Expert Answers
robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only printing of the Sonnets that date to Shakespeare's lifetime is dedicated to "Mr W.H.", who is described as the "only begetter of these ensuing sonnets" - in short, the person who has inspired ("beget" actually means "to give birth to", which has deliberately sexual connotations) the sonnets.

The "Fair Youth", a boy with whom the speaker of the Sonnets (not necessarily - though likely - Shakespeare himself) is in love is usually supposed to be the same person as "Mr W.H.".

And - and this is the answer to your question - scholars have come up with lots of theories about precisely who in Elizabethan history might have been the boy. Some possibilities (all of whom you can Google if you want more information!) include:

  • William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke. Popular favourite: a patron of Shakespeare's, who was imprisoned for getting a woman pregnant and sent to prison.
  • Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Some critics argue that the initials W H were inverted to protect his identity - some critics even think he wrote Shakespeare's plays!
  • William Hughes - not a real person, but a name which the sonnets seem to "suggest". A theory supported by Oscar Wilde in his short story about "Mr. W. H".
Read the study guide:
Shakespeare's Sonnets

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question