Mr. W. H.: What Attempts have been made to Determine the Identity of “Mr. W. H.” ?

The first of the many mysteries of William Shakespeare’s mysterious sonnets which were first collected in book form by the printer Thomas Thorpe, who registered them on May 20, 1609, with the title Shake-speares Sonnets. Neuer before Imprinted is Mr. W. H.. Thorpe prefixed to the volume a cryptic dedication:— “To the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets Mr. W. H. all happinesse and that eternitie promised by our everliving poet wisheth the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth T. T.”. The number of scholars are legion, who have tried their hands at unraveling the tangled problem round the onlie begetter, Mr. W. H.. Despite these many laudable attempts, the quest remains unachieved.  Many attempts have been made to determine the identity of “Mr. W. H.” The two leading candidates are William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.
As with identifying the Mr. W. H. of the dedication, attempts to determine the identities of the youth, rival poet, and mistress have been inconclusive.  By taking “begetter” to mean a “procurer”, Mr. Sydney Lee following Boswell and Chalmers, propounded his thesis that one William Hall who acted as an agent of Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the sonnets was the mythical Mr. W. H.. This Hall is said to have privacy procured for his master, Thomas Thorpe, an obscure personality in the bookselling and publishing world of London, the sonnets through an unknown channel and the facetious dedication came as a reward thereof. The theory cannot be proved but it is not beyond the bounds of credulity either. At least it has the advantage of reducing the significance of the dedication to near-nullity and so leaving us free to appreciate the sonnet’s as poetry unencumbered by a dubious dedication.
The other tenuous claim is made for Henry Wriotbesley, Third Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. At one time this Southampton save Shakespeare £1000 to go through a purchase of real estate. The sum was considerable and it encouraged the assumption that Henry Wriothesley with the initials inverted was the Mr. W. H. of the sonnets. This theory which was first advanced by Nathan Drake in 1817 has an element of truth about it. It appears to be corroborated by Wilson’s suggestion that Shakespeare  passed the plague years in the Hampshire home of Southampton writing there a first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost. 
One man among Shakespeare’s contemporaries seems to empower all the characteristics featured in the sonnets and uniform scholarship including among is F. S. Boas and Walter  appears to confirm the said identification, although absolute certainty in this matter is sheer impossibility. William Herbert, the Third Earl of Pembroke, who was born in 1586,   to whom along with his younger brother  Philip, was “dedicated the First Folio of 1623 by Hemminge and Condell is  the likeliest Mr. W. H.. He answers well to Shakes- sonnet portrayal of his patron and friend. He was very young to be called a “sweet boy” and a “lovely boy”, highly accomplished, and had remarkable personal beauty inherited from his mother, Mary Sidney, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney, so that she may truly be said to recall in her son ‘the lovely April of her prime.” He was immoderately given to womanizing and most probably eloped with the poet’s dark mistress. It is on records that Herbert was very much disinclined to marry. Although, contemporary letters show various attempts made between 1595 and 1600 to get him married. This is referred to in the first seventeen sonnets where the poet urges the young man to marry and to beget children. The subject is suddenly dropped and never revived. It is really difficult to see how Shakespeare could take up this topic spontaneously unless events or affairs offered the provocation. The paradox regarding Mary Fitton who was fair and ‘unmarried' and 'the married’ Dark Lady may be solved if it is assumed that Herbert, who was an inveterate ‘womanizer’, had as his amorous conquests, both of   them, the fair and the dark.

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