deem inscrutable.  Such judicial-minded doubters are as obstinate as mules, and equally sterile.  Their reputation for wisdom is not derived from their natural insight, but from the wise way they have of looking at people through their spectacles.  They can ensconce themselves in their own conceit and smile as if it were indeed a something to be proud of.  Difficulties that are insuperable to them are pronounced insoluble by others, and they are the staunchest of conservatives in defence of their own narrow limits.  For their part they are content to repose in their own incompetence.

    But we have now to do with the Autobiographic theory of Charles Armitage Brown. Bright and Boaden put forth their suggestions, but Brown made the theory his own.  Those who have followed him, like Mr. Furnivall,[15] are but irresponsible echoes.  Nothing has been done during fifty years to make good the hasty generalization.  Not a single fact has been adduced to prove the theory true.  Brown put forth the fiction; his followers are only believers in it.  Fingunt simul creduntque.  And this still remains a fiction to which they have only added their faith.  The Autobiographic theory has passed into the stage of belief and become the sacred fetish of a little cult, although no sustained attempt has ever been made in defence of the faith.  It is founded upon the assumption that the Sonnets are entirely personal to Shakspeare himself, and that he is the sole speaker in them from first to last; also that the "Mr. W. H." of Thorpe's Inscription was William Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, who was born in 1580, and who first came to live in London in the year 1598—the year in which Meres proclaimed the Sonnets to be then extant among Shakspeare's "Private Friends."

    According to Brown's reading the Sonnets are not Sonnets merely, but consist of groups that form six poems in the Sonnet-stanza.  He tells his readers that if the printers in 1609 had received efficient directions the order and manner of these six poems would have run thus:—

First Poem.  Stanzas 1 to 26.  To his friend, persuading him to marry.

Second Poem.  Stanzas 27 to 55.  To his friend, who had robbed him of his mistress, forgiving him.

Third Poem.  Stanzas 56 to 77.  To his friend, complaining of his coldness, and warning him of life's decay.

Fourth Poem.  Stanzas 78 to 101.  To his friend, complaining that he prefers another poet's praises, and reproving him for faults that may injure his character.

Fifth Poem.  Stanzas 102 to 126.  To his friend, excusing himself for having been some time silent, and disclaiming the charge of inconstancy.

Sixth Poem.  Stanzas 127 to 152.  To his mistress, on her infidelity? [16]

    Brown considered that Sonnets 135, 136, and 143, containing puns on the name of "Will," were quite out of keeping with the rest on account of their playful character.  He seems not to have known that Sonnet 57 was another of these; possibly he never saw the original Quarto.  The last two Sonnets he left out.  The 145th stanza was rejected on account of its metre, and the 146th Sonnet was to be deleted because of its religious nature; this being too solemn as the others were too trivial.  Without adducing anything like evidence from within the Sonnets, and in defiance of all the testimony that can be collected from without, Mr. Brown was proudly satisfied in assuming that Shakspeare was not only a self-debaser, but was also a self-defamer of a species that had no previous type and has produced no after-copy.  The theory is that Shakspeare discovered a particular species of the forbidden fruit and tried to keep the Tree all to himself.  But his young friend Will Herbert found it out and ate of it in the same stealthy manner as he himself had done.  Sooner or later the "two thieves kissing" the same mistress found each other out, and they had a "hell of time."  Mr. Brown says "we can scarcely imagine Shakspeare in a fit of rage; such, however, was the fact.  He was stung to the quick, and his resentment, though we are ignorant of the manner in which it was shown, appears to have been ungovernable!" (p. 63).

    After the Fall which followed his eating of the forbidden fruit Shakspeare sat down to carve his cherry-stones into pretty likenesses of the facts, or in other words, to make a record of his sins and sufferings in Sonnets as an offering of his everlasting love thus dedicated to the man who had perfidiously partaken of his paramour!  No one knows better than myself that ridicule is not the test of truth, but my case is not going to rest on ridicule if I do laugh a little at what I look upon as madly ridiculous.  It is true that Mr. Brown most charitably forgives Shakspeare for doing what he has gratuitously charged him with doing, i.e. "keeping a mistress."  He says piously enough, "May no person be inclined on this account to condemn him with a bitterness equal to their own virtue.  For  myself, I confess I have not the heart to blame him at all—purely because he so keenly reproaches himself for his own sin and folly" (p. 98).  One is thankful to find that Mr. Furnivall also forgives him freely and offers him absolution with extreme unction.  He appears to hold that these wantonly imputed sins of blood and slips in sensual mire have conferred on our poet a character quite Biblical.  Thus he compares Shakspeare with David and looks upon the Sonnets as his Psalms.  There never were any authentic grounds for making such a charge or for placing Shakspeare in such disreputable company, or beslavering him with the unction of cant; nothing whatever to go upon except those poetic appearances and shadows of some kind or other of facts which have played the fool with the Brownites, who have falsified them in their malodorous rendering of the Sonnets.

    Mr. Furnivall supposes that we fight against the Autobiographic theory of the Sonnets to save Shakspeare from the charge of adultery.  Not at all.  Give us the facts and we will face them frankly.  I do not fear facts nor war against them.  My battle is set in array against fictions, fallacies, forgeries, and groundless assumptions, not against facts.  But we deny that you have ever made out any case of Adultery.  We deny your possession of the facts.  We deny that you, who are too subjective-minded to get out of your own conceited selves, have taken the measure of our great Dramatist, whose power of going out of himself and assuming other forms of personality was Protean and humanly unparalleled whether he wrote Plays or Sonnets.  We deny that you have ever plumbed or penetrated deep enough, or ever given sufficient proofs of profound insight in reading the Sonnets.  We deny the accuracy of your gauge and the truth of your interpretation.  We reject your version of the circumstantial data concealed in the Sonnets as calumnious, incredible, and impossible; and we charge you with taking advantage of the obscurity, like others that come by night, to vilify the man Shakspeare and vitiate his work.  We see and say that you have never known the man to whose acquaintanceship you pretend.  When we ask for proof you smoke a sooty figure on the ceiling and call that a likeness of Shakspeare.  You have made the Flower-Garden of the Southampton Sonnets common as a place that is haunted with the ghost of dead drink and the foul breath of bad tobacco.  They will need to be disinfected for a while, so that clean people can freely breathe their natural sweetness.

    What we repudiate from the first is the puerility of supposing that if our Poet had been an adulterer he would have written Sonnets on the subject to perpetuate his personal and for-ever-to-be-reflected shame, when (as he tells us) the subjects were suggested by this friend, and the Sonnets were written to be the living record of his friendship, his loving memorial in life, his "gentle monument" in death; were intended to contain the Poet's "better part," "the very part was consecrate to thee" (Sonnet 74, written after the supposed "adultery").  I look upon this imputation as an utterly unwarranted attempt to make us think ignobly of the man, and a most unique specimen of dilettante devilry.  It is not as if Mr. Brown had been inspired by the passion for essential truth, and made blind with earnestness on Shakspeare's behalf!  Neither he nor his imitators had or have any such excuse.  Their foolish conceit is that in some surreptitious way they can get at the "inner workings" of the Poet's nature, having caught him this time without the mask, and found him out.  But Shakspeare is not to be "found out" by the one-eyed people.  He was all eyes himself, and each eye had as many facets for conduct, guidance, and self-protection as those of the fly.  As a matter of course any casual reader might assume at first sight that Shakspeare's Sonnets would be personal to Shakspeare.  As the true saying is, "any fool can do that."  Therefore it is not surprising that this revelation of Shakspeare's guilt came upon Mr. Brown at a flash.  Most of us at first sight have fancied the Sonnets were wholly personal to the writer of them.  That is, we took it for granted they were personal to Shakspeare.  But those who take things for granted, or who adopt a false view and act upon it, may do as Othello did, and as others have done, who murdered by mistake.  Such was the position of an old Shakspearian who says in a letter to me—

    "Six years ago I wrote and read a paper on the Sonnets declaring at that time for the Personal Theory.  I still remember how greatly the difficulties presented by that theory dissatisfied and depressed me, and how I was forced to the conclusion that those, difficulties never could be surmounted.  I have now read and re-read your exhaustive work again and again, and I can only say that you have made a blind man see. Whereas I groped in the dark before, I now walk under a strong light, and can read with apprehension and delight those beautiful poems that I used to read with a feeling of impatience and vexation.  I feel greatly indebted and grateful to you for having relieved me from the burden of an immense difficulty."

Another old Shakspearian wrote to me as follows—

    "Having just finished your very interesting book on Shakspeare's Sonnets, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of thanking you for your eloquent vindication of Shakspeare's personal character, and for the new and clear light by which you enable the world to read and comprehend those exquisite pieces of poetry.

    "As one of the many admirers of these Sonnets, I have always been perplexed by their import, regarding them as autobiographical; but now that I can view them as having been written to and for others, their beauty and intensity appear to me to be wonderfully enhanced by the glowing spirit of love and devotedness which gives them a double life.  Let me congratulate you on the completeness and fulness of your noble task; for which all lovers of Shakspeare must be grateful to you

    But it cost me three years of intense thought and patient labour to free myself entirely from this delusion.  At length I found that the path attempted by Mr. Brown was of no more avail for making way through the maze than that of the drunken man whose wooden leg stuck so fast in the earth that he stumped round and round it all night without getting any forwarder, but believing all the while that he was on his way home.  That picture or parable, if grotesque, is by no means an unfair or extravagant representative of the personal theory!  I found that the difficulties all lay in the details which Brown had avoided and never attempted to cope with, nor even pretended to understand.  Just where the Sonnets are the fullest of arresting matter, and the surface is most craggy with obstructive facts, which Brown could not get over or explain away, he had to shirk the difficulty by suggesting that the Sonnets were no doubt intended to be left vague (p. 63).  Although there is nothing indefinite in his indictment of Shakspeare and his young friend!

    Those readers who will insist on the Sonnets being solely Autobiographical are seeking to cross the sea by dry land.  They keep on making the attempt like those migratory Norwegian rats of which we read, who never do succeed, but who at least have the excuse that there was a land-passage once where the water drowns them to-day.  The chief contents of the Sonnets never have been and never can be made personal to Shakspeare. The long fight against an adverse fate, the spite of fortune, and the tyranny of time; the banishment and wanderings abroad, the public disgrace and vulgar scandal, the unfaithfulness in friendship, the frailties of sportive blood, the sins and sufferings, the cries of repentance, the confessions of his blenches, the defiance in thinking good what others think bad, the pitifully false excuses and abject servility, all belong to a speaker who is NOT Shakspeare.  These things can no more be made personal to our Poet by any racking of ingenuity or reach of an emasculate imagination than the sea can be taken on board the ship.  With the Autobiographical theory all is discord and dissonance; whereas the semi-dramatic rendering serves to bring harmony out of a chaos of sights and sounds; and as Bacon tells us, it is the harmony which of itself giveth light and credence.  For this semi-dramatic interpretation in its final form I now ask an attentive hearing.

    It was in consequence of mistaking the confessions of the Sonnets as Autobiographical that Hallam wished they had never been written.  Schlegel read them in the same way, as wailings over a wasted youth; the Poet's Book of Lamentations.  Writers like Carlyle and Emerson, who could recognize the great self-sufficing strength and almost imperturbable tranquillity of this placid, joyous nature; who accredit him with the calm of an unfathomable depth as mirror to the world around, can also sigh over the sad secrets of a darkly troubled spirit divulged in the Sonnets.  "It has to be admitted after all," said Emerson, that "this man of men, who gave to the science of mind a new and larger subject than had ever existed, and planted the standard of humanity some furlongs forward into chaos—that he should not be wise for himself—it must even go into the world's history that the best Poet led an obscure and profane life."  And solely because the Sonnets have been misrepresented by loquacious libellers, and wise men have been foolish enough to echo their babblings, instead of questioning their credentials.  When truly understood the Sonnets will reflect the same man as do the Plays.  The same writer was one in both.  But when the mirror has been fractured by the stone-thrower it can but give back an image of the man shockingly distorted and hideously disfigured.  Surely it is high time that all this scandal-mongering concerning Shakspeare's Sonnets and his "Swarthy Siren" was brought to book, and the hypothesis of that "Worshipful fraternity of the Sireniacal Gentlemen" confuted once for all.  Shakspeare's fair fame is at root the property of the nation, not to be fly-blown or infected by the suspicions of pretended experts who keep on sending forth their smuts that stick where they fall on the youthful mind like "blacks" upon the skin of the face.

    To the genuine lovers of the man it ought to be a matter of prime importance that this Sonnet-question should be fairly met and finally settled.  We must be ignorant hypocrites to continue talking as we do on the subject of our great Poet's character, and believe what we do of his virtues, his moral qualities, his manly bearing, if these Sonnets are personal confessions, having the character ascribed to them by the autobiographobist.  And if they be not, then all lovers of Shakspeare will be glad to get rid of the uncomfortable suspicions, see the "skeleton" taken to pieces, and have the ghost of the Poet's guilt laid at once and for ever; so that wise heads need no longer be shaken at "those Sonnets," and fools may not wag the finger with comforting reflections upon the littleness of great men.

    Where is the use of trying to gauge the Art and Mind or take the measure of the man Shakspeare, or to get his writings correctly classified, whether by the two-feet-and-eleven-fingered or any other kind of rules, if we are all the while be-darkening the truth with the shadow of a lie, by adopting the wrong reading of his Sonnets as to the times when they were written and the personal characters of the speakers self-portrayed?  All that has been said by Mr. Furnivall about Shakspeare's "Unhappy third period" is as false as the foundations are unsound; and the falsehood of his misleading inference is solely based upon the fundamental fallacy of the Autobiographic theory of the Sonnets.  No biography of our Poet can be safely built with this shifting sand of the Sonnets at the foundations.

    One notices that in later writings upon Shakspeare's life and character there has been a growing diffidence on the subject, if not an actual desire to leave the Sonnets alone.  Men who have attained their mental maturity begin to shake their wiser heads (as did the late Mr. Spedding) at this juvenile invention of Armitage Brown's and its unfortunate aberrant effect on the mind of his follower, Mr. Furnivall.  If we have been deceived by a manufactured mystery, and imposed upon by a got-up ghost of Shakspeare's guilt, which only needs facing to be found out, the sooner we know the real truth the better.  The primary question is not whether Shakspeare ever did keep a mistress who was "swarthy, fickle, and serpent-like," as Mr. Furnivall avouches; nor is it whether he entered into irregular relationships with a male friend and a female fiend, nor whether this trinity in unity fell out when the peer and poet quarrelled and the firm of Shakspeare and Co. dissolved partnership—it has not come to that because no evidence has ever been presented—not one jot—for a case to be called in court or a hearing to be granted.  The first question is whether the Sonnets say and substantiate these things that have been surmised and asserted by Brown and the feeble chatterers who echo him.  This I deny. This I shall disprove.

    Professor Dowden appears to think that I look upon the Brownite and Autobiographobist view as the result of "intellectual obliquity."  That is a mistake.  The obliquity is manifest enough, but it is non-intellectual.

    As we see, no one ever left a cleaner record than Shakspeare's. The total testimony of his time tells of a character that was beyond reproach.  Those who knew him best did not perceive the flaws and frailties, the stains of his sins of blood and slips in sensual mire.  Ben Jonson says with underlined emphasis, "He was indeed honest."  "He sowed honestly," says John Davies. "Besides," says Chettle, "divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty."  Publishers and players vie with each other in testifying to his uprightness and manly worth.  No doubt the Elizabethans had as keen a scent for scandal as the Victorians may have, and liked their game to be as high; such things as our Poet has been supposed to charge himself with could not have escaped, unnoticed and unknown.  In this world it is easy enough at any period of history, and in any station of life, for some of the personal virtues to be overlooked by whole "troops of unrecording friends."  These may nestle and make sweet some small breathing-space of life, and pass away without being remembered in gilt letters.  But the Vices!  That is quite a different matter.  And such vices too in such a man as Shakspeare, who was watched by so many jealous looks on the part of those who used the pen and could sharply prick in the record with it.  His vices could not have nestled out of sight quite so cleverly if he himself had taken pains to endorse them publicly.  When once the Sonnets were in print, if they had told anything, as in a glass darkly, against the fair fame of Shakspeare—if there had been such a story as modern ingenuity has discovered, we may be sure there were eyes keen enough amongst the Poet's contemporaries to have spied it out and made the most of it.  His friendship with Southampton was known.  His Sonnets were read with interest.  Meres had called attention to them.  He himself had publicly proclaimed that Southampton was part in all that he had devoted to him!  Yet there is not a whisper against him.  And why but because it was understood that they were Sonnets, not personal confessions, but Sonnets on subjects chosen or given?  It was not strange in 1609 that a great dramatic poet should write dramatically in his Sonnets.  And there was nothing suspicious in the Poet's life or personal bearing to cause the lynx-eyed to pry, no summons issued for a feast of the vultures; neither when the book of Sonnets was printed, nor when the writer himself was dead and his grave had become the fair mark for a foul bird.  No one rakes there for rottenness; no one ventures to deposit dirt there. Moreover, as Benson alleges, the enigmatical nature of the Sonnets did not pass unquestioned!  They had excited suspicion enough for Shakspeare to vindicate their purity—if he did not explain the secret drama of the Private Friendship.  And in vouching for the purity of his Sonnets, as Benson declares he did, Shakspeare would be giving the lie personally to the Autobiographic rendering of the dark Story in the Southampton Sonnets, and to the personal application of the Latter Sonnets. Doubtless that is what is meant by his testifying to their purity. He could never contend that the Dark Lady was a woman of pure character, but he would defend himself against the false inference that she was his mistress, and insist that such Sonnets were written dramatically on subjects supplied or suggested by the "Private Friends."  He was not the only "Will" in the world. Anyway, with his own name written by himself in connection with the Circe of the Latter Sonnets, there is not an ill-breath breathed against the moral reputation of our Poet, either from rival dramatist or chronicler of scandal, in all the letters of the time.  Now character is evidence in any properly constituted court of justice.  Not as against facts, but as an element in the right interpretation of them.  Here, however, there are no facts to array against the character, only inferences, whereas the character stands irremovably fixed, with all the facts for buttresses around it.

    No one like Shakspeare in all literature has ever mirrored so magically the tenderness and purity of womanly love.  No man like him has ever nestled in the innermost holy of belies of the most purely perfect of female natures as the very spirit of daintiest purity; pure as the dewdrop in the fragrant heart of a flower.  Think of Imogen, Miranda, Cordelia, and Desdemona, as nurslings of Shakspeare's purity in love.[17]

    He left the statue of a life as clean and white as Carrara marble.  For more than two centuries no hand was raised to throw mud at it, no dirty dog ever ventured to defile it.  For purity's sake all women ought to stop their ears against this calumny of the would-be polluters of his purity, and all men who have listened to these scandal-mongers should turn sick of them, cast out the poison, and slough off the Lues Browniana.  As representative of all humanity the nature of Shakspeare was one-half woman.  And to that fresh force of morality, of spirituality, of conscience, of divine instinct now being introduced as a new literary and political factor contributed by cultured womankind, we must make appeal in this matter on Shakepeare's behalf.  The proper jury to be empanelled for the Dark Story of the Sonnets will contain one-half of either sex, with the doubled likelihood of justice being done.

    So far from being a lecher, Shakspeare shows no toleration for adultery, but is hard and stern as steel in reflecting the evil features of the vice they charge him with, as in the character of Antony!  He is the very evangelist of marriage and of purity in wedded life; as such he began the writing of his Sonnets.  He who had to be reproached and reproved for his "sin of silence" by the friend who was so fond of being written of would be the last man in the world to become a self-defaming blabber on the subject of an illicit love.  He, the one writer of his age who showed the supremest, most judicious reticence concerning himself, was not the man to make known in Sonnets that were to live and give life to the facts enshrined in them "so long as men can breathe or eyes can see," that he had been co-partner in keeping a courtesan.

    It may be remarked in passing that the scandal-mongers who accept the Autobiographic theory, and its supposed revelations of illicit love, also maintain the present order of the Sonnets. "Repeated perusals," says Professor Dowden, "have convinced me that the Sonnets stand in the right order." [18]  Very well then—if the story of Shakspeare being false to himself, to his wife, and his own good reputation, and of his friend being treacherous to him, had been true, the circumstances must have occurred previous to the writing of the 70th Sonnet, in which Shakspeare says to this same false friend who had been seduced by the Poet's own siren, or who had filched her from Shakspeare—

                      (A KEY-SONNET.)

"That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,
 For Slander's mark was ever yet the fair;
 The ornament of beauty is suspect,
 A Crow that flies in Heaven's sweetest air!
 So thou be good, Slander doth but approve
 Thy worth the greater, being wooed of Time;
 For canker Vice the sweetest buds doth love,
thou present'st a pure unstainèd prime:
 Thou hast passed by the ambush of young days,
 Either not assailed, or victor being charged
 Yet this thy praise cannot be so thy praise,
 To tie up Envy evermore enlarged:
     If some suspect of ill masked not thy show
     Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts should'st owe."

    You cannot have it both ways, nor win by playing fast and loose.  This is a key-sonnet, and one of the most precious of the whole series.   The anchorage of personality in it is assured.  It is in reality Shakspeare's own personal reply to the false charges brought against him by Brown, which were derived from preceding Sonnets.  It gives the lie point-blank to the assertion that the friend had robbed the Poet of his mistress in the earlier time.  Even if he had been charged with doing so, this Sonnet would obviously reduce it to a case of false suspicion and consequent slander.  For if this had teen the fact he could not have been the "victor being charged"—at least not in the sense implied.

And as Shakspeare is able to congratulate his friend in this way, that fully disproves Mr. Brown's reading of the story. Something had occurred; the Earl had been blamed for his conduct; slander had been at work.  Shakspeare takes part with his friend, and says, the blame of others is not necessarily a defect in him.  The mark of slander has always been "the fair," just as the cankers love the sweetest buds.  Suspicion attaches to beauty, and sets it off;—it is the black crow flying against the sweet blue heaven.  It is in the natural order of things, that one in the position of the Earl, and having his gifts and graces, should be slandered.  But, "so thou be good," he says, "Slander only proves thy worth the greater, being wooed of Time."  Slander, in talking of him without warrant, will but serve to call attention to his patient suffering and heroic bearing under this trial and tyranny of Time.  So Shakspeare did think the Earl was slandered, and he accounts for it on grounds the most natural.

    He then offers his testimony as to character—

"And then present'st a pure unstained prime!
 Thou hast past by the ambush of young days,
 Either not assailed, or victor being charged."

A singular thing to say, if Mr. Brown's version of the earlier Sonnets were true.  Very singular, and so Mr. Brown has omitted it!  Further, the Sonnet is a striking illustration of the mutual relationship of poet and peer—a most remarkable thing that Shakspeare should congratulate the Earl for his Joseph-like conduct, and call him a "victor."  Very few young noblemen of the time, we think, would have considered that a victory, or cared to have had it celebrated.  Yet this fact, which Shakspeare says is to the Earl's praise, will not be sufficient to tie up Envy,—nor, he might have added, shut up Folly.

    We have still further personal testimony, in Sonnet 105. When that was written Shakspeare had been false to his wife, his friend had been false to him and stolen his mistress; and, as the story goes, the Poet had commemorated the inconstancy of both in Sonnets that were to live for ever. To all such charges this is Shakspeare's unconscious but conclusive reply—

"Let not my love be call'd idolatry,
 Nor my beloved as an idol show,
 Since all alike my songs and praises be,
 To one, of one, still such and ever so
 Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
 Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
 Therefore my verse, to constancy confined,
 One thing expressing, leaves out difference:
 Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
 Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
 And in this change is my invention spent,
 Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords:
     Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
     Which three, till now, never kept seat in one."

 Sonnet 105.

When those two Sonnets were written the "sins" and "crimes" had been committed which are afterwards admitted and lamented; the lapses and "frailties" had been found out; the treachery discovered; the "hell of time" suffered; the speaker's name had been "branded" publicly and his brow stamped with "vulgar scandal."  Also, the Sonnets supposed to record the "facts" referred to had been composed and sent to the friend, and treasured up by him with all their prophecies and promises of everlasting fame (or infamy).  But as these things were not personal to Shakspeare, it follows that the Sonnets which are personal to himself recognize nothing of all this unfaithfulness in love that is so pitifully confessed in others where he is NOT the speaker and his is NOT the character portrayed, because such Sonnets are not personal to himself.

    But to conclude the argument—we will step in yet a little closer.

    After the supposed Dark Story has been told in the Sonnets, which they assure us have no meaning if they do not proclaim the young friend's inconstancy in love and unfaithfulness in friendship, as the deceiver who has inflicted a public disgrace on the speaker of Sonnet 34; who has been a base betrayer of all trust in Sonnet 35; a thief and a robber in Sonnet 40; the breaker of "twofold truth" in Sonnet 41; the same person, the thief, traitor, deceiver, betrayer, injurer, and living effigy of falsehood and inconstancy, is idiotically supposed to be told by Shakspeare in a neighbouring Sonnet (53) that there is "None, none, like you, for constant heart!"  Thus his false perfidious friend is extolled as the express image of unswerving faithfulness!  In Sonnet 54 he is assured that truthfulness is the crown jewel of his character, the "sweet ornament" of his beauty, and that the object of the Poet's verse is to distil his truth!  The personal Sonnets deny that the inconstancy, the unfaithfulness, the betrayal of trust, and all the rest of a lover's sins and crimes were committed in relation to the writer of the Sonnets, and necessarily point to an explanation in some other way.

    Here it will be necessary to consider the feeble and entirely ineffectual exegesis by which the unsavoury surmise was sought to be substantiated.  Mr. Brown's mode of dispersing the mystery is by furnishing his own facts, and getting rid of those recorded by Shakspeare in the Sonnets.  He makes no application of the comparative method, without which nothing final can ever be established.  Without testing his assumption by means of Shakspeare's use and wont and way of working in the dramas, he dogmatically asserts that the first 125 Sonnets are all addressed to a male friend.

    Here, for example, are a few of the expressions assumed without comparison or question to have been addressed to a man by the most natural of all poets:


I tell the day to please him, thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot
        the heaven;
So flatter I the swart-complexioned night.
                                                                Sonnet 28.

Lascivious Grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet, we must not be
       foes.                                                Sonnet 40.

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require:
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end
Whilst I, my Sovereign, watch the clock for
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your Servant once
        adieu.                                            Sonnet 57.
Is it thy spirit that thou send'st from thee
So far from home, into my deeds to pry;
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy
.        .        .        .        .        .        .        .
For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake
From me far off, with others all too near.
                                                                 Sonnet 61.

Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his
        treasure.                                   Sonnet 75.

Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth
In sleep a king, but, waking, no such
        matter.                                       Sonnet 87.
And prove thee virtuous though thou art
        forsworn.                                    Sonnet 88.

But what's so blessed fair that fears no blot?
Thou may'st be false, and yet I know it not.
                                                             Sonnet 92.

How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow,
If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show.
                                                             Sonnet 93.

For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my Rose! in it thou art my all.
                                                         Sonnet 109.

Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof to try an older friend.
                                                  Sonnet 110.

Such Cherubins as your sweet self.—
                                                  Sonnet 114.

For why should others' false adulterate
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
                                                   Sonnet 121.


    Here the Autobiographic Theory demands, and it is consequently assumed, that Shakspeare, the peerless Psychologist, the poet whose observance of natural law was infallible, whose writings contain the ultimate of all that is natural in poetry, should have sinned grossly in this way against nature, in a matter so primary as the illustration of sex!

    All such imagery is feminine, and has been held so by all poets that ever wrote in our language; and I consider his instinct in such a matter to be so natural that he could not thus violate the sex of his images.  That there are certain warranted exceptions is true; that there are moods in which the expression demanded rises above sex is also true.  Shakspeare makes a woman a "god" in love, in her power to re-create the lover.  In such wise he has a man-muse, a man-fish, a man-mistress, a mankind witch, a mankind woman, as well as a woman of the God-kind.  In fact, he dare do anything on occasion, only there must be the occasion.  But his ordinary practice is to do as other poets have done.

    Those who cannot or will not see the impossibility of these expressions being addressed to a man by the manliest of men, but will continue to babble blasphemy against Shakspeare in their blindness, deserve to be hissed off the stage.  Rather than think that Shakspeare had so mistaken the nature of sex as to amorously reverse its imagery in his Sonnets, one would sooner suspect that there had been some congenital confusion in the nature of their own.  Messrs. Brown and Furnivall have the confidence to assure us that Shakspeare, whose instinct in poetry was as unerringly true to nature as is the power of breathing in sleep, offered those and many other kindred delicates to a man, and thus violated the sex in its own images.  But would he, could he, did he sin in this way against the natural law of sex in poetry?  The closer we study Shakspeare's work the more we find that his dramatic instinct must be true to sex, not only in the spirit and essence, but also in the outward appareling of imagery.  There are certain natural illustrations which he never applied to man, but keeps sacred to woman; certain phrases used, which prove or imply that the opposite sex is addressed.  It needs no special discernment: the commonest native instinct is guide enough to show that he would not talk of his appetite for a man, or speak of personifying desire in getting back to him, or allude to the filching age stealing his male friend—this being opposed to the law of kind and very liable to the Petronian interpretation.

    By the aid of the comparative method we are able to do that which the Brownites have never done, and gloss the Sonnets by means of the Plays, so that Shakspeare may tell us bit by bit what he did mean when he wrote.  The Personal Reading assumes that the three lovely flower-sonnets, 97, 98, 99, were addressed to a man; but not only is the whole of their imagery sacred to the sex, as I call it; not only is it so used by Shakspeare all through his work; not only did Spenser address his lady-love in exactly the same strain, in his Sonnets 35 and 64, likening her features to flowers, saying—

"Such fragrant flowers do give most odorous smell,
 But her sweet odour did them all excel;


"All this world's glory seemeth vain to me,
 And all their shows but shadows, saving she!"

Not only so, but the images had been previously applied seriatim by Constable in his Diana (1584).  Let me draw out a few parallels.

"The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
 One blushing shame, another white despair. "—S

"My lady's presence makes the roses red,
 Because to see her lips they blush for shame."—C

"The lily I condemnèd for thy hand. "—S

"The lilies' leaves for envy pale became,
 And her white hands in them this envy bred. "—C

The violet in Shakspeare's Sonnet is said to have its purple pride of complexion because—

"In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed."

 In Constable's the lover says—

"The violet of purple colour came,
 Dyed with the blood she made my heart to shed."

 "More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
 But sweet or colour it had stolen from thee."—S

"In brief, all flowers from her their virtue take,
 From her sweet breath their sweet smells do proceed."—C

    Here the likeness is all lady, according to the custom of the Poets.

    One man, and that man Shakspeare, is supposed to call another man "Next my Heaven the best."  This has no warrant from his usage in the Plays.  But Katharine, speaking of the King, says she had "loved him next heaven," and Antipholus in the Comedy of Errors calls Luciana

"My sole earth's heaven and my heaven's claim."

Shakspeare, it is assumed, tells his male friend that everything is summed up between the two in a "Mutual render, only Me for Thee."  But this is the very language in which Posthumus addresses his wife:—

"Sweetest, fairest,
 As I my poor self did exchange for you."

Prospero says of the two lovers Ferdinand and Miranda:—

"At the first sight they have changed eyes."

And Claudio says to Hero:—

"Lady, as you are mine, I am yours;
  I give away myself for you,
      And dote upon the exchange."

In Sonnet 109 the speaker calls the person addressed "My Rose!" Readers will remember that it was a courtly fashion of Shakspeare's day for the young nobles to wear a rose in the ear for ornament as an image of gallantry.  But the Poet could hardly compliment his male friend by representing him as symbolically dangling at his ear.  His own words in the mouth of the "Bastard" would almost preclude such a possibility.

"In mine ear I durst not stick a rose,
 Lest men should say, 'Look where three-farthings goes.'"—King John, I, i.

We shall see how appropriate it was when addressed to a lady by the lover who had plucked the rose, and pricked his fingers too, but had not yet worn her as he wished—for his life's chief ornament.  Having made the most thorough examination of Shakspeare's wont and habit, I mean to prove it in this and other instances from his dramas.  I doubt if there be an instance in Shakspeare of man addressing man as "my rose," and should as soon expect to find "my tulip."  The Queen of Richard the Second speaks of her fair rose withering, and Ophelia of Hamlet as the "rose of the State."  But even here it is one sex describing the other.  For the rest, the "rose" is the woman-symbol.  "Women are as roses," says the Duke in Twelfth Night.  Fair ladies masked, according to Boyet, are "roses in the bud"; and Helena, in All's Well, speaks of "our rose."  "You shall see a rose indeed," is said of Marina.  "O, rose of May," Laertes calls Ophelia; Cleopatra, is likened to the "blown rose"; a married woman is the "rose distilled," the unmarried "one that withers on the virgin thorn."

    In Sonnet 114 the person apostrophized is likened to a "Cherubin"—"such Cherubins as your sweet self."  And Prospero exclaims to Miranda: "O, a Cherubin thou wast that did preserve me."  "For all her cherubin look," says Timon of Phryne.  In Othello we have, "Patience, thou young and rose-lipped Cherubin;" in the Merchant of Venice, "young-eyed Cherubins"; but no man is called a Cherubin by Shakspeare.

    The speaker in Sonnet 110 designates the person addressed as "a God in love to whom I am confined."  At first sight it may seem that a God implies the male nature.  But it is not necessarily so. Helena says, "We, Hermia, like two artificial gods, created both one flower."  Miranda says, "Had I been any god of power."  But the sexual parallel to the god in love of Sonnet 110 is only to be found in Iago's description of Desdemona's power over Othello. The speaker of the Sonnet exclaims:—

"Mine appetite I never more will grind
  On newer proof, to try an older friend,
   A god in love, to whom I am confined."

And Iago says of Othello and his infatuation for Desdemona:—

"His soul is so enfettered to her love,
 That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
 Even as her appetite shall play the god
 With his weak function."

Again, as an illustration of the testimony of sex to the truer reading of the Sonnets, take the image in Sonnet 93:—

"How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow,
 If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!"

How could this be so if man were addressing man?  How should the beauty of a man grow like the apple which tempted Eve? But the person addressed being a woman, the image becomes singularly felicitous.  Then we for the first time see that Eve's apple means the apple with which she tempted Adam!

    It is a matter of natural and therefore of Shakspearian necessity that such a Sonnet as No. 48 can only be spoken to a woman by a man.  Shakspeare was the manliest of men; not the most effeminate of poets.  In his Plays, men do not call each other their "best of dearest," most "worthy comfort," or "only care."  Shakspeare could not have called the friend his "only care," he had a wife and family to care for, and a lively sense of that responsibility, as well as a most acute perception of the ludicrous.  In the Plays, the only expressions equal to these in depth of tenderness are such as those spoken by Posthumus to Imogen—"Thou the dearest of creatures."  "Rest of comfort" Cæsar calls his sister; "Thou dearest Perdita" is Florizel's phrase; and the Duke of France, speaking of Cordelia to King Lear, says: "She that even but now was your best object, balm of your age, most best, most dearest;" and Cordelia was the offspring of our Poet's most fatherly tenderness.  Stella is Sydney's "only dear."  In All's Well the mother of Bertram calls her absent son her "greatest grief."  Thus these expressions are sacred to the use of mother, father, lover, brother, and husband.  Here, as elsewhere, nothing satisfactory could be determined without the most rigorous application of the comparative process which Armitage Brown forgot to apply to the Plays and Sonnets, as do his over-faithful followers.  The suggestion that all this confusion of the sexes in the Sonnets arises from Shakspeare's own inadvertence and oversight, or from the overweening womanly half of him, comes from imbecility itself.  The question that arises here is this—are we to place our trust in Messrs.  Brown and Furnivall, or other autobiographobists, any further, or henceforth rely upon Shakspeare and his truth to nature?

    Mr. Brown presents his readers with a paraphrastic rendering of the Sonnets, and puts forward the claim that the "task of interpreting their sense has been effected carefully and honestly" (p. 93).  Let us see how this was done.  In each instance he gives us all that he could make personal to Shakspeare as speaker in the Sonnet summarized.

                        SONNET 107.
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul,
Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,
Uncertainties now crown themselves assured,
And Peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,
Since spite of him I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes:
    And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
    When Tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.

"No consideration can control my true friendship.  In spite of death itself, I shall live in this verse, and it shall be your enduring monument."


                        SONNET 109.
O never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify;
As easy might I from myself depart,
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie;
That is my home of love; if I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good:
    For nothing this wide Universe I call,
    Save thou, my Rose; in it thou art my all.

"O never say that absence made me fickle. I return unchanged.  Never believe anything against me so preposterous."


                        SONNET 117.
Accuse me thus, that I have scanted all,
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Where-to all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchased right,
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate,
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your wakened hate:
    Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
    The constancy and virtue of your love.

"Accuse me of having been remiss in my duty by not calling on you, say I have frequented others' company instead of yours, record my wilfulness and errors, and add surmise to proof; but hate me not for putting your constancy and the virtue of your friendship to trial."


                        SONNET 123.
No!  Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange,
They are but dressings of a former sight:
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old,
And rather make them born to our desire,
Than think that we before have heard them told:
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste;
    This I do vow and this shall ever be,
    I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

"Time, with his pyramids, which are but deceptions on us, because our lives are short, shall not boast of my change."


                        SONNET 124.
If my dear love were but the Child of State,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,
As subject to time's love, or to time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled Discontent,
Where-to th' inviting time our Fashion calls:
It fears not Policy that Heretic,
Which works on leases of short-numbered hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with
    To this I witness call the fools of time,
    Which die for goodness, who have lived
        for crime.

"If my dear friendship were but the child of state, it might be called fortune's bastard, subject to circumstances, and built on accident; but it is neither affected by smiling pomp, nor by misfortune.  It fears not policy; it stands alone, unbiased, and is itself, in the grand sense, politic."


                        SONNET 125.
Were't ought to me I bore the Canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which proves more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all, and more, by paying too much rent?
For compound sweet foregoing simple savour,
Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent.
No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.
    Hence, thou suborned Informer, a true soul,
    When most impeached, stands least in thy

"How should I have profited by obsequiousness, laying a wrong foundation for fame?  Have I not seen courtiers lose all, and more, by paying too much?  No! let my unmixed and artless homage be to your heart, and let your heart be mine in exchange.  Hence, thou suborned calumniator of my sincerity!  A true soul, when most impeached, stands least in thy power."


To me this looks very like prepensely following out a process of unrealization, and of teaching us how not to recognize what it was that had been written by Shakspeare.  The reader will see that the lines in these Sonnets are pregnant with strangely particular significance, and full of meaning waiting to be brought to birth.  But with Mr. Brown as obstetrist the life and spirit pass out of them, and only a poor little dead abortion is born.  Events are obscured, the dates grow dim, the contemporary history dislimns and fades away; Shakspeare's meaning drops defunct, Mr. Brown wraps it in a winding-sheet of witless words, and buries the whole of the facts that are of the greatest "pith and moment" in any attempt to understand the Sonnets.  Before passing on I will make one more comparative parallel.  The following four Sonnets are all supposed to be Autobiographical, and therefore spoken by Shakspeare to the same friend, although, as the reader will feel, they are diametrically opposite in character.




If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust
        shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time;
And tho' they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men:
O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought!
"Had my friend's Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
    But since he died, and Poets better prove,
    Theirs for their style I'll read; his for his love."

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence,
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope
    Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
    Which three, till now, never kept seat in
            one. (105)

When in disgrace with Fortune, and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And, trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on Thee,—and then my state,
Like to the Lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at Heaven's
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth
    That then I scorn to change my state with
            kings. (29)

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still,
The better angel is a man right fair:
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil;
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell:
    Yet this shall I ne'er know but live in doubt,
    Till my bad angel fire my good one out. (144)


    Now, let any one look back at the two Sonnets, Nos. 29 and 32, and compare them.  They were written by the greatest dramatist who ever portrayed human character or distinguished its opposite traits.  They come quite near together in the first series, but the characters of the two speakers are totally antipodal.  Sonnet 32 is spoken by Shakspeare himself as the lover of his friend and the writer of the Sonnets.  He is happy in his work, in his lot, in his love; standing looking mentally from the end of it, he describes his life as a "well-contented day."  The other speaker is unhappy in all things, and discontented with everything.  He is in disgrace with fortune, and his disgrace is public.  He is an outcast in exile, a lonely, discontented, miserable man.  These are not two moods merely of the same mind; they are two entirely distinct characters, which can be identified with two different persons; one Sonnet being personal, the other dramatic.  In Sonnet 29 the speaker is "in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes."  In Sonnet 37 he is "made lame by Fortune's dearest spite."  In Sonnet 90 the "world is bent" upon "crossing his deeds," and he is still suffering the "spite of Fortune" at its worst.  In Sonnet 124 he says

"If my dear love were but the Child of State,
 It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered."

    This long war of Fortune cannot be made personal to Shakspeare, who was a favourite of Fortune, knew it, and acknowledges it in these Sonnets when he speaks for himself.  Such cursing of Fate and Fortune as we find in certain Sonnets is sternly rebuked by Friar Lawrence in the case of Romeo under circumstances desperate enough to excuse an outbreak.

"Why rail'st thou on thy birth, the heaven, the earth?
 Since birth and heaven and earth all three do meet
 In thee at once, which thou at once would'st lose.
 Fie, fie! then sham'st thy shape, thy love, thy wit,
 Which like an Usurer abound'st in all,
 And usest none in that true use indeed
 Which should bedeck thy shape, thy love, thy wit.
 Thy noble shape is but a form of wax,
 Digressing from the valour of a mail."

We hear the voice of Shakspeare in the Friar rather than in Romeo.

    Professor Dowden, who contends that the Sonnets stand in their true order, likewise claims that these two belong to the first group, as there is no break until we yet beyond the 32nd Sonnet, so that both these Sonnets go together and were sent together as internal revelations from this man who tells his friend that he lives a "well-contented day," at the very time that he is supposed to deny it altogether, and to give us all these cumulative details in direct disproof!  Professor Dowden has supplemented Brown's Autobiographical interpretation by one unique discovery that is entirely his own.  He contends for the Personal Theory, and when speaking more especially of the Latter Sonnets he says, "I believe that Shakspeare's Sonnets express his feeling, in his own person.  To whom they were addressed is unknown.  We shall never discover the name of that woman who for a season could sound, as no one else, the instrument in Shakspeare's heart from the lowest note to the top of the compass.  To the eyes of no diver among the wrecks of time will that curious talisman gleam" (p. 33).

    A person of the name of "Will" is the SPEAKER in four different Sonnets (Nos. 57, 135, 136, and 143), and if the Sonnets are read as personal utterances of Shakspeare, it inevitably follows that he is the speaker whose name is "Will."  From that conclusion there is no escape.  Thus "Will" IS the speaker of Sonnets 57, 135, 136, and 143; the speaker mark! NOT THE FRIEND ADDRESSED, nor the person spoken of, as the subject of the Latter Sonnets is a woman in relation to "Will"!  So that these four Sonnets must be spoken by Shakspeare for him to "express his own feelings in his own person."  If any other "Will" than Shakspeare is admitted as speaker, that would necessitate my dramatic theory which the Professor opposes. "Will" then is the speaker addressing or speaking of the woman!  Yet Professor Dowden asserts (p. 51) that it is Shakspeare's, friend (not himself) who is called "Will" in Sonnet 135. If it were Shakspeare's friend who is the "Will" of these four Sonnets, he must be the speaker of them, and so they would not and could not then be personal to Shakspeare himself!  You cannot have one "Will" both ways—"Will" as speaker and "Will" as the friend addressed—when there is but one!  From the beginning to the end of the Sonnets there is but ONE, "Will"; in each case he is the speaker, and nowhere is he the person who is spoken to!  Professor Dowden has actually transmogrified this "Will" the speaker into Shakspeare's friend "Will" in support of "Will" Herbert's being that friend.  He says, "To avoid the confusion of he and him, I call Shakspeare's friend as he is called in 135, Will" (p. 51).

    The reader will find nothing of the kind either in Sonnet 135 or in the other three which go with it and are spoken by the person who tells us that his own name (not his friend's) is "Will."  No student of the Sonnets will take it otherwise unless blinded through believing a lie.  "Will"—whoever he may be—is the speaker by name in four of the Sonnets, and never is he the friend addressed by Shakspeare in any of his Sonnets!

    Therefore the assumption that the friend who is addressed by Shakepeare was "Will" by name has no basis or warrant whatever except in the blunder now exposed, a blunder so gross that it may seem incredible as it is inexplicable; and, for a commentator and critic to commit it, is suicidal.  This irreparable mistake is all that Messrs. Dowden and Furnivall ever had to go upon in foisting the name of "Will" upon their readers as that of Shakspeare's friend in the earlier Sonnets.  I repeat, this "Will" who speaks and puns on his own name in the Latter Sonnets is Professor Dowden's sole evidence that the earlier 126 Sonnets are addressed to "Will"!  Nevertheless the falsification has been built upon as a foundational fact.  Mr. Furnivall, for example, says, "that the W (of Thorpe's Inscription) was 'Will,' we know from Sonnets 135, 136, 143."  He further affirms that "in Sonnets 38 and 78 Shakspeare's verse is said to be solely begotten by Will."  This, as the reader will see by referring to those two Sonnets, is simply to convert the false inference into a conclusion that is sought to be established by downright dishonesty of manipulation. Whilst Professor Dowden, as already shown, is so well satisfied with his suicidal assumption that he can say, "to avoid confusion of HE and HIM I call Shakspeare's friend (all through the Sonnets) as he is called in 135, 'Will.' "

    This is trying to pass off a counterfeit coinage, none the less false because it is literary.  And by such false coinage, by such a false reading and a falser inference, "Will" Herbert is to be changed into the young friend of Shakspeare, for whom he wrote his early Sonnets, and thus foisted into the seat of Southampton!  This attempt to change "Will" the speaker into "Will" as the person addressed is a palpable perversion of the plainest fact.

    Of course if "Will" Herbert can only be hoisted into Southampton's place, it makes the story of lechery and treachery look a little less improbable on account of Herbert's well-known licentious character!   For if Shakspeare can be made to reflect or share the character of Herbert, it will look a little more likely that Herbert may have shared in Shakspeare's mistress—as they swear he did.  Whereas, if it be proved that Southampton was the "sweet boy," the Adonis of Shakspeare's Sonnets, the same friend in private who afterwards became his patron publicly, then the lie of the libellers falls dead and damned: (1) because Southampton was purely and profoundly in love with Elizabeth Vernon; (2) because the subjects and arguments were supplied by the friend and lover; and (3) because the Sonnets were to be written in the lover's own book, and remain in the sight of the Private Friends (Sonnet 38).

    If William Herbert is NOT the young friend addressed by Shakspeare in the first 126 Sonnets, it follows that all the hypotheses based on the false assumption must fall with it!  Thorpe's Inscription may be left aside for the present.  It would be worse than useless to begin with that which never has supplied and never can supply the key that Thorpe himself did not possess.  The Sonnets must furnish their clue to his enigmatical dedication, which has been a most disastrous guide, as of the blind leading the blind.

    Michael Drayton did not bequeath to us many memorable lines, but he says in one of the few he left,

"Blind is that sight that's with another's eye."

Now I do not ask the students of Shakspeare's Sonnets to see with my eyes, but to keep their own well open and fixed steadily on all the facts as they are presented to them piecemeal, and examine them one by one as if they were under the microscope, to make all sure before they accompany me any further.  Let us take the necessary time to see our way clearly step by step with our own eyes; leap to no hasty conclusions, and accept nothing upon trust, nothing upon a mere basis of belief.  It was a very long and close study of such matterful and causeful lines as cannot be made personal to Shakspeare, nor be invisibly evaporated as abstract ideas, a very diligent course of

"Minding true things by what their mockeries be,"

that first opened my own eyes to let fall the scales imposed upon them by non-use through trusting to the eyes of others.

    We live in a time when the old manufactories of Opinion are well-nigh ground out.  People who think do not ask for opinions ready-made.  Give them the original facts, and they can form their own opinions from a first-hand acquaintanceship.  That is the only way to attain the truth.  And in the present case there is no possible way of attaining the truth concerning Shakspeare and his Sonnets without being in possession of those definite data which alone constitute the criteria of the truth.  I fully acknowledge holding a brief on Shakspeare's behalf.  Nevertheless I shall present the evidence entire all through my long and elaborate argument; "Ay, and the particular confirmation, point by point, to the, full arming of the verity." My appeal is addressed to readers who learn by insight rather than trust to hearsay.

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[1.](page 2)    Falstaff says, "here's Lime in this Sack too; there is nothing but Roguery to be found in Villainous Man."  Meres applies this to the "Corrupt times, when there is nothing but roguery in villainous man."  This familiarity with Falstaff makes it fairly certain that the Merry Wives of Windsor had not appeared when Meres wrote in 1598, or he would have included it in his list of Shakspeare's Plays.

[2.](page 6)    See Table Talk, p. 231.

[3.](page 7)    Studies of Shakspeare, by Charles Knight.  London, 1849.

[4.](page 8)    Essays, chiefly on, English Poets.

[5.](page 9)     A Key to Shakspeare's Sonnets.  English translation.  London, 1862.

[6.](page 10)    Shakspeare, his Inner Life, by John A. Heraud.  London, 1865.

[7.](page 10)    Songs and Sonnets by William Shakspeare.  London, 1865.

[8.](page 11)    The Sonnets of Shakspeare solved, by Henry Brown.  1870.

[9.](page 11)    Shakspeare's Southampton-Sonotte.  Deutsch.  von Frik Krauss.  Leipzig.  Berlag von Wilhelm Engelmann.  1872.

[10.](page 11)   History of the English People, pp. 412, 426.  London, 1874.

[11.](page 12)   Shakspeare's Sonnets.  London, 1881.

[12.](page 12)   Leopold Shakspeare, Introduction, pp. 63-67, 122.

[13.](page 13)   New Shakspere Society.  Monthly Abstract of proceedings. May 9 and June 13, 1884.

[14.](page 15)   A Treasury of English Sonnets, by David M. Main. 1880.  Notes, pp. 279-250.

[15.](page 16)   Leopold Shakspeare: Introduction.

[16.](page 17)   Shakspeare's Autobiographical Poems.  Charles Armitage Brown.  London, 1838.

[17.](page 22)   Those who saw Helena Faucit as Imogen will remember a rare vision of one of Shakspeare's pure women upon the stage.

The soul of love and doubled life was smiling in her face;
'Twas music when she moved, and in the stillness of her grace
Affection, like a Spirit, stood embodied to embrace.

[18.](page 23)   Shakspeare's Sonnets.  London, 1880.  Introd. p. 10.


Website Editor's notes.

Henry Wriothesley, (source.... Wikipedia): 3rd Earl of Southampton, (October 6, 1573–November 10, 1624), the second son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton and his wife Mary Browne, daughter of the 1st Viscount Montague.  He succeeded to the title in 1581 when he became a royal ward under the immediate care of Lord Burghley.  In 1585, he entered St John's College, Cambridge, graduating M.A. in 1589, his name being entered at Gray's Inn before he left the university.  At the age of seventeen he was presented at court where he was counted among the friends of the Earl of Essex also was also distinguished by extraordinary marks of the queen's favour.

    Southampton was a munificent patron of poets, Nashe dedicating his romance of Jack Willon to him and Gervase Markham his poem on Sir Richard Grenville's last fight (a subject also set by Massey). His name is also associated with Barnabe Barnes's Parthenophil and Parihenope, and with the Worlde of Wordes of John Florio, who was for some years in his personal service as teacher of Italian.  But it is as a patron of the drama - and especially of Shakespeare - that he is best known. "My Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland," writes Rowland White to Sir Robert Sydney in 1599, "come not to the court ... They pass away the time in London merely in going to plays every day" (Sydney Papers, ed. Collins, ii. 132).

    Shakespeare dedicated his poem Venus and Adonis (1593) to Southampton in terms expressing respect, but no special intimacy; but he adopted a different tone in his dedication of Lucrece (1594).... "The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end ... What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours." Nicholas Rowe, on the authority of Sir William Davenant, stated in his Life of Shakespeare that Southampton on one occasion gave Shakespeare a present of £1,000 to complete a purchase.

    Nathan Drake in his Shakespeare and his Times (1819; vol. ii. pp. 62 seq.) first suggested that Lord Southampton was the person to whom the sonnets of Shakespeare were addressed.  He set aside Thomas Thorpe's dedication to the "onlie begetter of the sonnets, Mr W. H.," by adopting the very unusual significance given by George Chalmers to the word begetter, which he takes as equivalent to procurer.  Mr W. H. was thus to be considered only as the bookseller who obtained the manuscript.  Other adherents of the Southampton theory suggest that the initials H. W. (Henry Wriothesley) were simply reversed for the sake of concealment by the publisher.  It is possible in any case that too much stress has been laid on Thomas Thorpe's mystification.  The Southampton theory of the sonnets cannot be regarded as proved, and must in any case be considered in relation to other interpretations.

    In 1596 and 1597 Southampton accompanied Essex on his two expeditions to Cádiz and to the Azores, in the latter of which he distinguished himself by his daring tactics.  In 1598 he bad a brawl at court with Ambrose Willoughby, and later in the same year he attended Sir Robert Cecil on an embassy to Paris.  In 1599 he went to Ireland with Essex, who made him general of his horse, but the queen insisted that the appointment should be cancelled, and Southampton returned to London.  He was deeply involved in Essex's conspiracy against the queen, and in February 1601 was sentenced to death.  Sir Robert Cecil obtained the commutation of the penalty to imprisonment for life.  On the accession of James I in 1603, Southampton was pardoned and resumed his place at court, receiving numerous honours from the new king.

    On the eve of the abortive rebellion of Essex he had induced the players at the Globe Theatre to revive Richard II, and on his release from prison he resumed his connection with the stage.  In 1603 he entertained Queen Anne with a performance of Love's Labour's Lost given by Burbage and his company (to which Shakespeare belonged) at Southampton House.

    Southampton took a considerable share in promoting the colonial enterprises of the time and was an active member of the Virginia company's council.  He seems to have been a born fighter, and engaged in more than one serious quarrel at court, being imprisoned for a short time in 1603.  He was in more serious disgrace in 1621 for his determined opposition to Buckingham.  He was a volunteer on the Protestant side in Germany in 1614, and in 1617 he proposed to fit out an expedition against the Barbary pirates.  In 1624 he and his elder son enrolled themselves as volunteers for the United Provinces of the Netherlands against Spain.  Immediately on landing they were attacked with fever, to which both succumbed, the father surviving until the 10th of November 1624.

    There exist numerous portraits of Southampton in which he is depicted with dark auburn hair and blue eyes, compatible with Shakespeare's description of "a man right fair" (Sonnet 144).


Francis Meres: born 1565, Kirton, Lincolnshire; died Jan. 29, 1647, Wing, Rutland. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Meres was educated at Cambridge (he described himself as "Maister of Arte of both Universities") becoming rector of Wing, Rutland, in 1602.

    Meres' historical contribution was as author of Palladis Tamia; Wits Treasury (1598), a commonplace book in which he records valuable information on contemporary Elizabethan poets.  He lists Shakespeare's dramatic output at the time; refers to the deaths of Christopher Marlowe, George Peele, and Robert Greene; and provides a brief critical estimation in which he praises Shakespeare's poetry (the two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and the Sonnets) comparing him to Plautus in comedy and to Seneca in tragedy, thus......

As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece his sugared Sonnets among his private friends, etc.

He continues......

As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage...

. . . for Comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love['s] Labours Lost, his Love Labours Won, his Midsummer Night's Dream, and his Merchant of Venice; for Tragedy his Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet.


Thomas Thorpe: publisher of the first edition of the Sonnets. On 20th May, 1609, Thorpe made an entry in the Stationer's Register ('Registration' was then the usual form of copyright, the first to enter a book at Stationer's Hall being granted permission to publish under that title and to be recognised as owner....registration also gave the 'authorities' a preview)…..

'Tho. Thorpe. Entred for his copie under the handes of master Wilson and master Lownes Wardenes a booke called Shakespeares sonnettes vjd.'

    The Sonnets appeared as an 80 page paperback, the words on the title page reading....

"Shake-spears Sonnets-never before imprinted-at London-by G. Eld for T.T. [Thomas Thorpe] and are to be solde by John Wright dwelling at Christ Church Gate 1609."

The 154 Sonnets occupy the first 67 pages and 'A Lovers Complaint' the following ten.  The edition did not sell well and might even have been withdrawn or suppressed. The thirteen copies that survive represent the only printed source and the only surviving text for all but two sonnets (138 & 144) and the Complaint (the attribution of the Complaint to Shakespeare is not universally accepted).

    While it is unlikely that the Sonnets had been published as a collection prior to Thorpe's edition, they were known of. In 1598 Francis Meres mentions Shakespeare's "sugared Sonnets [circulating] among his private friends, etc." while Sonnets 138 and 144 had been printed by Jaggard in 1599 in The Passionate Pilgrime.

    The weight of uncorrected errors in Thorpe's edition has given rise to speculation that the Sonnets were published without Shakespeare’s permission. Intellectual property is largely a modern concept, and the rights to the poems in Shakespeare's day would have belonged to whoever owned the manuscript. It is quite possible that Thorpe came by the manuscript legitimately for so far as is known he was a respectable publisher who had handled work by Jonson, Chapman, Marston and Marlowe among others, and as such he and Shakespeare could well have know each other.  While the precise circumstances of publication are unlikely ever to be known, had Thorpe not published, it is unlikely that the Sonnets would have come down to us.


John Benson: a bookseller specialising in broadside ballads, popular literature, and music.  Following Thorpe's edition, there is no further record of the Sonnets until Benson published his much altered edition in octavo in 1640.  Benson's 'marketing' strategy was to alter the presentation significantly. Besides the omissions  and alterations to their arrangement that Massey refers to, the text of Sonnets 138 & 144 reverts to that which appeared in The Passionate Pilgrime. Groups of sonnets are merged into longer 'poems' with titles added which, together with the alteration of some personal pronouns from 'he' to 'she', gives the misleading impression that the loving narrative is, overall, between a man and a woman.

    Like much else, the reason for Benson 're-sexing' the Sonnets is a subject of speculation. One possibility put forward was to make the Sonnets appear to be 'new' love poems by Shakespeare; another, was to remove possible discomfort about Shakespeare's sexuality, a concern taken up by a later editor, George Steevens, who, upon reading Shakespeare's description of a young man as his "master-mistress" remarked, "it is impossible to read this fulsome panegyrick, addressed to a male object, without an equal mixture of disgust and indignation".

    In addition to Benson's editing, the Sonnets appeared interspersed with songs from plays, elegies on Shakespeare, and poems from The Passionate Pilgrim and elsewhere by such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Sir Walter Raleigh.


Edmond Malone (October 4, 1741 - April 25, 1812); Irish Shakespearean scholar and pioneer in efforts to establish an authentic text and chronology of Shakespeare's works.

    Malone was born in Dublin.  Educated at Trinity College, he was called to the Irish bar in 1767 and practiced in Ireland as a lawyer and journalist until the death in 1774 of his father assured him of an income.  He then went to London where he frequented literary and artistic circles, frequently visiting Samuel Johnson; he was of great assistance to James Boswell in revising and proofreading the latter's Life of Johnson, four of the later editions of which he annotated.

    Horace Walpole, Edmund Burke, George Canning, Oliver Goldsmith, Lord Charlemont, and, at first, George Steevens, were among Malone's friends. Encouraged by the two last, he devoted himself to the study of Shakespearian chronology and the results of his “An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in Which the Plays of Shakespeare Were Written” (1778) established a chronology which is still largely accepted.  His three supplementary volumes (1780-83) to scholar George Steevens' edition of Johnson's Shakespeare — containing apocryphal plays, textual emendations, and the first critical edition of the sonnets — are landmarks in Shakespearean studies. However, his refusal to alter some of his notes to Isaac Reed's edition of 1785, which disagreed with Steevens's, resulted in a quarrel with the latter.

    Malone devoted the next seven years to his own edition of Shakespeare which appeared in eleven volumes, of which his essays on the history of the stage, his biography of Shakespeare, and his attack on the genuineness of the three parts of Henry VI, were especially valuable.  His editorial work was lauded by Burke, criticized by Walpole and damned by Joseph Ritson. It certainly showed indefatigable research and proper respect for the text of the earlier editions.

    At the time of his death, Malone was at work on a new octavo edition of Shakespeare.  He left his material to James Boswell the younger to complete, the result being the edition of 1821 — generally known as the Third Variorum edition — in twenty-one volumes, which became the standard edition of Shakespeare's writings for more than a century.


George Steevens (May 10, 1736 - January 22, 1800); English Shakespearean editor and commentator.

    Steevens, the son of a director of the East India Company, was educated at Eton College and at King's College, Cambridge (1753-56), but left the university without a degree. He settled in chambers in the Inner Temple, moving later to a house on Hampstead Heath where he collected a valuable library rich in Elizabethan literature.

    He began his work as a Shakespearean editor with reprints of the quarto editions of Shakespeares plays, entitled 'Twenty of the Plays of Shakespeare' (1766). Samuel Johnson was impressed by this work and suggested that Steevens prepare a complete edition of Shakespeare. The result, known as Johnson's and Steevens's edition, was 'The Works of Shakespeare with the Corrections and Illustrations of Various Commentators' (10 vols., 1773).  The text of this edition was the best that had yet appeared, containing all the most important conjectures hitherto made, and, owing to the removal of many unnecessary emendations which Capell had introduced, was more faithful to the original copies than that editor’s text had been. This early attempt at a variorum edition was revised and reprinted in 1778, and further edited in 1785 by Isaac Reed.

    In 1793 Steevens resumed the task, his researches being embodied in an edition of fifteen volumes.  He made changes in the text but his wide knowledge of Elizabethan literature has led subsequent editors to refer to his pages for parallel passages from contemporary authors. His deficiencies from the point of view of purely literary criticism are apparent from the fact that he excluded Shakespeare's sonnets and poems because, so he wrote, the strongest act of parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service.

    In 1803, Isaac Reed re-issued Steevens's Shakespeare in 21 volumes with additional notes left by Steevens. This, which is known as the first variorum edition, was reprinted in 1813.


William Herbert, 3d Earl of Pembroke, 1580–1630: English courtier and patron of letters, son of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and his second wife Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke, and nephew of Sir Philip Sidney.  He was tutored by the poet Samuel Daniel and later educated at New College, Oxford. He succeeded his father to the earldom in 1601.

    Prominent at court, he became (1611) a privy councillor and served as Lord Chamberlain of the royal household (1615–25) and Lord Steward (1626–30).  He also furthered the exploration and colonization of America.  Like his mother, he became patron to a group of poets and artists; Shakespeare's First Folio (1623) was dedicated to him and his brother, and he has been identified with the “Mr. W. H.” mentioned by Thorpe's in the dedication of his edition of the Sonnets.

    Chancellor of the University of Oxford (1617-30), he founded Pembroke College with James I of England.


Alexander Dyce (June 30, 1798 - May 15, 1869); Scottish dramatic editor and literary historian.

    Born in Edinburgh, Dyce received his early education at the high school there, before becoming a student at Exeter College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1819.  As an undergraduate, Dyce edited a dictionary of the language of Shakespeare. He took holy orders and became a curate at Lantegloss, in Cornwall, and subsequently at Nayland, in Suffolk; in 1827 he settled in London.

    His first books were Select Translations from Quintus Smyrnaeus (1821), an edition of Collins (1827), and Specimens of British Poetesses (1825). He issued annotated editions of George Peele, Robert Greene, John Webster, Thomas Middleton, Marlowe, and Beaumont and Fletcher, with lives of the authors and much illustrative matter.  In 1833 he completed an edition of James Shirley left unfinished by William Gifford, and contributed biographies of Shakespeare, Pope, Akenside and Beattie to Pickering's Aldine Poets.  Dyce also edited Specimens of British Sonnets (1833) and Richard Bentley's works (1836-1838).  His carefully revised edition of John Skelton, which appeared in 1843, revived interest in that trenchant satirist.  In 1857 his edition of Shakespeare was published by Moxon; and the second edition was issued by Chapman & Hall in 1866.  He also published Remarks on Collier's and Knight's Editions of Shakespeare (1844); A Few Notes on Shakespeare (1853); and Strictures on Collier's new Edition of Shakespeare (1859), a contribution to the Collier controversy, which ended a long friendship between the two scholars.

    Dyce was closely connected with several literary societies, and undertook the publication of Kempe's Nine Days' Wonder for the Camden Society; and the old plays of Timon of Athens and Sir Thomas More were published by him for the Shakespeare Society. He was associated with Halliwell-Phillips, John Payne Collier and Thomas Wright as one of the founders of the Percy Society, for publishing old English poetry. Dyce also issued Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856).

   On his death bequeathed over 14,000 books - including rare Elizabethan books - to the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum, along with pictures, prints, drawings and other objets d'art.  His wide reading in Elizabethan literature enabled him to explain much that was formerly obscure in Shakespeare. While preserving all that was valuable in former editions, Dyce added much fresh matter.  His Glossary, a large volume of 500 pages, was the most exhaustive that had appeared.

    Dyce's work, which was characterized by scrupulous care and integrity, contributed to the growing interest in William Shakespeare and his contemporaries during the 19th century.


Victor Euphemien Philarète Chasles (8 October 1798 - 18 July 1873); French critic and man of letters.  Born at Mainvilliers (Eure et Loir), his father, Pierre Jacques Michel Chasles (1754-1826), was a member of the Convention and one of those who voted the death of Louis XVI.  He brought up his son according to the principles of Rousseau's Emile, and the boy, after a regime of outdoor life followed by some years classical study, was apprenticed to a printer.  His master was involved in one of the plots of 1815, and Philarète suffered two months imprisonment.

    On his release Chasles was sent to London, where he worked for the printer Abraham John Valpy on editions of classical authors.  He wrote articles for the English reviews, and on his return to France did much to popularize the study of English authors.  He was also one of the earliest to draw attention in France to Scandinavian and Russian literature.  He contributed to the Revue des deux mondes, until he had a violent quarrel, terminating in a lawsuit, with François Buloz, who won his case.

    Chasles became librarian of the Bibliotheque Mazarine, and from 1841 was professor of comparative literature at the College de France.  During his active life he produced some fifty volumes of literary history and criticism, and of social history, much of which is extremely valuable. He died at Venice in 1873.

    Among his best critical works is Dix-huitime siècle en Angleterre (1846), one of a series of 20 vols. of Etudes de littérature comparée (1846-1875), which he called later Trente ans de critique.