Who was Shakespeare's patron?
Patronage was a huge part of medieval and Renaissance society. Groups or individuals were expected to act as patrons for those who were of lower socio-economic status. To this end, Shakespeare was no different. Below, I have summarized a list of patrons that contributed to the works of William Shakespeare.
Edward Manners, Third Earl of Rutland - This individual was a friend of Shakespeare's who displayed encouragement for Shakespeare's unique writings. At the time, there was a traditional model to follow; however, Manners pushed Shakespeare to write with his own style or flare, which made him quite popular. Additionally, Manners was also involved in the construction of a theatre in Rutland.
Queen Elizabeth and King James I - Both of these individuals loved Shakespeare's drama. Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the plays so much that she intensely studied the ancient classical period. Additionally, having the appropriate background, she used her power to advance English drama. It was obvious that she was fond of Shakespeare's plays but she never attended the public theaters as it was not custom for royalty to venture to those parts.
Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton - The patronage of Henry Wriothesley is best exemplified by the fact that Shakespeare had his narrative poem Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece dedicated to Southampton. Additionally, the title page of "Fair Youth" in Sonnets provides dedication to "the lordship of Mr. W.H." One theory is that W.H is actually Wriothesley, whose initials had been switched to better hide the identify of the funder. However, others suggest that this dedication was actually to a different patron, William Herbert, whose initials actually line up!
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon - Carey was a known patron of Shakespeare's theatre company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men. It was The Lord Chamberlain's Men that got most of the plays and scripts written by Shakespeare, and the backing of Carey himself.
William Herbert, Third Earl of Pembroke - Shakespeare dedicated several plays in "The First Folio of William Shakespeare" specifically to Herbert. Additionally, Herbert was hypothesized to be the "Fair Youth" in Sonnets. The dedication to Mr. W.H. provides good evidence that Herbert was the beneficiary of the work. As previously mentioned, others hold the less popular notion that it was Southampton to whom Shakespeare was referring. Regardless, Herbert was a known patron of the works of Shakespeare.
Sir Francis Walsingham - In a political move, it is believed that Walsingham funded plays to help inspire patriotic notions and have Queen Mary of Scots replace Queen Elizabeth. These plays, entitled The Famous Victories of Henry V, King John, and Edmund Ironside, were believed to be used to inspire a sense of nationalism while the country was on the brink of war with Catholic Spain.
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William Shakespeare actually had several patrons over his career. The obvious patrons are the rulers during his career--Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Generally, the ruling bodies of a society will be the major patrons of the art. His most famous patron was the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley. Many believe that the Earl of Southampton is the “Dark Lady” that Shakespeare wrote certain sonnets for. Finally, William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, was his last patron. If you want to know who Shakespeare's patron was at a certain time you will need to do a little research.
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