It’s best to read Part 21 first.

Summer, 1593. Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare, in Stratford away from his duties as ‘fac totum’ at Titchfield – begins work on Venus and Adonis – another commission from the Second Countess of Southampton……………

……to get Harry interested in heterosexual sex.

She also commissioned Thomas Nashe……

…..who came up with the erotic The Choice of Valentines which is dedicated to….

the right honourable, the Lord S.

Like Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnets, it begins with a reference to the red rose of Southampton…..

Pardon sweet flower of matchless poetry,

And fairest bud the red rose ever bare….

Shakespeare returns to Ovid for his first narrative poem – the story of how the rampantly sexual Venus tries to stop the handsome Adonis from going off to hunt the boar with his friends….

And, of course, Titian’s interpretation of the story….


Shakespeare evokes this painting in the first stanza of the poem….

We see the sun bursting through the clouds just as Shakespeare describes ….

And events are seen through Venus’s eyes….

Just as the ‘perspective’ of the painting suggests: Venus has her back to us….

EVEN as the sun with purple-colour’d face
Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn,
Rose-cheek’d Adonis hied him to the chase;
Hunting he loved, but love he laugh’d to scorn;
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
And like a bold-faced suitor ‘gins to woo him.

‘Thrice-fairer than myself,’ thus she began,
‘The field’s chief flower, sweet above compare,
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are;
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life….

But Shakespeare is so in love with Harry that he uses the same description of Adonis that he uses of Harry in the sonnets….

…the same imagery of white and red roses, and the same notion that Nature was ‘at strife’ when she created him…..

Adonis even looks like the Harry of the sonnets with…

The tender spring upon [his] tempting lip……..

……and his ‘locks’ that the wind would ‘play with’…..

A contemporary, William Renoldes, took Venus to be a portrait of Queen Elizabeth…….

…..and certainly, as she rugby-tackles Adonis to the ground, Elizabeth’s shameless pursuit of the Earl of Essex would have come to mind.

But Shakespeare’s great gift is empathy: Elizabeth’s passion for Essex becomes mixed with Shakespeare’s for Harry.

So the whole ‘hetero-sexualising’ project misfires – much as the Birthday Sonnets did….

Adonis is gored by the boar in a riot of gay imagery….

Tis true, ’tis true; thus was Adonis slain:
He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear,
Who did not whet his teeth at him again,
But by a kiss thought to persuade him there;
And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine
Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin.

And Shakespeare writes about….

The wide wound that the boar had trench’d

In his soft flank….

Shakespeare drops coded hints that his poem has been inspired by a painting…..

(He daren’t let anyone know he, Harry and Nashe had called on England’s old enemy and former King, Philip II at Madrid where the painting hung!)

Venus insults the passionless Adonis as a ‘lifeless picture’ and as ‘painted grapes’. Shakespeare also writes:

Look when a painter would surpass the life

In limning out a well-proportioned steed,

His art with nature’s workmanship at strife,

As if the dead the living should exceed.

Shakespeare sends a copy of Venus and Adonis to Harry with this Dedication:

I KNOW not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden only, if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a god-father, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your heart’s content; which I wish may always answer your own wish and the world’s hopeful expectation.

Your honour’s in all duty,

Although the poem is dedicated to Harry, his mother Mary paid for it as Harry had not yet come of age.

Shakespeare sent the poem to Harry along with  also the following Sonnet which echoes the dedication. Shakespeare is concerned that his command of language is inadequate.

66. (26)

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage

Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit;

To thee I send this written embassage,

To witness duty, not to show my wit.

‘Lord of my love’ means (1) Harry is a Lord because he is 3rd Earl of Southampton (2) Harry commands all of Shakespeare’s love as ‘Lord’ of it. Shakespeare says he is a slave to Harry  because of Harry’s great moral worth. He sends Venus and Adonis to him as a token of his duty – not to display his talent.

Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine

May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it;

But that I hope some good conceit of thine

In thy soul’s thought (all naked) will bestow it:

Shakespeare claims that his duty to Harry so far exceeds his wit that his language is inadequate to describe it: his only hope is that Harry’s own imagination will make up for Shakespeare’s own, impoverished (‘naked’) words.

Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,

Points on me graciously with fair aspect,

And puts apparel on my tatter’d loving,

To show me worthy of thy sweet respect.

Shakespeare can only hope that destiny – the star that guides him – will look favourably on him and grant him a rich vocabulary to express his love for Harry: give him a rich suit to replace his current rags.

Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,

Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

When I have the right words, I will be able to declare publicly my love to you.  But till that time I will stay silent about my love in case you bring it to the test.

Shakespeare is often ambivalent in his Sonnets about the worth of his writing. Sometimes he thinks it will last until the end of time: at other times he thinks it worthless.

67. (53)

What is your substance, whereof are you made,

That millions of strange shadows on you tend?

Since every one, hath every one, one shade,

And you but one, can every shadow lend:

Shakespeare wonders about Harry’s nature. How is it that he has millions of shadows whereas it is usual for people to have only one – and Harry himself is ‘one’.

Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit

Is poorly imitated after you;

On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,

And you in Grecian tires are painted new;

Shakespeare admits that when he was writing about Adonis, he was really writing about Harry – even when he describes Helen of Troy, it’s really Harry in drag.

In Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ young Prince Pyrocles dresses up as a girl and the King falls in love with him. Harry was massively influenced by Sidney whom he worshipped and wore his hair long in imitation of the Prince.

Prince Pyrocles in drag.

Speak of the spring, and foison of the year,

The one doth shadow of your beauty show,

The other as your bounty doth appear,

And you in every blessed shape we know.

If Shakespeare writes about springtime or autumn, the first imitates Harry’s beauty and the second his generous endowments….

In all external grace you have some part,

But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Harry is all beautiful things: but what makes him unique is his constant love for Shakespeare – something Harry alone possesses.

68. (54)

Oh how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,

By that sweet ornament which truth doth give;

The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odour, which doth in it live:

Shakespeare writes in praise of Harry’s truthfulness – and compares it to the odour of the rose which enhances its beauty.

The Canker blooms have full as deep a dye

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses,

Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly,

When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:

Dog roses visually have a colour as rich as cultivated roses, hang on the same thorny stems and blow in the breezes in the same way.

But for their virtue only is their show,

They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,

Die to themselves. Sweet Roses do not so,

But it is only the look of dog roses that is attractive: no-one makes a fuss over them or bothers when they die. But roses are different…..

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:

And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,

When that shall vade, by verse distills your truth.

When roses die, they are converted into perfume – as I shall preserve your youth and beauty by distilling you with my verse.

[Note: One editor of the Sonnets believes that ‘canker blooms’ are poppies. But poppies do not hang on thorns. Dog roses do have a slight odour, but not one strong enough to distill.]

Dog Roses

‘Dog Roses’ were so named because, from Ancient Times, these flowers were said to cure the bite from a mad dog.


It’s best to read Part 20 first.

SUMMER 1593. Stratford-upon-Avon.

It was time for Shakespeare to visit his family at Stratford, his wife Anne, his daughter Susanna and his twins, Judith and Hamnet. According to John Aubrey, he did this every summer…

But his mind was on Harry….


61. (97)

How like a Winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen?

What old December’s bareness every where?

Shakespeare’s absence from Harry is like Winter – Harry is like the most pleasant part of the year. Shakespeare has felt cold, the days have been dark and the natural world is stripped of its colour.

And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time,

The teeming Autumn big with rich increase,

Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,

Like widowed wombs after their Lords’ decease.

However, in reality it was the summer time – and the abundant autumn – full of the fruits of the spring- was like a pregnant widow with her womb swollen with the offspring of her dead husband.

‘Rich with big increase’ is a reference to Lady Penelope Rich….

….the sister of the Earl of Essex who played the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost. She was constantly pregnant and gave birth to eleven children.

Sir Philip Sidney played on her name in his sonnet sequence, Astrophil and Stella……

…..and Shakespeare also played on her name in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

(See: Penelope Rich plays the Princess of France.)

Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me

But hope of Orphans, and un-fathered fruit;

For Summer and his pleasures wait on thee,

And thou away, the very birds are mute.

But the abundant produce of the spring seems to resemble the hopelessness of an orphan without his or her father – or infertile fruit because the Summer is a servant of Harry – and when Harry is away even the birds stop singing.

Or, if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer,

That leaves look pale, dreading the Winter’s near.

And even if they do sing, it is with total lack of joy as if they are dreading the approach of winter.

62. (98)

From you have I been absent in the spring,

When proud pied April (dress’d in all his trim)

Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,

That heavy Saturn laught and leapt with him.

Shakespeare says he has been away from Harry in the Spring – multi-coloured and all dressed up in his best – has put a spirit of youth into everybody so that even the dour Lord Burghley – Harry’s guardian – laughed and leapt about.

‘Old Saturnus’ was Harry’s nick-name for Lord Burghley.

Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell

Of different flowers in odour and in hew,

Could make me any summer’s story tell,

Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.

But neither birdsong or the odours or varied looks of the flowers could make me write comedies or make me pluck them – sticking out from the earth like erections.

Shakespeare again spells ‘hue’ as ‘hew’ = Henry Wriothesley, Earl. See Sonnet 19. (20)

Nor did I wonder at the Lillies white,

Nor praise the deep vermilion in the Rose,

They were but sweet, but figures of delight:

Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

I didn’t enjoy the whiteness of the lily or the deep red of the rose – they were like paintings of you, not the real thing.

Yet seem’d it Winter still, and you away,

As with your shadow I with these did play.

Even the flowers and birdsong are simply ‘shadows’ – phantom copies – of Harry.

63. (99)

The forward violet thus did I chide:

‘Sweet thief whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells

If not from my love’s breath, the purple pride,

Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells?

In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dy’d,.’

The violet is ‘forward’ because (1) it flowers early in the year and (2) it has stolen Harry’s breath and blood. Harry’s breath gives the violet its odour and Harry’s blood gives it its purple colour. This is in contrast to Sonnet 25. (130) in which Shakespeare describes Amelia’s breath as ‘reeking’. There is also a reference to Harry’s aristocratic ‘blue blood’.

The opening to this Sonnet has five lines rather than the usual four.

The Lily I condemned for thy hand,

And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair,

The Roses fearfully on thorns did stand,

One blushing shame, an other white despair:

The lily has stolen its whiteness from Harry’s hand and marjoram has stolen its cascading shape from Harry’s hair. Red roses are blushing for shame at having stolen their beauty from Harry – and the white roses are white from fear having perpetrated the theft.

Wild marjoram


A third, nor red nor white, had stol’n of both,

And to his robb’ry had annext thy breath,

But for his theft in pride of all his growth

A vengeful canker eat him up to death.

Another rose of variegated colour – red and white – had stolen both colours from Harry and added his breath as well. But at the very peak of its growth a disease sentences it to death for the theft and executes it.

More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,

But sweet, or colour, it had stol’n from thee.

Every flower that Shakespeare sees around Stratford has stolen its colour and odour from Harry.

64. (113)

Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind,

And that which governs me to go about,

Doth part his function, and is partly blind,

Seems seeing, but effectually is out:

Shakespeare, in this Sonnet, is like Hamlet who sees his dead father in his ‘mind’s eye’. Shakespeare is so obsessed with Harry that his eyes are only partly working – and sometimes not working at all. There is also an erotic connation of ‘eye’=’penis’ – as in Sonnet 8. (7) Shakespeare is thinking erotic thoughts about Harry.

For it no form delivers to the heart

Of bird, of flow’r, or shape which it doth latch;

Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,

Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch:

For although the eye sees things – birds and flowers, his eye does not report them as they are to Shakespeare’s understanding.

For if it see the rud’st or gentlest sight,

The most sweet-favour or deformed’st creature,

The mountain, or the sea, the day, or night,

The Crow, or Dove, it shapes them to your feature.

Shakespeare says that everything he sees – beautiful or ugly, living or not living – becomes an image of Harry.

Incapable of more, replete with you,

My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue.

Shakespeare is incapable of taking anything in because his mind is so full of Harry. Harry is Shakespeare’s ‘true mind’ – a faithful and intelligent young man – but he makes Shakespeare’s own mind ‘untrue’ because all he can think of is Harry.

64. (114)

Or whether doth my mind being crown’d with you

Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?

Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,

And that your love taught it this Alchemy,

Shakespeare asks whether his mind is being flattered by his eye or whether what it sees is the truth – reality transformed by alchemy into the shape of Harry. Alchemy turned base matter into gold.

To make of monsters, and things indigest,

Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,

Creating every bad a perfect best

As fast as objects to his beams assemble:

The alchemy transforms horrible, hideous things into angels like Harry – and these bad things transform themselves into beautiful things as Shakespeare looks at them.

Oh ’tis the first, ’tis flatt’ry in my seeing,

And my great mind most kingly drinks it up;

Mine eye well knows what with his gust is ‘greeing,

And to his palate doth prepare the cup.

Shakespeare decides that it is the first idea – that his eye flatters his mind – not that it sees things as they really – just as kings are flattered by their followers. Shakespeare knows exactly what will be agreeable to his mind in the way a flatterer knows the taste of the monarch as he prepares a cup for him to drink.

If it be poison’d, ’tis the lesser sin,

That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.

If the drink is poisoned, at least Shakespeare will try it first before he gives it to the king – Shakespeare’s eye will be poisoned before his mind is. His mind will retain its integrity.


It’s best to read Part Nineteen first.

1593. In Rome.  The City of Marble. Harry Southampton, William Shakespeare and Thomas Nashe are on a whistle-stop tour of Europe.

57. (55)

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall out-live this powerful rime,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.

Caesar Augustus famously found Rome brick but left it marble. Shakespeare asserts his verse will allow Harry to last longer than Rome’s marble or its gilt tombs of by-gone rulers now neglected and subject to the ravages of time.

When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword, nor war’s quick fire shall burn:

The living record of your memory.

Mars in the Forum Nerva, Rome.

Although warfare can destroy statues and buildings, neither Mars with his sword or fires produced by conflict will be able to destroy my vivid description of you as you lived.

‘Gainst death, and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth, your praise shall still find room,

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

In the face of death and hostility – which cares for nobody and ensures that all things will be forgotten – you will walk out of my verse so people, in times to come, will still praise you until the world ends on the Day of Judgement.

So till the judgment that your self arise,

You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

So till you yourself rise from your tomb on the Day of Judgement you will live in this poem – and in the eyes of the people in love who will read it.

‘Self’ can also mean ‘penis’ – [see Sonnet 2. (1)] so there is another coded reference to Harry’s erections. ‘Eyes’ can also mean genitals – [see Sonnet 8. (7)] so Shakespeare is implying that Harry will come to life in other people’s love-making.

58. (81)

Or I shall live your Epitaph to make,

Or you survive when I in earth am rotten,

From hence your memory death cannot take,

Although in me each part will be forgotten.

Whether I outlive you, and write the epitaph on your tomb, or if you outlive me, while my body rots in the grave, either way Death will not be able to make people forget you, even though every aspect of my own being will be forgotten.

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die;

The earth can yield me but a common grave,

When you intombed in men’s eyes shall lie.

From this time forward, Shakespeare asserts, your name, Harry, will live for ever, even though when I myself die will die to the rest of the world. I will be buried as a commoner while you will be buried in the eyes of men.

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall ore-read;

And tongues to be, your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead:

Shakespeare says that his verse which people who are not yet born will read, will be Harry’s monument: and tongues, which don’t at the moment exist will give life to your being by reciting my verse about you.

By describing his verse as ‘gentle’ Shakespeare also claims aristocratic status.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my Pen)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Shakespeare says that his verse is so powerful it will bring Harry back to life in the mouths of men when they read aloud his verse. Their breath will breathe life into Harry.

The irony is, of course, that Shakespeare was to have a monument at Stratford-upon-Avon….


….while the only physical monument to Harry is as a twenty-one year old kneeling in prayer at the side of the Southampton family tomb at Titchfield.

Mary and Harry beneath the figure of their father Henry, the Second Earl of Southampton.

59. (122)

Shakespeare gave Harry a blank book to write down his thoughts when they set off for Europe. See Sonnet 53. (77)

Harry filled the book and gave it back to Shakespeare…

Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain

Full character’d with lasting memory,

Which shall above that idle rank remain,

Beyond all date even to eternity:

Shakespeare claims that everything Harry wrote in his book filled with blank pages, Shakespeare has committed to memory. These ideas – which are far superior to Shakespeare’s own – will last for ever.

Or at the least, so long as brain and heart

Have faculty by nature to subsist

Till each to raz’d oblivion yield his part

Of thee, thy record never can be miss’d:

Well if not for ever, then as long as Shakespeare remains alive. Till the moment when death will erase all thoughts from Shakespeare’s mind, Shakespeare will never forget Harry’s ideas.

That poor retention could not so much hold,

Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;

Therefore to give them from me was I bold,

To trust those tables that receive thee more.

Shakespeare argues  that a notebook could not hold as much information as Shakespeare’s own brain: nor does he need a ‘forget-me-not’ to remember Harry’s love. It was because of this that Shakespeare gave Harry’s book away putting more trust in the tables of Shakespeare’s own brain.

To keep an adjunct to remember thee

Were to import forgetfulness in me.

If Shakespeare had kept the book as a memento, it would imply that Shakespeare needs such a thing to keep Harry in mind.

So, Shakespeare has given Harry a book, Harry has filled it with his thoughts and returned it to him. Shakespeare has given it away (or lost it!) But instead of admitting error, Shakespeare goes into attack mode.  If he had kept the book it would imply that he needs it to remember Harry.

This Shakespeare in ‘Falstaff Mode’ – defending his actions in a preposterous way!

April, 1593

Shakespeare Harry and Southampton return to England with Antonio Perez on 18th April, 1593 in time for Easter.

Antonio Perez

Perez, a gay Spanish spy and double-dealer, former secretary to Philip II of Spain and model for Don Armado in the court revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost c. 1598, joins the Earl of Essex’s entourage.

(By 1598 Perez was out of favour with Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh, the original model for Armado, was in. So re-writes took place.)


Shakespeare immediately gets his publisher, Richard Field, to enter Venus and Adonis on the Stationer’s Register.

Shakespeare returns a changed man. Before 1593 not a single play had been set in Italy: now sixteen of them were to be based on Italian books – some of them – like the Titus Andronicus chapbook – only available in Rome…

Ten of the plays – over a quarter of the canon – were to be set in Italy or have scenes in Italy – and the works contain over 800 references to Italy.

Shakespeare turned The Taming of A Shrew into The Taming of a Shrew – and changed its setting from ancient Athens to ‘modern day’ Italy….

He turned the whole whistle-stop journey into the frantic movements of time and place in Two Gentlemen of Verona…

Shakespeare was to mention Rome over 400 times in his plays….

It was his spiritual home – both as an artist and as a Roman Catholic.

APRIL 1593.

60. (104)

Shakespeare was now back in his other spiritual home, Titchfield, and this sonnet celebrates the third anniversary of the day Shakespeare first met Harry in April 1590.

We learn from this sonnet that fell in love with Harry the first time he saw him, when first his ‘eye’ he ‘eyed’….

…..echoing Marlowe’s statement, which would appear again in As You Like It:

Whoever loved who loved not at first sight

Shakespeare at first controlled his passion – out of respect both for Harry and his mother.

To me fair friend you never can be old,

For as you were when first your eye I eyde,

Such seems your beauty still: three Winters cold

Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,

Three beauteous springs to yellow Autumn turn’d,

In process of the seasons have I seen

Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,

Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.

Shakespeare again claims that Harry will never be old because he looks exactly the same now as when Shakespeare first saw him three years ago.

‘When first your eye I eyde’ means (1) When our eyes met (2) When I saw your penis – and my own responded. ‘Eye’ can mean the genital area. See Sonnet 8. (7)

Three winters have passed since this meeting – robbing the summer leaves from the trees – and three springs have turned from green to yellow. The beautiful April scent of flowers has been burnt in the hot June sun – but Harry, unlike the plant world, has stayed green.

Ah yet doth beauty like a Dial hand,

Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d,

So your sweet hew, which me thinks still doth stand,

Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d;

And yet beauty slowly ebbs away, like the dial hand of a clock, so slowly it cannot be seen. So Harry’s beauty which Shakespeare perceives as permanent is in reality changing and Shakespeare vision is faulty.

Shakespeare spells ‘hue’ as ‘hew’ – another play on Harry’s title, ‘Henry Wriothesley, Earl’ – as in Sonnet 19.20

For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred,

Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.

In anticipation of this truth Shakespeare addresses the ‘age unbred’ – which means (1) people not yet conceived and (2) the uncouth age that will follow this one as the race degenerates having known the perfection of Harry.

‘Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead’ = (1) The perfection of beauty has been and gone and (2) Harry himself will one day die.


It’s best to read Part 18 first.

1593: THE WHISTLE-STOP TOUR OF EUROPE….The Low Counties, Spain and Italy.

It is the belief of The Shakespeare Code that Harry Southampton, William Shakespeare and Thomas Nashe, made a whistle-stop tour of Europe in 1593.

Prof. Roger Pryor also nominates 1593 as the year Shakespeare visited Italy.

The three men were appointed as spies by Harry’s great friend, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex….

…..who had recently been appointed to the Privy Council and so could issue passports. English gentlemen and actors were often recruited as spies – and Essex wanted a spy system to rival Lord Burghley’s.

Information was power at Queen Elizabeth’s Court.

The Code believes that in Spain, Harry, Shakespeare and Nashe called on King Philip II at Madrid.

Harry’s maternal grandfather, Anthony Browne, Lord Montague….

…..had been Philip II’s Master of Horse and his Ambassador to Rome….

….and so was a close personal friend of Harry’s family.

Shakespeare saw two Titian paintings, owned and commissioned by the King…..

……Venus and Adonis….

…..and The Rape of Lucrece….

Shakespeare, when he was back in England, recreated these paintings in verse….

He even used the same colours in his poems as Titian had used on his canvases.

(See: Shakespeare in Italy)

But it was the depth of Titian’s psychology which transformed Shakespeare’s art.

Up to then, English theatre had been two-dimensional…

Shakespeare began, like Titian, to flesh the drama out…

These paintings inspired in Shakespeare a life-long fascination with ALL the plastic arts – and their relation to language and life.

54. (24)

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath steeld

Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;

My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,

And perspective it is best Painter’s art.

Shakespeare claims that his eye has become like a painter painting Harry’s beautiful form in the book of his heart.

‘Eye’ could also suggest Shakespeare’s penis, becoming erect like a painter’s brush.

Shakespeare compares his body to the frame that holds a painting – gaining a new perspective on Harry’s beauty – and the art of perspective is one that Tudor artists cultivated.

Holbein’s ‘Ambassadors’ which includes a perspective skull that can only be seen by viewing the painting close up to its right side.

For through the Painter must you see his skill,

To find where your true Image pictur’d lies,

Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,

That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes:

Harry must look through Shakespeare’s eyes – like a perspective effect in a painting – to see the image of himself which is lying in Shakespeare’s bosom – waiting as if to be bought in a shop with glass windows that have been glazed by the power of the beams coming from Harry’s eyes.

[The Elizabethans thought that rays came FROM the eyes rather than TO the eyes.]

Now see what good-turns eyes for eyes have done:

Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me

Are windows to my breast, where-through the Sun

Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee.

Shakespeare’s eyes and Harry’s eyes help each other.

Shakespeare’s eyes have behaved like a painter, capturing Harry’s likeness – and by looking into the reflection of himself in Harry’s eyes they act as the windows to Shakespeare’s breast where Harry’s image resides.

The sun itself also likes to peep through the windows of Harry’s eyes to catch a glimpse of Harry’s image.

The implication is that the Sun shines from Harry himself – with a play on ‘Sun’ and ‘son’ that Shakespeare will develop in the Sonnets.

In Sonnet 25. (130) Shakespeare has declared that his mistress Amelia’s eyes are……

…….nothing like the Sun

…….but Harry’s eyes are the Sun itself.

Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art:

They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

But eyes have their limitation: they can only see Harry’s outward form. They cannot appreciate nature of Harry’s ‘heart’ – his internal truth and worth.

Shakespeare, Southampton and Nashe then travelled round Italy, journeying from city to city by a network of canals….

(In those days you really could sail from Milan to Verona, as Valentine does in Two Gentlemen of Verona.)

Sometimes Shakespeare pretended to be the Earl of Southampton while the Earl pretended to be Shakespeare……..which inspired the plot of The Taming of the Shrew, when the aristocratic Lucentio changes clothes with his manservant Tranio….


Nashe draws on the same incident for his ‘novel’ based on the Italian trip – The Unfortunate Traveller – in which the Earl of Surrey changes clothes with his manservant Jack Wilton…..

……to take more liberty of behaviour’ in Italy, the land of ‘whoring’ and ‘sodomitry

Nashe dedicated the book to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (a dedication he was later forced to withdraw) as ‘a lover and cherisher’ ‘as well of the lovers of poets [Amelia Lanyer] as of poets themselves’ [Shakespeare].

This was a reference to the love triangle between Shakespeare, Harry and Amelia in 1591.  See Sonnets 37-47 (New Order).

The three men visited Naples,Verona, Padua, Bergamo, Venice and Mantua,

But the first and most significant place they visited, by sea from Barcelona, in absolute secrecy, was, of course….


The Eternal City…

Shakespeare was profoundly influenced by Rome’s ruins, which were still being excavated.….

In 1586, seven years earlier, Pope Sixtus V had re-sited an Egyptian obelisk in front of St. Peter’s in Rome – an operation which took six months and involved hundreds of men and horses…..

Eighty-three foot tall, this Obelisk had a profound importance for Catholics. It had been plundered from Egypt by Caligula and erected in the Circus……


According to Roman Catholic doctrine, this Obelisk was the last thing St. Peter saw before he was crucified upside down….

This was thought to have given the Obelisk miraculous powers: it was one of only two left standing in Rome.

The Pope moved the Obelisk – now a holy relic – to a position in front of the Basilica of St. Peter.

First, the Obelisk had to be taken down – then the bronze orb, rumoured to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar, removed from its summit.

55. (64)

When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced

The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;

When sometime lofty towers I see down rased,

And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;

Shakespeare talks about his feelings at looking at the ruins of Rome which are being excavated. He sees them as being vandalised by the ruthless hand of Father Time – ruins that once were stately and rich, now out of fashion and buried in the earth.

He refers to the obelisks, plundered from abroad, that now lie in ruins round Rome – and the bronze orb originally at the top of the ‘St. Peter’ obelisk which had been replaced with a Christian Cross and relics.

[The Elizabethans did not distinguish between brass and bronze].

The bronze orb was thought, erroneously, to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar (it was in fact empty when it was opened) and the ‘mortal rage’ is a Roman Catholic reference to the Protestant ‘Sack of Rome’ which occurred in 1527. The Lanquenets – Mercenary Soldiers of Charles V – slaughtered 147 of the Swiss Guard (who were defending Pope Clement VII) on the steps of St. Peter’s.

‘Blasphemous’ shots were fired at the orb on top and a lead bullet was imbedded in the metal.

By the time Shakespeare and Southampton visited in Rome the obelisk was a massive tourist attraction and holy relic…

When ships docked at Rome people RAN to see it….

When I have seen the hungry Ocean gain

Advantage on the Kingdom of the shore,

And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,

Increasing store with loss, and loss with store.

Shakespeare describes how the ocean gains the territory of the shore – but then the shore gains that territory back – one’s loss is the other’s gain.

When I have seen such interchange of state,

Or state itself confounded to decay,

Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate:

That Time will come and take my love away.

The sight of the to and fro battle between the sea and the land……

……how ‘states’ are interchanged…..

(with ‘state=realm’ and ‘state=state of being” – an idea from Ovid who, in ‘The Metamorphoses’, is fascinated by the changing state of things)

…..teaches Shakespeare to ponder how Time will finally take Harry away from him.

Shakespeare has begun to intuit that there will be a huge rift of some sort between Harry and himself.

This thought is as a death which cannot choose

But weep to have, that which it fears to lose.

This idea is like a death blow to Shakespeare…..

 …..it makes him mourn over the inevitable loss of Harry…..

……in some way.

56. (65)

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality ore-sways their power,

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

Shakespeare continues the theme of his previous Sonnet, that mortality and time can destroy the strongest things – as the ruins of Rome show.

He asks how beauty can resist this power – beauty that has no more strength than a flower.

Roses in Southampton town crest.

O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,

Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,

When rocks impregnable are not so stout,

Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?

Shakespeare compares Harry to a flower with ‘honey breath’ – suggesting the odour from a flower that attracts bees to the sweet smelling breath of his lover. 

(Again, he is comparing Harry favourably to Amelia whose breath ‘reeks’ from her – Sonnet 25. (130).

Shakespeare asks how Harry’s life – his breath – can stand a chance against the battering ram of Time when it pulverises rocks and gates of steel.

The gates of steel is another reference to Rome. Virgil refers to Juno opening the Gates of Iron to initiate war. In Virgil’s time, there were Gates of Iron, dedicated to Mars, in the middle of Rome which were opened to indicate that Rome was at war with another country.

[The Elizabethans did not differentiate between iron and steel.]

O fearful meditation, where, alack,

Shall time’s best Jewel from time’s chest lie hid?

Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,

Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?

Shakespeare is afraid to think these thoughts. Where can Harry – the most precious jewel that Time has created hide from Time’s chest – the coffin? Who can arrest the swift movement of Father Time? Or who can deny him his spoils of war – Harry’s beauty.

O none, unless this miracle have might,

That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Shakespeare concludes that no-one can conquer time – unless his writing has miraculous powers and that in black ink Harry should, paradoxically, shine brightly.

This remark about ‘black ink’ is also a reference to Amelia, whose black skin was once worshipped by Shakespeare.


It’s best to read Part Seventeen first.

Early 1593. Titchfield. Before Shakespeare and Harry’s trip to Italy.

51. (106)

When in the Chronicle of wasted time

I see descriptions of the fairest wights,

And beauty making beautiful old rime,

In praise of Ladies dead, and lovely Knights;

Shakespeare – looking into books from the distant, long dead past – reads descriptions of attractive people: their beauty inspires poets to make their poems beautiful, praising dead damsels and handsome knights….

Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,

Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,

I see their antique Pen would have express’t

Even such a beauty as you master now.

Then, dazzled by the features of the most beautiful of people – feet, lips, eyes and brows – these writers from olden times were writing about a beauty that Harry embodies in our own time.

So all their praises are but prophecies

Of this our time, all you prefiguring;

And for they look’d but with divining eyes,

They had not skill enough your worth to sing:

So their praise of contemporary beauties was in fact prophetic – prefiguring Harry. And although these writers could see into the future, they did have the skill to praise your value sufficiently.

[Renaissance writers often  said that Christ was pre-figured in Pagan writings. So Shakespeare is starting to draw on religious imagery to describe his love for Harry.]

For we which now behold these present days,

Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

‘As for us’, Shakespeare says, ‘we have the eyes to wonder at your beauty but not the skill to capture it.’

52. (60)

Another re-working of Ovid – from his Metamorphoses…

Shakespeare refers to the ambiguous nature of Time – it both gives and takes away. The idea of a battle between Old Father Time (with his scythe and hour glass) and Dame Nature later comes to a terrifying climax.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end,

Each changing place with that which goes before,

In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

In the same way that waves journey towards beaches and cease being waves, so do minutes destroy themselves, changing places with the minute before in an onward rush.

Nativity once in the main of light,

Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,

Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,

And time that gave doth now his gift confound.

A baby born into a world of light crawls to adulthood: but the moment he achieves it, fate conspires against him and Time that gave him life takes it away.

Time doth transfix  the flourish set on youth,

And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,

Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,

And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.

Father Time stabs the confident glory of youth, carves lines in the face of the most beautiful person and devours the most choice and rare people. Every single thing in creation is cut down by Time’s scythe.

And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand

Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

However, Shakespeare hopes that there will be future times – and that his verse, praising Harry’s beauty and truth will survive despite the cruel actions of Time.

Many Elizabethans, including the Queen herself, thought that the times were so bad the end of the world must be coming. It was not for them a ‘Golden Age.’

53. (77)

Shakespeare, as Harry’s ‘tutor’, gives him a book with blank pages to record his thoughts on his journey to Europe. In the book they will have a life of their own…Shakespeare is offering Harry another way to fight mortality.

Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,

Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste,

These vacant leaves thy mind’s imprint will bear,

And of this book, this learning mayst thou taste:

Your mirror, Harry, will show you how you are aging – your sundial how the valuable minutes are wasting away and the blank leaves of this book I giving to you will demonstrate this truth this:

The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show

Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;

Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know

Time’s thievish progress to eternity.

The wrinkles that appear in your face will remind you that a yawning grave awaits you, and the sundial’s shadow – as it slowly moves round the dial during the day – will teach you that Time steals all and leads on to oblivion.

Look what thy memory cannot contain

Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find

Those children nurst, deliver’d from thy brain,

To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.

Shakespeare urges Harry to commit all those things he cannot remember to the book he is giving him like children he is nursing: they will acquire a new life.

These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,

Shall profit thee, and much inrich thy book.

These thoughts will be like church services which will do you good and make the book valuable.

As we shall see, Harry takes Shakespeare’s advice, fills the book with his thought and gives it to Shakespeare. Shakespeare then loses it!

These notebooks were also called tables – and Prince Hamlet possesses one.

Anthony May

My tables, meet it is I set it down. That one may smile and smile and be a villain.









It’s best to read Part Sixteen first.

1592. Harry’s affair with Amelia has made Shakespeare come to terms with how much he is in love with him. Shakespeare had wanted to keep the friendship a Platonic one because of Harry’s mother, the Second Countess of Southampton.

She wanted her son to marry Elizabeth de Vere – the granddaughter of Lord Burghley, Harry’s guardian. But in the following Sonnet, Shakespeare admits and celebrates his love for his ‘Lovey Boy’.

Xavier Samuel as Harry in ‘Anonymous’


48. (18)

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Shakespeare in this Sonnet is rejecting poetry itself – or, rather, conventional poetry. Other poets will compare their loves to ‘a summer’s day’ – but Harry is ‘more lovely and more temperate’ (‘moderate’) than that. In England even in May harsh winds can shakes the buds of the flowers and summer is so quickly over – like a short lease on a property.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

And every fair from fair some-time declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:

Sometimes the sun is too hot and often it is covered with clouds – and everything beautiful on a summer’s day will at some point lose its beauty – either by chance events or simply the unaided workings of nature.

[Note: Shakespeare does not put a comma between ‘changing course’ and ‘untrimm’d’. It is nature that is ‘untrimm’d’ – as in trimming sails to make a boat travel faster.]

But thy eternal Summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wandr’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

But Harry will not be subject to this change – he will not fade as the summer flowers fade, nor will he lose his beauty. Nor will he even die. His summer will be eternal because Shakespeare is writing about him in verse.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem will survive as long as men are still alive to recite it or read it – and this will give you eternal life.

Shakespeare had hinted that he had this sort of power in the Birthday Sonnets – when he suggests that his verse was capable of making Harry immortal. But he quickly withdrew this idea. Now he relishes it – and makes the same claim to immortal fame that his hero, Ovid, did.

Shakespeare was now ‘out’ in his love for Harry – and that gave him great confidence and joy.

Now a barter between Shakespeare and Harry begins: Harry has the wealth and the money – but Shakespeare has the talent.

He can make Harry live for ever – which indeed he accomplished. We are still reading about someone who otherwise would be long forgotten.



Shakespeare was back at Titchfield for the start of the year – but not for long.

In March he was to travel with Harry Southampton and Thomas Nashe to the Low Countries, Spain and Italy.


The Earl of Essex became a member of Elizabeth’s Privy Council on 25th February, 1593……

…….this meant he had control of passports. Also, he wanted to build up a huge spy network in Europe so he would be first with the news at Court – and this would give him power over Lord Burghley….

Actors were often used as spies – and Christopher Marlowe had worked for the English Government in the Low Countries.

Shakespeare has many quotes in his plays from John Florio’s language manuals – so it was clear he was trying to learn Italian.

Harry spoke Italian like a native…


Rome was of overwhelming significance to Shakespeare – not only because it was where the Pope lived, but because it was the homeland of Ovid.

Ovid was one of the easiest Latin writers for an Englishman to read – and there were translations by Arthur Golding – and Marlowe himself….

Francis Meres was later to write in his Palladis Tamia…

As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras: so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare….

The influence of Ovid – particularly Ovid’s obsession with the workings of time – is clear in the sonnets Shakespeare wrote inspired by the trip to Rome…

49. (19) To Harry.

This sonnet is a re-working of Ovid’s famous ‘Tempus edax rerum’ – ‘Time is the eater of things…’

Devouring time blunt thou the Lion’s paws,

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce Tiger’s jaws,

And burn the long-liv’d Phoenix in her blood;

Shakespeare encourages Time to blunt the claws of the lion, make the whole earth devour its creatures, pull out the teeth of the tiger and burn the immortal Phoenix bird in her own blood.

This is stanza is full of code. ‘Blunt’ is a reference to Charles Blount – later 8th Baron Mountjoy….

He was Penelope Rich’s lover and a close friend of Harry. He played Longaville in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

The ‘lion’ is a coded reference to Queen Elizabeth. She saw her father Henry VIII as a lion….

…..and herself as his whelp.

In her tomb at Westminster Abbey she is guarded by four lions at her head….

…and at her feet…..


The Phoenix is also a coded reference to Elizabeth. She saw herself as a Phoenix, pecking at her own breast to give hr blood to nourish her offspring – the English people.

Here is a detail of the Phoenix doing just this from one of her dresses.

Shakespeare and Harry were both ardent Roman Catholics who wanted Elizabeth either dis-empowered or dead.

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,

And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed time,

To the wide world and all her fading sweets:

Make Spring happy and Autumn sad as you fly away – and, speedy Time, do what you like to the whole world and its temporary beauties.

But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,

Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;

Him in thy course untainted do allow

For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

But there’s one thing Shakespeare forbids Time to do: stamp lines on Harry’s forehead or paint wrinkles there. Time must not taint Harry’s good looks, so he can be a pattern of beauty to all the men who succeed him.

Yet do thy worst old Time despite thy wrong,

My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Shakespeare changes tack completely in the final couplet. He challenges Time to do his worst.

Shakespeare’s verse is so powerful Harry will stay young for ever.

The way the last line is written means that the stress is on the second syllable of ‘ever’ – isolating ‘ver’ – Latin for ‘Spring’.

50. (59)

The Elizabethans and the Jacobeans often viewed time as cyclical: that’s why historical plays were such a threat to Queen Elizabeth – they were talking about things that were happening ‘now’.

If there be nothing new, but that which is

Hath been before, how are our brains beguil’d,

Which labouring for invention bear amiss

The second burthen of a former child?

Shakespeare argues that if there is nothing new under the sun and everything in existence now has been in existence before, why are we so stupid as to bring to birth, badly, something that has lived at a previous time?

Oh that record could with a back-ward look,

Even of five hundred courses of the Sun,

Show me your image in some antique book,

Since mind at first in character was done,

That I might see what the old world could say,

To this composed wonder of your frame;

Whether we are mended, or wh’ere better they,

Or whether revolution be the same.

Shakespeare longs for the ability to look way back in time so see if Harry has ben described in an old book, written language had just been invented. Then he would be able to see how ancient writers described the proto-Harry, and whether they wrote better, or worse or in the same way that he does.

Oh sure I am the wits of former days

To subjects worse have given admiring praise.

Shakespeare suggests that the ancient writers have lavished praise on people (1) less beautiful than Harry or (2) worse behaved.

But ‘worse’ implies ‘even worse’ and so is a joke at Harry’s expense. Shakespeare’s relationship with Harry is now so strong that he can afford some banter.


It’s best to read Part Fifteen first.

1592. ON TOUR

Shakespeare is in such a state of agitation and despair at Harry’s liaison with Amelia that he departs on a tour with Lord Strange’s Men on 13th July, 1592 – a tour that takes in Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Coventry and Shrewsbury.

Tours give Shakespeare time to reflect on the situation – and the Sonnets become postcards that he can send back to Harry….

At this stage in his career, Shakespeare would not have had a horse to ride.

Like every other actor, he would have walked on foot from one town to the next.

44. (27) To Harry.

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear respose for limbs with travail tir’d,

But then begins a journey in my head

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d.

Exhausted with pushing the props and costume wagon and then performing, I rush to bed to rest my aching limbs: but I begin a journey all over again in my mind.

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eye-lids open wide,

Looking on darkness which the blind do see.

My thoughts make a religious pilgrimage from where I am – far away – to you. These keep my exhausted eyelids wide open to the darkness that blind people continually experience.

Harry has become like a holy icon to Shakespeare. Shakespeare will use a lot of Roman Catholic iconography in the Sonnets to describe his love for Harry – another ardent Roman Catholic.

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)

Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.

Except that my imagination gives an image of you to  my sightless eyes – like a sparkling jewel hung in hideous night which makes the black night beautiful and her familiar face new to me.

‘Black’ now = ‘ugly’ because he has broken with the dark-skinned Amelia – whose dark skin he had previously adored.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for my self, no quiet find.

So my limbs by day and my mind at night find no rest – because of you and because of me.

45. (28) To Harry.

How can I then return in happy plight

That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?

When day’s oppression is not eas’d by night,

But day by night and night by day opprest.

So how can I return to you in a good condition when I am robbed of the benefits of resting? The arduous work of travelling and acting by day is given no respite at night – in fact the day is oppressed by night and night oppressed by day.

And each (though enemies to either’s reign)

Do in consent shake hands to torture me;

The one by toil, the other to complain

How far I toil, still farther off from thee.

Day and night are natural enemies – but they make an alliance to torment me: the day gives me work to do and the night to think about how far I am away from you (Harry).

I tell the Day to please him thou art bright,

And do’st him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:

So flatter I the swart complexion’d night,

When sparkling stars twire not thou gild’st th’even.

I get on the good side of day by telling him that you, Harry, are bright in the same way he is – and take over as a shining sun when the skies are cloudy. I also flatter the dark-skinned night: when there are no stars in the sky you turn the night to gold.

[‘Swart’ is a pejorative word: black is no longer beautiful to Shakespeare.]

But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,

And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger.

But the days draw out my sorrow I am not with you. And the night deepens this long sorrow.

46. (144)

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.

I have two beings whom I love: one brings me comfort, the other one despair. The better one is an angel – a truly handsome, fair-skinned man – Harry.

The other is a devil – a woman whose skin is dark.

[Shakespeare is becoming racist…]

To win me soon to hell my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

The female devil [Amelia] wants to consign me to hell – and does so by tempting my angel [Harry] away from me. She wants to turn my saint into a devil and corrupts his purity [heterosexual at least!] with her vile lust.

And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend,

Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,

But being both from me, both to each friend,

I guess one angel in an other’s hell.

Whether my angel has become a devil, I can suspect but not be certain about. But as they are both away from me – and friends with each other – I guess that my angel is now in the other’s hell, i.e. Harry has inserted his penis into Amelia’s vagina.

Yet this shall I ne’er know but live in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

But I cannot be certain about this till Amelia fires Harry out of her hell i.e. gives him a dose of her venereal disease.

So the very blackness which Shakespeare has so admired in Amelia now becomes a symbol of her evil.

Sexual jealousy has twisted Shakespeare up – as it was later to twist up the noble Othello.

The Sonnets show that Shakespeare experienced every single emotion that his characters experience. Even in Lear the mad king equates the genital region of women with hell.


47. (42) To Harry.

This sonnet represents the turning point in Shakespeare’s emotional life…

That thou hast her it is not all my grief,

And yet it may be said I lov’d her dearly;

That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,

A loss in love that touches me more nearly.

Shakespeare states that the fact that Harry is having an affair with Amelia is not the main cause of his sorrow – though he loved Amelia passionately. It’s the fact that Amelia now possesses Harry – a loss in love that is more painful to him.

Shakespeare finally admits to himself that he is more in love with the boy than the girl.

Loving offenders, thus will I excuse yee:

Thou dost love her, because thou knowst I love her,

And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,

Suff’ring my friend for my sake to approve her;

Shakespeare finds a way of excusing the sexual behaviour of Harry and Amelia. He tells Harry that he is making love to Amelia because knows Shakespeare loves her. And it’s because of Shakespeare that Amelia, to abuse him further, allows Harry to ‘prove’ her – stamp her (as silver is marked) with his penis to show her worth.

If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,

And losing her, my friend hath found that loss,

Both find each other and I lose both twain,

And both for my sake lay on me this cross.

Shakespeare tells Harry that if he loses him it will be Amelia’s gain – and though Shakespeare loses Amelia, Harry will find that loss. Harry and Amelia find each other and Shakespeare loses both of them – and so the two crucify him.

Catullus – the Latin poet Shakespeare knew well – claims he is crucified by his lover – Lesbia – whom he both hates and loves – and who lays him on a cross.

But here’s the joy: my friend and I are one.

Sweet flattery, then she loves but me alone.

Shakespeare converts the pain to joy by asserting that Harry and he are one person – a re-working of the Southampton family motto ‘Ung par tout’ = ‘All is one’. Consequently, Amelia is flattering Shakespeare: she loves him only.


Amelia became pregnant. On18th October, 1592, she is married off ‘for colour’ to ‘one of the Queen’s musicians, Alfonso Lanyer, at St. Botolph’s, Algate .

She was pregnant with what turned out to be a son – ‘Henry’ – whether named after Henry Wriothesley or Henry Carey, Lord Hundson, or both, we don’t know….She may not have either!

There is evidence that Southampton later tried to help Alfonso get the hay-weighing patent for the City – and Alfonso later went on the Islands Campaign with Southampton and Essex, hoping for a knighthood.

It meant that Harry was now available…

Shakespeare headed straight back to Titchfield…

….with a Sonnet heralding his return….

The greatest poem ever written…..

To be revealed in the next Post!!!