May 20, 1609: A book of poems purportedly by William Shakespeare is published. The title page reads “SHAKE-SPEARS SONNETS; Never before Imprinted.” There are 154 sonnets included in the work. Two of them (Sonnets 138 and 144) had been published in 1599 and the other 152 had never been printed previous to the edition put out by T. T. The publisher is thought to be Thomas Thorpe and it is unknown if the manuscript was authorized or not. There is an odd dedication to Mr. W. H which is signed by T.T. Mr. W. H.’s identity is unknown but several names have been offered as possibilities: William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke), Henry Wriothesley (Earl of Southampton), William Harvey, William Hall, Willie Hughes, Shakespeare himself, and other.
Sonnets 1 through 126 are written to a young man with the first 17 encouraging him to marry and procreate, to share his beauty with posterity. Sonnets 18-126 have the poet expressing his love for the young man. Some give a platonic explanation for these poems while others contend Shakespeare was homosexually involved. Sonnets 127-152 are written to the poet’s mistress with another aspect of love surfacing. The final two sonnets are allegories. The final sonnets, about the last thirty, point to issues of love – the young man and the mistress engaged in infidelity, control of the poet’s lust, issue with the world at large.
There is ongoing debate about who wrote William Shakespeare’s entire body of work. Some say there was one other writer, others point to a group of writers. There is little biographical information about the Bard of Avon and no reliable image exists today allowing us to know what he looked like. There are some paintings believed to be Shakespeare, but they are not verified. His vocabulary was vast with ≈ 29,000 different words used in his writing. Some point to his lack of formal university education being at odds with his brilliant use of the English language.
Shakespeare not only wrote poetry, he also wrote a variety of plays. He wrote twelve comedies, eleven tragedies, ten histories and five romances. William married Anne Hathaway in 1582. The couple had three children. Then in 1585, all record of Shakespeare ends until he showed up in London in 1592, a period known as the “Lost Years.” There is little hard fact about the literary great and much speculation continues. The works, whoever wrote them, are enduring.
From fairest creatures we desire increase, / That thereby beauty’s rose might never die, – from Sonnet 1
O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power / Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour; – from Sonnet 126
If it were, it bore not beauty’s name; / But now is black beauty’s successive heir, – from Sonnet 127
In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn, / But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing,: – from Sonnet 152, all from William Shakespeare
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