“The Living Record” – 6

The poet creating SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS appears entirely confident that future readers will know the name of the beloved younger man.

He promises him in 81:  “Your name from hence immortal life shall have.”

The younger man’s “name” will always be remembered; the poet refers in 36 to “thy name”; in 80 to “your name”; in 89 to “thy sweet beloved name”; in 95 to “thy budding name”; and in 108 to “when first I hallowed thy fair name.”

He had introduced himself as “William Shakespeare” on the dedications of Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece in 1594 to Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624).  Never again would he dedicate anything to anyone else, thereby uniquely linking Southampton to “Shakespeare” for all time.

So it’s easy to figure Southampton as the younger man whose “name” will have “immortal life.”

First to suggest him was Nathan Drake, in 1817, observing that the Lucrece dedication and Sonnet 26 are virtually the same.   Here is the former, with my emphases added:

“To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton … The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: whereof this Pamphlet without beginning is but a superfluous Moiety.  The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored Lines, makes it assured of acceptance.  What I have done is yours, what I have to do is
yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.
Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship, to whom I wish long life still lengthened will all happiness.  Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

(“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” D. Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, adding, “Further proofs of their friendship must be sought in the Sonnets.”  Robert Giroux wrote in 1982 that Sonnet 26 is “a private and more personal expression” of the dedication.)

Sonnet 26
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written ambassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it;
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought (all naked) will bestow it:
Til whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tottered loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect.
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

“Duty” appears twice in the dedication and three times in Sonnet 26.  In his  dedication to Southampton the poet wishes his own “worth” were greater; in the sonnet he hopes to be “worthy”.   In one his duty is “bound to your Lordship”; in the other his duty is “strongly knit” to him.

Having pledged his love “without end” to Southampton, could “Shakespeare”  pledge the same thing in Sonnet 26 to anyone else? We think not.  But that’s just the beginning of the evidence that Southampton is, in fact, the younger man whose “living record” has been preserved for us in the Sonnets.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 13, 2008 at 4:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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