Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
The title seems pretty straightforward, right? "To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us." Sounds like it's just there to make sure readers know that this poem is dedicated to Shakespeare and talks about some of the awesome plays he left his posterity. The end.
Wrong, Shmoopers. That is not the end. Or, it might be, but who are we to deprive you of a good literary conspiracy? That's right. This poem—in spite of its straightforward-seeming title—is actually right in the middle of one of the most famous unresolved literary mysteries.
That, friends, would be the Shakespeare authorship debate.
And while we at Shmoop prefer to steer clear of trying to unilaterally resolve massive, century-spanning literary controversies, we feel we owe it to you to point out a couple things that make this poem so relevant to the pseudo-Shakespeare question:
(1) The title of the poem appears in the First Folio as it does here, with Shakespeare's name intact. It appears in other publications, however, with the name dropped. To be fair, titles were incredibly… shall we say optional? Flexible? Malleable? Whatever word you pick, you get the general idea: they changed a lot. But still, removing Shakespeare's name from the title potentially turns this poem and everything it stands for into a whole different ball game, so it's definitely something to keep in mind.
(2) You might think that some of the lines in the poem are pretty clear that Shakespeare is, well, Shakespeare. We mean, how many "sweet swans of Avon" can there be? Current scholarship on the topic, however, argues that some of these giveaways are actually misinformation intentionally planted by Jonson and his comrades in an attempt to protect the true author's identity.
The plot thickens.