Never before Imprinted:
By G. Eld for T.T. 1609
THESE. INSVING. SONNETS.
Mr W.H. ALL. HAPPINESS.
AND. THAT. ETERNITIE.
OVR. EVER.LIVING. POET.
As I said in my previous chapter, Our Ever-Living Poet, I must now propose and interpretation for the second part of the Dedication: Who is the well-wishing adventurer, setting forth?
The coincidence of dates, as well as the word adventurer, makes it inevitable to consider the facts related to The Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London for the First Colony of Virginia.
This elaborate title distinguished between two types of people involved in the “Virginia Company”: Adventurers and Planters. The term Adventurers was used for the stockholders, the entrepreneurs, who rarely went to the Colony but followed the progress of their investment from London. The term Planters referred to the men who actually went to Virginia as settlers, and for this they received a share in stock. They included craftsmen, artisans and gentlemen, as well as their women and children.
As I said, the coincidence of dates in 1609 is interesting. The sonnets were entered into the Stationers' Register on May 20 (and published by Thorpe the same year).1 The Second Charter of the Virginia Company was signed by King James three days later on May 23, and the Flagship The Sea Venture2 sailed towards America ten days later, on June 2, together with eight other vessels.
A digression: The Sea Venture was wrecked in Bermuda on July 28, four days after the fleet was hit by a storm. In September 1610 a ship arrived in England bringing a detailed report written by one William Strachey, with the title: A True Reportory of the Wracke. This document, written as a private letter to an unidentified lady, was dated July 15, 1610 but was not published until 1625, so it is unlikely that anyone not connected to the Company of Adventurers (or with the lady in question) would have been able to read it. Orthodox scholars have observed the similarities between Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Strachey’s document; I entirely agree that such similarities exist, in my opinion beyond reasonable doubt of simple coincidence. Moreover, I think that another report (anonymous), published by the company in 1610, also found its way into the play. However, this is matter for another essay.
But how could all this transoceanic business have anything to do with Shake-speares Sonnets? In any case, if the well-wishing adventurer were connected with this particular “venture," he would be someone who had shares in the company, not necessarily someone who was setting forth on his way to America.
So, who WISHETH what to whom? As T.T. is the author of the Dedication, he should be the well-wishing adventurer, setting forth; also, the Dedication is unambiguously addressed to Mr WH. Therefore, leaving aside elaborate conjectures as to possible hidden meanings, and considering only the syntactic/grammatical point of view, it seems that Thomas Thorpe is the adventurer who wisheth all those nice things to Mr WH. Thus:
THE. WELL.WISHING.ADVENTURER, THOMAS THORPE,
(IN. SETTING. FORTH.)
WISHETH TO. Mr W.H.
(THE.ONLY.BEGETTER. OF.THESE. INSVING. SONNETS.)
ALL. HAPPINESS.AND. THAT. ETERNITIE.
PROMISED. BY. OVR. EVER.LIVING. POET.
Perhaps the way to understand the second part of Thorpe’s Dedication is to simply set our minds back to 1609: The Virginia Company, with its jargon of adventurers and planters, would probably have been the talk of the town for months, so that the word adventurer could have become the trendy adjective to be applied familiarly to anyone embarking (no pun intended) in a (daring) commercial enterprise.
If Pembroke’s reaction was such as may perhaps be inferred by the withdrawal of the volume,3 it is possible that Thorpe saw the publication of Shake-speares Sonnets as a daring adventure. The reference to an adventurer, meaning an investor or an entrepreneur, such as a publisher, may have been clear to Thorpe’s contemporaries if not to us.
In his letter to Blount, on the publication of Marlowe’s Lucan, in 1600, Thorpe already used a convoluted, sarcastic and somewhat cryptic language to complain about the negative behaviour of some prospective patrons. It seems that Thorpe had been expecting one of Blount’s former patrons (in the circle of your Patronage), to take an interest in Marlowe’s work (the First Book of Lucan in this case). As books in those days were dedicated to aristocrats, I think we may assume that such was Thorpe’s intention, as his letter to Blount indicates; it also suggests that his eventual decision to dedicate the volume to Blount was due to the evasive and discourteous behaviour of one or more of such patrons.
Whether Thorpe’s letter is referring to Southampton, Pembroke or Thomas Walsingham, we will probably never know. But what we might infer from its content is that by 1600, the year the Lucan was published, Marlowe’s name had become too embarrassing socially and/or too dangerous politically, so that his former friends among the nobility may have been wishing to distance themselves from it as much as possible.
Which raises the question as to whether perhaps the use of the hyphenated name for Shakespeare happened to be in some way indicative of the changing value of Marlowe-shares, or Marlowe-prospects, over the years.
If this were the case, we might wish to consider the fact that although some printers, such as Valentine Simmes and Richard Field, and some publishers, such as Edward Blount and Matthew Law, were more or less consistent in the form they spelt the name, there seems to be no repetitive pattern in the choice of any one form of spelling which might be attributed to simple inertia or automatic repetition on the part of printers and/or publishers.
A sort of pattern emerges, however, when we consider the dates.4 During 1598/1599, when the name of Shakespeare appears in the plays for the first time, the hyphenated form is used in about half of the non-anonymous Shakespeare Quartos published in those two years. The percentage drops to zero for the thirteen Quartos of plays published between 1600 and 1602; not a hyphen in sight, except for the poem, The Turtle and the Phoenix, printed by Richard Field for Edward Blount in 1601. Within those years, the disgrace and execution of the Earl of Essex would have left Marlowe lost in the continent, without a patron and without a job; so what did he do to survive, and was it something so questionable that his London friends turned their backs on him?
The percentage in the hyphenation goes back to an approximate 50% between 1603 (so after the Queen’s death) and 1607, and, in 1608 it raises to an unprecedented 100% for the three Quartos published that year, including 1Q King Lear. Then, in 1609 Shake-speares Sonnets was the only volume to appear with the hyphenated name against 1Q Pericles and 1Q Troilus and Cressida, which bore the full name, plus an anonymous 3Q Romeo and Juliet.5
Does this basic schedule for the use of the hyphenated name tell us anything? I honestly don’t know, but the figures I have just quoted may give us food for thought. (A proper analysis of a hypothetical, date-based pattern would exceed the scope of this essay.)
So let’s go back to the sonnets. By the expression the well-wishing adventurer, Thorpe might be referring both to his own adventure in publishing a book of sonnets by Marlowe (that EVER LIVING POET combined with the name Shake-speare was a give-away), and to the Adventurers in the Virginia Company, the list of whom was headed by the Earls of Southampton and Pembroke (whose initials, by the way, happen to be HW and WH, respectively).
But leaving aside all the uncanny coincidences, if the Mr WH of the seventeen sonnets was William Herbert after all, Thorpe’s good wishes were perhaps no less appropriate for being cryptically worded. And if the publisher had already been offended nine years earlier by the evasive and impolite treatment of some of Marlowe’s former patrons, that may have tempted him to write his equivocal Dedication to one of them.
So let me re-interpret:
TO THE ONLY BEGETTER OF THESE INSVING (seventeen) SONNETS: Mr WH. (Master William Herbert)
ALL HAPPINESS AND THAT ETERNITIE (immortality)
PROMISED (to Master William Herbert, in the said sonnets)
BY OVR EVER LIVING POET (Christopher Marlowe).
WISHETH THE WELL WISHING ADVENTURER (Thomas Thorpe), IN SETTING FORTH (launching this book).
© Isabel Gortázar, January 2011
Isabel Gortázar is an independent scholar, specializing in Shakespeare and Marlowe studies. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Marlowe Society (UK) and a founding member of the International Marlowe Society. She divides her time between London and Bilbao, Spain.
who wrote shakespeare's sonnets?emmerichdevere
1I cannot seriously consider the date, May 20 - the date of Marlowe's arrest - to be anything but an uncanny coincidence.
2A colleague has argued that Marlowe went to America in The Sea Venture. See: Gamble, C. Shake-speare’s Voyage to America. (Capella Archive, 2006).
3Shortly after publication, Thorpe’s volume disappeared from circulation; in 1640 one John Benson used all but eight of the sonnets as the basis for a badly compiled book called Poems: Written by Will Shake-speare. Gent., which included poems by other people. Thorpe’s Quarto texts were not properly published again until 1709. Ref: Booth, Stephen: Shake-speare’s Sonnets (Yale NB, 2000).
4I wish to thank Ros Barber for sharing with me her detailed chart, in reference to the publication of Shakespeare’s Quartos and Octavos. 5Printed by John Windet for John Smithewick. As an example of the apparent randomness in the publishing pattern: In 1622, two Quartos of Romeo and Juliet, both printed by William Standby also for John Smethwicke, appeared, one anonymous, the other with the author’s name hyphenated.Emmerich Rylance Anonymous Shakespeare