Who Is the "Young Man" addressed in the sonnets?
The first 126 of Shakespeare's collected 154 sonnets are addressed to a young man; and based on the premise that the poet had an actual individual in mind when he wrote them, several efforts have been made to determine the young man's identity. The main clue in this search is that the first edition of Shakespeare's sonnets is dedicated to a "Mr. W. H." With this in mind, some literary historians have identified the young man as William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. Others have inverted the order of the dedication's initials and claimed that the young man was Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southhampton. Both men were young nobles when the sonnets were composed and both were literary patrons who were associated with the Elizabethan stage. As the existence of multiple candidates suggests, no conclusive identification has ever been made concerning the young man of the sonnets. Indeed, it is possible that the young man is someone other than "Mr. W. H.," and it is also quite possible that Shakespeare did not have a specific individual in mind when he wrote the sonnets.