I am grateful to Mr. Tim Lihoreau on Classic fm this morning for reminding me that today is the anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare's sonnets and as I am still in poetic mode following my transcription of Hardy's evocative tribute to "Drummer Hodge" in my Sunday Rumble yesterday, I can't resist publishing one of his most famous efforts, and as this is 'the merrie month of May', it can only be:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
What a fantastic poem to present to a lady so, er, it's a bit tricky to learn that he wrote it for a man - a young man - a very pretty young man with long golden hair - oh dear!
Yes, that's him, Henry Wriothesley, or the Earl of Southampton to you and me! That somewhat gushing extravaganza of a poem written for such a pretty boy - he was 17 at the time - led some people who should have known better to assume that Shakespeare was homosexual. Nonsense, of course, when 'our Will' was 17/18 he was so busy shagging Anne Hathaway that he put her in the family way and had to get married! And once married he didn't stop because two years later Anne produced twins.
Shakespeare 'experts', like experts in everything, can produce theories like a magician pulling rabbits from a top-hat. Like almost everything to with 'our Will' exact, provable knowledge is so scarce that it positively encourages everyone and his uncle to come up with theories, some of which are worth a second look but most of which are crackpot. I like the one that suggests that he wrote the early ones (for money!) at the behest of Southampton's mother and step-father in order to encourage the young man to find a girl, get married and - above and beyond all other things - beget an heir! The layer upon layer of flattery was exactly the style a social inferior, like 'our Will' would adopt in writing to, or of, a social superior like Southampton in Elizabethan times. The thing about 'our Will' was that he could do it with such wit and style and, dammit, such beauty.
When published, the dedication was as follows, and the identity of the mysterious "Mr. W.H." has kept zillions of Shakespeare 'experts' busy ever since:
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" who he was, I will simply raise a glass in gratitude to his memory.