On This Day - 20th May

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Shakespeare's Sonnets

The 20th of May 1609- Shakespeare's Sonnets

There is much about Shakespeare's life and works that remains mysterious: his very date of birth is unclear; several years of his early career in London are obscured from us; even his authorship of the plays that go under his name is much debated. His sonnets too are the source of much controversy, including whether they were published without permission.

The publisher Thomas Thorpe produced the first edition of the sonnets in one quarto volume, entered into the register of the Stationer's Company on May 20 1609. It is unclear if he had the author's permission to publish; though as Thorpe was a friend and publisher of Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe , the former at times a close collaborator with Shakespeare , and a man with a sound business reputation, the illicit publication idea may be a later slur.

More mystery surrounds the dedication found in the original publication: To Mr W.H. Various contenders for this honour have been suggested, including William Herbert the Earl of Pembroke; Henry Wriothesley the Earl of Southampton; and William Hart, the poet's nephew. And within the poems themselves further riddles abound: who is the Dark Lady; who too the Dark Youth, the dominant object of the poet's pen?

Sometimes it seems as if the Bard of Avon was put on this earth to provide work for squabbling academics; reading the sonnets makes you think otherwise.

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