“To the Onlie Begetter of These Insuing Sonnets, Mr. W. H.”

My colleagues engaged in the Shakespeare authorship question have been discussing the cryptic dedication of the Sonnets.  The search continues for hidden meanings, anagrams, secret codes, etc., and I’ve no doubt that such information exists.  The design of the dedication has three inverted pyramids; each word is followed by a dot or period — indicating, it would seem, the presence of partially hidden information.


Here’s how the dedication reads on the surface:

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.

(The Well-Wishing Adventurer, who is now setting forth, addresses the only begetter of these sonnets, Mr. W.H., wishing him all happiness and that immortality our deceased immortal poet promised him.)



THE ONLIE BEGETTER = Mr. W. H. (Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton) the only one who inspires and “gives birth to” these sonnets, all 154 of them:  “Yet be most proud of that which I compile,/ Whose influence is thine, and borne of thee” – Sonnet 78; “Since all alike my songs and praises be/ To one, of one, still such, and ever so” – Sonnet 105

[Even the so-called Dark Lady sonnets 127-152 and the Bath sonnets 153-154 are “begotten” or inspired by Southampton; and the verses, although written by Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, are therefore Southampton’s offspring:  “Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain” – Sonnet 77]

And “the onlie begetter” could not fail to recall “the onlie begotten son” of the New Testament: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotton Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” – Gospel of John, 1.18

From the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer, in the Communion Service, as reprinted in The Amazing Web Site of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

“I BELIEVE in one God, the father almighty maker of heaven and earthe, and of all thynges visible and invisible: And in one Lorde Jesu Christe, the onely begotten sonne of GOD, begotten of his father before al worldes, god of God, lyghte of lyghte, verye God of verye God, gotten, not made, beynge of one substance wyth the father, by whome all thinges were made…”

Oxford, father of Southampton, his royal son by Queen Elizabeth, writes to him in Sonnet 53: “What is your substance, whereof are you made…”

[The basic connection between the Book of Common Prayer and Sonnet 53 was put forth by the author/editor of The Amazing Web Site of Shakespeare’s Sonnets]

MR. W.H. = This is the onlie begetter of the sonnets, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, his title “Lord” reversed to “Mr.” and his intitials “H.W.” reversed to “W.H.” — reflecting the reversal of his title and status while in the Tower during 1601-1603.   He had been found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be executed, but his life was spared and he remained in prison as the base commoner “Mr. Henry Wriothesley” or “the late earl” in the eyes of the law — that is, he was legally dead.

Eighty consecutively numbered sonnets, from 27 to 106 – more than half the full sequence — cover the time Southampton spent in the Tower from the night of the failed Essex Rebellion on February 8, 1601 to his final night as a prisoner on April 9, 1603.  The reversals of his initials and title point us toward that central story within “these ensuing sonnets.”

The dedication of "Lucrece" to Southampton in 1594, ending with the words "all happinesse"

ALL HAPPINESSE: These are the final two words in the body of the previous dedication by “William Shakespeare” to Southampton, that of Lucrece in 1594:

“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 by ALL HAPPINESSE.”

THAT ETERNITIE PROMISED = the eternity promised to Southampton by the author, Lord Oxford, his father: “Your name from hence immortal life shall have” – Sonnet 81; and so on.

OUR EVER-LIVING POET = Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), whose signature word was EVER for “E.Ver”.  In 1609 he is “ever-living” or deceased.   “That ever-living man of memory, Henry the Fifth” – 1 Henry VI, 4.3; but he would have crafted the dedication before he died.

THE WELL-WISHING ADVENTURER: This is also Oxford, who in the 1570’s had been an “adventurer” or investor in the Frobisher voyages to find a Northwest Passage to the Orient.

(But the son followed the father in many respects; and now in 1609 the Earl of Southampton is a leading “adventurer” or investor in the Virginia Company’s voyages to the New World; but even while in the Tower, in 1602, he had helped to finance the Gosnold Voyage resulting in the original naming of Cape Cod and the discovery of Martha’s Vineyard, and much more.)

SETTNG FORTH: Oxford is “setting forth” the truth of Southampton as a king or “god on earth” in these sonnets.   “I here pronounce this workmanship is such/ As that no pen can set it forth too much” – Ignoto, undoubtedly Oxford himself, in The Faerie Queene by Spenser, 1590.

Oxford must have composed and arranged the dedication of the Sonnets himself (without the “T.T.” referring to Thomas Thorpe, the publisher) prior to his death on June 24, 1604, when he was also “setting forth” from this world.

Here is part of the Discussion of “onlie begetter” in The Amazing Web Site of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

“Other commentators have preferred to interpret ‘begetter’ as ‘the one who obtained the manuscript for me’. If, as has been suggested frequently, this book is a pirated and unauthorised printing of the sonnets, it seems unlikely that Thorpe would choose to trumpet the fact to the world and praise the one who had stolen the manuscript. The entire credit of the book and its salesworthiness depended on people believing that it was genuine Shakespeare. To give the game away that it was a stolen copy and not necessarily even by Shakespeare would have undermined its potential attraction to readers, not to mention the damage it might do to Thorpe himself as a publisher. Would he really wish to have portrayed himself as a purloiner of other men’s works?

“The word ‘begetter’ is not used by Shakespeare either in the plays or poems. However he does use ‘beget’ (23 times), ‘begets’ (7 times) and ‘begotten’ (4 times), either with literal meanings of ‘to father, to create, to procreate.’, or in a metaphoric sense. He does not use it to signify ‘to procure’. The absence of the word ‘begetter’ in the corpus could signify that Shakespeare did not have a hand in writing this dedication (it is signed by Thomas Thorpe). However that does not show that he thereby disapproved of it. Probably he enjoyed its puzzling ambiguity and was quite happy to have it attached to the poems, as it hid the dedicatee’s name from all those who were not already in the secret, and left open the possibility that all might be revealed in time.”

It’s time to drop the idea that “the onlie begetter” was the “procurer” of the Sonnets for the publisher!  And it’s also time to embrace the religious quality of these verses, within which Oxford portrays himself and his royal son, Southampton, as of “one substance”:

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one
Sonnet 36

And these words from a father to his son who should be king:

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth

So then I am not lame, poor, despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed,
And by a part of all thy glory live.
Sonnet 37

But here’s the joy: my friend and I are one.
Sonnet 42

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Addendum: Dr. John Rollet’s discovery of “These.sonnets.all.by.ever.”, using the 6-2-4 pattern of the lines in the triangles of the dedication to decode it, enforces Whittemore’s acceptance of Edward de Vere (e ver) as the author of the sonnets.

    • Thanks for the reminder. Yes, John Rollet’s discovery is quite amazing. It acts like a “key” to the sonnets inside the quarto publication of 1609. Once you know that “E. Ver” is the author, you can figure out the rest. Best wishes from Hank

  2. […] prominent idea is that the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesly (to whom The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis were dedicated) is “Mr. W. H.” It is presumed […]

  3. Great stuff there Hank, but can you answer this fair
    question of mine?

    Including the front, back and blank sheets, exactly how many pages are there in the 1609 quarto of Shakespeare’s Sonnets?

    If you really know the sonnets you’ll know the book.

    • Hi Tom – a good question. If memory serves the sonnets go up to page 70 and A Lover’s Complaint to page 80, but after that must be a number of blank pages. I have no idea of the latter. Might the number of blank pages be important?

  4. First, I love your site and I admire what you have discovered and are sharing with all of us. I also admire your courage to stand up to all the criticism that even Oxfordians have regarding the Prince Tudor theory. I also resisted at first but I kept reading and I believe you have found the best interpretation that seems to reveal the hidden truth–it makes sense that the hardest thing to see is something unexpected. But looking back at the plays and poems it is a theme played over and over.

    I just wanted to comment (I apologize since I don’t remember the name of the person who brought up this solution in the letter section of Shakespeare Matters) but they said the pattern of the Sonnet’s dedication looks more like 6-1-1-1-4 rather than the 6-2-4 division that Dr. John Rollet uses. (The 6-2-4 division seems to be derived from knowing that there are 6 letters in the name “Edward” and 2 letters in the word “de” and four letters in the word “Vere”). A true key wouldn’t assume the person trying to decipher it would know the answer ahead of time in order to guess the number choice.

    With the 6-1-1-1-4 count the message would then be: “of these ensuing sonnets all promised by our ever (e. ver(e)) the setting forth TT” It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense but then he went back to the first line and counted to the 4th “t” and the word was “begetter”. I don’t know if this is correct but it seemed to fit better than most translations of the code that was offered using the dedications arrangement and the full stops for each word.

    Also, I wondered do you think anyone will be able to get permission to have an extensive investigation done on the Pregnancy painting of Elizabeth 1–still in possession of the Royal Family (that Dr. Altrocchi has written about)? Since it has already been physically tampered with and even renamed as the Unknown Woman–it’s just very frustrating to have so much right there and the wrong group having control over it. Like knowing that DNA testing is possible now and things could change quickly but for these artificial barriers of having Queen Ellizabeth 1 still off limits.

    • Thanks for writing and for the kind words. On the matter of the dedication code, I don’t recall either who brought up that solution. I don’t have expertise in this area — for me the Sonnets themselves are not written in “code” but according to a double-image language that is very close to allegory (but different). Anyway, you bring up an interesting point that a “true key” wouldn’t assume prior knowledge on anyone’s part. But Dr. Rollet had landed upon the key not at all with prior knowledge; instead, he saw the three inverted triangles or pyramids and counted their lines as 6-2-4 and decided that was possibly the key. He had never heard of Edward de Vere. When he landed on “These sonnets all by Ever” — he had no idea who “ever” might be. So the idea is that the design of the dedication led to the counting of the lines that resulted in a code. How did someone come up with 6-1-1-1-4?

      I agree that it’s frustrating to be unable to do testing. I wonder if those in control are aware of the surrounding controversies. Probably they are:-) I am all for DNA testing with Elizabeth and Southampton etc. Again, I am no expert, but would welcome any kind of accurate tests.

      Let us know whatever more you learn about these matters. Cheers!

  5. Woops–This is what I get for typing a reply at work–I see the mistake I made originally when I wrote 6-1-1-1-4….it should be 5-1-1-1-4.

    Thank you for catching my mistake. I don’t know if 5-1-1-1-4 is the right “code” for the dedication but it looks more like that to me than the 6-2-4. I do think that the dedication has a code to it but that the sonnets themselves are a much more difficult translation that I think you have finally found the key.

    • Thanks again. How did you arrive at 5-1-1-1-4?

  6. In setting forth these insuing sonnets our poet and tt adventurer wisheth Mr W Hall that eternitie of happinesse promised by the ever-living onlie begetter to the well-wishing.
    The dedication is simply a prayer for the soul of the recently dead william hall of acton, father of the doctor john hall who married shakespeares daughter and set up his practice in stratford.

  7. I am a researcher of Shakespearean question from Moscow, published the book `Shakespeare: Faces and Masks` (in Russian). http://www.w-shakespeare.ru/library/shekspir-lica-i-maski.html

    Now I have posted on the site translations into English of three of my articles.

    The first is `Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Riddle of Dedication`

    The second is about `Othello` «On the Hidden Meaning of Shakespeare’s Tragedy `Оthello`»

    The third `The Alchemy of Images in Ben Jonson’s Comedy “The Alchemist”

    Maybe you will be interested in. 

    Yours sincerely,
    Lev Verkhovsky (Moscow)

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