W.S.? W.H.? OMG, WTF?

Why is it that on so many documents from Shakespeare’s time we’re left with just initials, and have to guess at the intended? For one we have Saint Peter’s Complaint by Robert Southwell, inscribed thus: “The Author To His Loving Cousin Master W.S.” thought to be one William Shakespeare. Second and more famously is the dedication of Shakespeare’s sonnets to “Mr. W.H.” People here go so far as to say “Oh, that’s reversed – it must be Henry Wriothesley, that’d make sense.”  That’s right up there with arguing that perhaps it should have been a G instead of an H, for example.  With one simple twist you could make 2 letters into whatever you want.   But my question is, what’s up with all the initials?  Why did people sign and dedicate things like this?  The cost of print too high? Something to do with all the class and religious warfare going on, that sending a direct dedication might often have sent the wrong message and thus needed to leave some room for mystery?

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One thought on “W.S.? W.H.? OMG, WTF?

  1. The initials? It was dangerous times, my friend. Everyone lived in fear of their lives–at that time, it was dangerous to even be associated with Catholics.

    Initials, pseudonyms, and codes were the mainstay of religious survivalism.

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