To Willie Hughes It May Concern

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions. Question (from Paul, aka “emsworth”) : I just read Oscar Wilde’s story, if you want to call it that, "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," which has to do mostly with a  theory (by the characters in the story) that the sonnets were addressed to an effeminate member of Shakespeare’s acting troupe named Willie Hughes.   Supposedly, in urging the recipient of the sonnets to have children, Shakespeare was actually encouraging Willie Hughes to take more acting roles.  Supposedly, the "Dark Lady" sonnets concerned a woman of whom Shakespeare first became jealous (because of Willie Hughes’s attention to her), then became infatuated with her himself.  Was Wilde’s theory entirely fictional?  Was this a theory that Wilde seriously urged, other than in his story?  Has anyone else ever taken it seriously? Wilde’s theory was entirely fictional, but definitely taken seriously by him and thence others. One might say that it resulted in an entire Willie Hughes fan club. The only so-called evidence that one can accumulate in support of it is the presence in the publisher’s dedication of a reference to an individual whose initials are W. H., the repetition of the word "hues" or "hewes" in Sonnet 20 in reference to the "Young Man", and a vivid imagination. The context of The Sonnets, as I point out in my book, argues against such a theory. What I mean by that is that all other sonnet series written in the late 1500s (and further back to Petrarch) were written by poets as exercises in the expression of the speaker’s love for his beloved. All shared similar themes and conventions, which are also found in Shakespeare’s sonnets. True, as Maurice Evans says, Shakespeare’s sonnet series reads like a convention that been turned on its head, but it is still difficult to view it in isolation out of context with other sonnet series. To do so, one must be very narrowly focused. About the Author This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare’s Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York. Got a question for the author? Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

One thought on “To Willie Hughes It May Concern

  1. Anonymous says:

    There may be several encryptions for the name 'Wily Hews' in the Dedication of the Sonnets, at least as I have identified them. One of the simplest observations is that many of the letters above Mr. W.H., easily form the name HEWS, in several different alignments. Another interesting view is to fold a copy of the original 1609 Dedication in half (where the period at the end of the word 'HAPPINESSE.' lines up with the lower left corner of the letter 'M' in the 'Mr.') then hold it up to a very strong light to view the letters at the 'Mr. W.H.'

    You will notice that I spelled the name as 'Wily Hews', because I believe that the 'Mr. W.H.' stands for 'Master Wily Hews' a pseudonym given to young Henry Wriothesley by Shake-speare (another pseudonym)when he met and spent time with him at the Burghley Estate around 1584. You can see the pseudonym 'Wily Hews' in the name 'Henry Wriothesley', and the name may have been further inspired by the father of Robert Devereux (Walter Devereux) when his Swan Song was accompanied by his musician, Willie Hughes in 1576,at his death, which must have been a well known fable at the Burghley House where H.W. lived as Ward of the State, after the age of 8, 1581. I believe that Shake-speare (age, 22) and the 11 year old H.W., as Wily Hews, performed little dramas for the benefit of some of the guests or servants, as a wily hewing of some of the eccentic personalities (all in good fun and under the cover of disguise and pseudonyms) to pass the time, with Shake-speare as the author of these insightful lines and the precocious H.W. as the young actor 'Wily Hews'. Shake-speare was visiting his soon to be bride's uncle, William Cecil.

    This is, of course, an unprovable musing, based on actual occurrences, but I am thinking that what we know of the author Shake-speare (think of Prince Hal and Falstaff playing and jousting in the Inns and Taverns) that he would probably, even at an early age, be shaking peers (with laughter) by shaking spears (words, words, words) with wily hews (probing wit), all in good fun.


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