|THE DEDICATION TO SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS|
Professor Francis Thackeray © 2001
Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI), University of the Witwatersrand
PO WITS, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa
Shakespeare's Sonnets were apparently written in the early 1590s, and were published for the first time in 1609. The dedication has attracted widespread interest in attempting to decipher its meaning. The dedicatory lines were published in 12 lines with full stops (periods) between each word :
Mr. W.H. ALL.HAPPINESSE.
The identification of "Mr W.H." remains an open question. It has been suggested that the initials relate to Henry Wriothesley (Earl of Southampton) or William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke) , but it would seem unlikely that an earl would have been addressed by the title "Mister". More likely would seem the possibility that a typographic error had occurred, and a hand-written capital "S" was mistakenly printed as an "H", thereby rendering the printed initials as "Mr W.H " instead of the intended "Mr W.S"., linked to the more sensible association with William Shakespeare, the sonneteer.
T.T. refers to the publisher, Thomas Thorpe. It would seem possible that the sonnets were published without Shakespeare's approval, especially if they were intended for circulation only among his close friends.
One interpretation of the dedicatory lines, based on a re-ordering of the words, is as follows, treating the first two lines as a heading to introduce the lines that follow, and recognising "Mr W.H." as "Mr W.S." :
Mr. W.[S]. WISHETH.
How should the dedication best be interpreted? One way is to recognise that the expression "only begetter of the ensuing sonnets" relates to a source of inspiration for the sonnets.
Francis Thackeray has previously suggested that Shakespeare had potential access to Cannabis, and perhaps this served as a source of inspiration (a "Tenth Muse") for at least some of Shakespeare's writings. Cannabis would have been obtained in Europe as part of the spice trade in the 17th century, when European explorers, certainly including English seafarers, sought to access commodities such as nutmeg from the East. Cannabis is indigenous to Asia, but spread rapidly within recent millennia, and was grown in Elizabethan England at the instruction of the Queen. It would seem possible that the expression "begetter" in the context of the sonnets might, at least potentially, relate to the use of a stimulant such as Cannabis, which would have been accessible to Shakespeare within his life time.
One of the most common perceptions among Cannabis-users is a sense of time-prolongation or virtual eternity, accompanied by a sense of intense happiness. The references to eternity and happiness are two further instances by which the dedication to the sonnets may be related to the use of a substance such as Cannabis.
The term "adventurer" is known to refer to "trips" in the context of the use of hallucinogenic substances. It would again seem possible, at least potentially, that the use of the term "adventurer" in the dedication to the sonnets may relate to the use of a hallucinogen as a source of inspiration. "In setting forth" has the following potential connotation: "Setting forth on an adventurous trip". It may also refer to "setting forth", in the sense of reading the poetry that follows.