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The Mysteries of the Sonnets

William Shakespeares sonnets may have been the best poetry ever written. The sonnets are beautifully written with many different feelings expressed in them. Although they may have been the most autobiographically written poems of all time, they still present a number of questions. Many Elizabethan historians and Shakespeare enthusiasts often wonder who Shakespeare was writing about when he wrote the sonnets. There are three main questions which come to mind when one is reading the sonnets. The mysterious dark lady, Mr. W. H. , and the young man that Shakespeare wrote of are three of the sonnet mysteries.

Although William Shakespeare did not write the sonnets to be a puzzle for the reader to solve, the dark lady of the sonnets is perhaps the most puzzling of the mysteries. There is a whole sequence of sonnets that mention the dark mistress. Sonnets 127-154 are the sonnets that deal with the dark lady. From these sonnets, a good description of the dark lady is given.

The first of the dark lady sonnets, Sonnet 127, gives a good physical description of the mistress. … Therefore my mistress eyes are raven black, / Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem/ At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,/ Slandering creation with a false esteem. Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,/ That every tongue says beauty should look so (Booth ed. 110). Lines 9-14 of this sonnet tell the reader that the mistress has dark features and there is a hint that perhaps she wore makeup. Also, in Sonnet 130, another good physical description of the dark lady is given.

My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red then her lips red;/ If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. / I have seen roses damasks red and white,/ But no such roses see I in her cheeks;… Hubler 104) Although Shakespeare gives a harsh description of the dark ladys features, he does mention that he cares for her. He does not say that he loves her in spite of her faults; he loves her faults and all. (Hubler 104) In other sonnets, such as Sonnet 127, William Shakespeare admits that he finds the dark ladys features beautiful. The variety of Shakespeares descriptions of the dark lady make it seem as if there may not be a dark lady at all. She may be a literary creation. Vargo 2 The identity of the dark lady cannot be based on physical description alone.

A good behavioral description of the dark lady can be found in many places in the sonnets. 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 anothers hell… (Hubler 107). This section of Sonnet 144 tells the reader that the dark lady had a way of torturing Shakespeare. He has figures out that the mistress is unfaithful and he does not know what exactly she is doing. According to Edward Hubler, Shakespeares sketch of the dark lady is a piece with the view of sex without romance revealed throughout his works (107).

It seems that Shakespeare did not find the dark lady to be a very appealing person, but he did, however, find her to be very sexually appealing. William Shakespeare was not in love with the dark mistress. It seems that his feelings for her are clearly only lustful ones. William Shakespeare was in contact with many women throughout his life. Therefore, there are many theories as to who the mysterious mistress is. The most popular name concerning the dark ladys identity is Mary Fitton. Mary Fitton was a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth and was a mistress to William Herbet.

She was a lively lady who became the mother of three illegitimate children by different men, but afterward married richly and died very respectable. (Harrison 44). The only problem with Fitton being the dark lady is that she did not possess the dark features that Shakespeare so vividly described throughout his poetry. In addition to Fitton, another woman named as the dark lady as Mistress Davenant. Davenant was the wife of an Oxford innkeeper, who is thought to have favored both Shakespeare and Southampton, and who was darkly lustrous, has also been mentioned as possibly the dark lady. Ballou ed vii).

The author Ivor Brown believes that The name of the Dark Lady has been written off as an insoluble problem by many scholars and further research and speculation has been dismissed as a futile waste of time and trouble(196). Whether or not the reader knows the name of the dark lady is irrelevant. All one needs to know is that William Shakespeare had a mistress that he had very lustful feelings about. Vargo 3 The opening of the sonnets contains a dedication that is addressed to a Mr. W. H. The publisher Thomas Thorpe wrote the dedication that is now one of the great sonnet mysteries.

To the only begetter of/ these ensuing sonnets/ Mr. W. H. all happiness/ and that eternity/ promised/ by/ our ever-living poet/ wisheth/ the well-wishing/ adventurer in setting/ forth/ T. T. (Rowse 2). There are also many candidates for the identity of Mr. W. H. One person is Mary Fittons husband, William Herbert. Herbert was the earl of Pembroke, and Shakespeare had earlier dedicated his first folio in 1623 to him. The main candidate for Mr. W. H. is Henry Wroithesley. Wroithesley was the earl of Southampton.

He also had other works by Shakespeare dedicated to him, such as The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis. The other main theory for the identity of Mr. W. H. is Mr. William himself. This is mainly just a theory that was probably thought of perhaps for lack of any other person to fill the identity of Mr. W. H. In addition to these theories, it has been mentioned that a man by the name of Sir William Harvey is another possible candidate for Mr. W. H. It is possible that Harvey could have somehow obtained the sonnets from Shakespeare to give to Throe to publish without Shakespeares consent.

This would explain why Thorpe would dedicate the sonnets to Sir William Harvey. It has also been mentioned that the identity of Mr. W. H. is identical to that of the young man that was frequently mentioned in the sonnets. In addition to the dark lady, there is another person who William Shakespeare wrote of quite frequently in his collection of the sonnets. The sonnets, which are numbered 18-126 are also known as the young man sonnets because of Shakespeares recurrent mentioning of the young man who is also known as the Fair Friend.

Some swore he was a maid in mans attire,/ For in his looks were all that men desire,/ A pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye,… (Rowse 176). This excerpt tells the reader that the Fair Friend had very feminine features and was probably wealthy and of good social stature. Shakespeare never mentions throughout the sonnets exactly what the young man looks like (Palmer 123). Vargo 4 The identity of the young man is one of the great mysteries of the sonnets. The main candidate for his identity is again Henry Wroithesley, the earl of Southampton.

Wroithesly had very feminine features and was also the subject of many dedications of Shakespeares works. Also, his marital activities make it seem that he and Shakespeare may have been involved somehow. Southampton refused to marry Lady Elizabeth Vere, who was the grand-daughter of Lord Burghley. The other main candidate for the young man is again the earl of Pembroke. His reasons for being considered are very similar to that of Southampton. Pembroke had an unsuccessfully negotiated marriage between himself and Elizabeth Carey.

It is very hard to conjecture the identity of the young man, perhaps it is not even necessary to know his identity. The identity of Shakespeares dark lady, Mr. W. H. and the young man in the sonnets are three mysteries that may never by solved. William Shakespeare did not intend for his sonnets to become a puzzle for his readers to solve. To find a definite answer to the mysteries of the sonnets would be a long and trying, if not impossible task. Instead, it is best that the mysteries of the sonnets are left to the imagination to ponder.

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