Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 140. Saturday, 6 March 1993.
Date: Friday, 05 Mar 93 11:06:23 PST
Subject: Towards a Sonnet Boom
My thanks to those who referred me to the article on this
epigraph published in the Publication of The Modern Language
Society as "RIP, Mr W. H." by Mr Donald Foster in 1987. I see
there a cogent study of these mysteries which would convince us on
evidence of numerous other such dedications of the period that the
`Bettetter' would have been none other than the poet and the
`Everliving Poet' would be God and Mr Thorpe himself is the
`Well-Wishing Adventurer' and is setting forth on the publication
of these same sonnets, and the whole of the message would have
been to authenticate their authorship (a question which naturally
would arise, given the rampant misattribution of the period).
Also there are examples of misprints by Mr Thorpe's printer,
including in these poems and in other extant epigraphs and titles,
which might explain how `Mr W.SH.' might have had the `S' elided.
I also ask indulgence of the list and the doctrine of
`routine use' to quote a reality check Mr Foster presented in his
After nearly two hundred years of speculation and
scholarship, we have made remarkable little progress toward
uncovering the `true story' behind Shakespeare's Sonnets, if
indeed there is a story to be uncovered. The poems tease us with
what appear to be references to real persons, persons who knew the
man Shakespeare much better than we. Yet we still have no
plausible candidates for the role of dark lady (or ladies) or of
the rival poet (or poets) or of the speaker's young friend (or
We do not know whether all the sonnets are to be taken as
spoken by a single speaker or whether the speaker in each poem is
Shakespeare, a fictional lover, or a man. We do not know that the
`sugared sonnets' mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598 are these
published in the Quarto, whether we have all the sonnets written
by Shakespeare, whether they are all by Shakespeare, whether they
are arranged as Shakespeare wished, or when any one of them was
written. We do not even know that William Shakespeare wrote a
single one of these poems, however likely that surmise may be.
Which only encourages me in my annual speculation about the
comparison of the first 17 of the Sonnets as arranged in the Quarto
of 1609, dealing in the persuading of a young man to marry, and the
public record of the Belott-Mountjoy suit of 1612, which
documents Shakespeare's involvement about ten years previous in
precisely that capacity. I sometimes fantasize of some pretext or
other bringing Mrs Mountjoy into the rooms of her tenant, the man
Shakespeare, where she chances a glance at some papers arranged on
his desk and spies very eloquent pleas to a young man that he
should busy himself with begetting, a cause very near the heart of
this mother of a marriageable daughter.
I again invite your own thoughts...
Clovis in Felton, CA