Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
As we mention elsewhere in this module, most scholars agree that Sonnets 1-126 of Shakespeare's 154-sonnet sequence are addressed to a young man. Nobody knows who this young man is, exactly, but many suspect that it was Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who was also Shakespeare's patron. Did you know that this crazy character was also once convicted of treason and sentenced to death? He got off the hook though. (Source.)
Three of the twentieth century's greatest English-language poets have written introductions to William Shakespeare's Sonnets. W.H. Auden introduced the Signet Classics Edition, Anthony Hecht introduced the Cambridge Edition (scroll down to see it listed in the bibliography here), and John Hollander introduced the recent Pelican Edition. These three great poets have much to teach us about Shakespeare—and Shmoop recommends that you check out their work as well.
Many scholars believe that Shakespeare did not intend to publish his sonnets. Instead, they think that his publisher, Thomas Thorpe, got his hands on a copy and printed it without permission. Basically, this means that the first edition of the sonnets was bootlegged. Even though Shakespeare must have been pretty hacked off, we at Shmoop think we all owe Thorpe a big thank-you—whether or not this story is true.
For centuries, readers of Shakespeare's Sonnets have been scratching their heads over the book's dedication, which reads as follows: "To the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets Mr. W. H. all happinesse and that eternitie promised by our ever-living poet wisheth the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth." This dedication is then signed T. T. (You can see the whole thing for yourself here. We know who "T.T." is—Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the Sonnets—but who the heck is "Mr. W. H."? And is he the same person as the young man who is addressed by the speaker in Sonnets 1-126? Nobody knows. (Source)