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Why William Hatcliffe wasn't the mysterious "Mr. W. H." of the Sonnets of Christopher Marlowe aka William Shakespeare:

The question of who "Mr. W. H." was has been long and hotly debated.  We have given ample reasons for why it was William Herbert, later the Third Earl of Pembroke, who appears to have been Marlowe's illicit son.  Since Marlowe wrote the sonnets, Herbet is also the poet's illegitimate son and we shall hereafter refer to him simply as the poet's son.  (link)

However I thought to devote a brief discussion to why he cannot have been Mr. William Hatcliffe, as suggested by the Harvard scholar Leslie Hotson and, later, by my friend and fellow Marlovain, A. D. Wraight. Hotson's evidence consists in ignoring the painfully obvious class differences between the poet and "Mr. W. H."   Those differences place "Mr. W.H." among members of the so called "higher nobility," as Sir E. K. Chambers understood all too well.

Here is what Chamber's wrote about this conundrum, after a lifetime of study.

On the whole, therefore, if we are to look in the ranks of the higher nobility, it is Herbert rather than Southampton, who affords the most plausible identification for Shakespeare's friend.

The reason we must search for him among "the ranks of the higher nobility," is that the poet places him there, as we shall quickly see.  Hatcliffe was not a member of the peerage and thus cannot have been the poet's subject, much less his illicit son.  With this single flaw in mind, Wraight is otherwise correct that the sonnets reflect the life and exile of Christopher Marlowe, rather than the all too placid and limited life of the actor William Shakspere.  http://www.marlowe-society.org/exile.htm  The poet frequently speaks of his stained reputation and even alludes to himself as "the coward conquest of a wretch's knife," as Marlowe allegedly was:


But be contented when that fell arrest

Without all bail shall carry me away,

My life hath in this line some interest,

Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.

When thou reviewest this, thou dost review

The very part was consecrate to thee:

The earth can have but earth, which is his due,

My spirit is thine, the better part of me.

So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,

The prey of worms, my body being dead,

The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,

Too base of thee to be remembered.

The worth of that is that which it contains,

And that is this, and this with thee remains.

Many additional facts identify young William Hebert as the so called Pretty Boy of these sonnets, not the least of which revolves around the fact that  he was the only peer of the period who sported those initials whose years are even remotely similar.  Scholars date the poems urging the boy to marry and procreate to c. 1595.  Or precisely the time young William Herbert was under considerable pressure to wed "Sir George Careys Daughter." (SL, 130)  This discovery surfaced in extant letters from Rowland Whyte to Sir Robert Sydney dated 8 October 1595, "You had a Father, let your Son say so."  (13)

Herbert seems to have been first suggested by Thomas Tyler (1898)and was quickly embraced by Frederic Boas, the great Shakespearian scholar of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Both Boas and Chambers understood that the boy's mother was Mary Sidney Herbert, Boas writing:

The begetter of the Sonnets is best interpreted as the friend who inspired them, and whom the poet assured of immortality though his verse.  The initials W. H. thus appear to have belonged to Will, and they are those of Herbert's name.  Further, in every characteristic Herbert answers with curious fidelity to Shakspere's picture of his friend.  He was young, accomplished, and remarkable for his beauty of person, which he inherited from his other, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney, who might truly be said in him to recall 'the lovely April of her prime.'  Shakspere and his Predecessors

The fly in this logic is that Shakspere could not have known Mary Sidney Herbert during "the lovely April of her prime."  Marlowe not only knew knew Mary Sidney Herbert, he could easily have know her in the Biblical sense, as many of her poet friends seem to have done.  Indeed the record places both of them in Canterbury in the late summer of 1579, or precisely when young William Herbert was conceived, Herbert having been born on 8/18 April 1580, during or shortly after the series of quakes that rocked southern England and Wales that spring.

This well remembered quakes seem to be associated with Herbert in Henry IV, or at least with his stage analog, Owen Glendower, who was like Herbert the chieftain of Wales, and with the birth of Juliet.   They are more confidently associated with Herbet's birth in Venus and Adonis, which several times alludes to these quakes and sets in Marlowe's and Mary's native Kent, among the downs and its seaside flora and fauna.  Here Venus, who is more obviously and salaciously patterned on Mary than anyone else, pledges Herbert's future patronage to the poet's benefit:

"Oh thou clear god, and patron of all light,

From whom each lamp and shining star doth borrow

The beauteous influence that makes him bright,

There lives a son that sucked an earthly mother,

May lend thee light, as thou dost lend to other."

These lines are senseless if they are addressed either to the sun or to Adonis, who about to die.  So pardon me if I suggest they were intended as an oblique pledge to the poet.   A pledge that Herbert did live up to.  The Folio even mentions that he had "beene pleas'd to think these trifles something, heeretofore and have prosequuted both them and their Author living with so much favour..." in the past.  Titus Andronicus was the only play associated with Pembroke's name and company, so the claim seems a bit overstated, unless we recall that Marlowe's Edward II was also said to have been one of Pembroke's plays.

Chambers, who once believed "Mr. W. H." might have been Southampton, was quite clear on why "Mr. W. H." could not have been merely the person who procured the Sonnets for publication. Writing in his essay for the Encyclopedia Britannica, during that period when he had yet to understand that William Herbert was the most likely candidate, Chambers noted about the proposition that  "Mr. W. H." might have been simply the procurer of the sonnets, pointed to the identity between the man who Thorpe wished eternity and the man to whom the poet promised that eternity.   That "hidden" or implied identity "shipwrecked" the contention that "Mr. W. H." was simply a friend of Thorpe's who supplied him with the Sonnets.  It seems a pity those who have advanced this theory are as good at reading as they are at generating unprovable theories.

Hotson and Wraight would offer in evidence for Hatcliffe what they consider a coded or enciphered message in the curiously printed dedication.   I will not trouble the reader with their discussion.  But I will note the "code" they have suggested yields itself to millions, if not trillions, of other interpretations, where all of Herbert's letters are included. Indeed both of Hatcliffe's "ff"s are missing from the letters used in the dedication.   Worse, in order to suggest, as they have, Hatcliffe's name, they must ignore the much clearer overall picture.  The boy is either the poet's illicit young lover or his illegitimate son.  Since the poet takes all the blame upon himself, the case is much stronger that he is the boy's father.  This case becomes certain when we discover him stipulating the boy is his in two sonnets, 36 and 96, both of which end with the line, "As thou being mine, mine is thy good report."

The hidden meaning of this line is that the boy is actually the poet's son.  That he is the poet's illicit son and that he is among the peerage is also certain:


Let me confess that we two must be twain,

Although our undivided loves are one:

So shall those blots that do with me remain,

Without thy help, by me be borne alone.

In our two loves there is but one respect,

Though in our lives a separable spite,

Which though it alter not love's sole effect,

Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.

I may not evermore acknowledge thee,

Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,

Nor thou with public kindness honor me,

Unless thou take that honor from thy name.

But do not so, I love thee in such sort,

As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

For some strange reason Stratfordians would rather have the poet a homosexual child molester than the illicit father of young William Herbert.   But the import of this sonnet, and many others, is as clear as these things can be made.  The guilt is of the poet's, not the boy's.  The boy will lose honor from his name if he acknowledges the poet with public kindness, particularly if the poet uses his real name.  We see this same sentiment again in sonnet 88, another of those magical either side up numbers:

.........With mine own weakness being best acquainted,

Upon thy part I can set down a story

Of faults concealed, wherein I am attainted,

That thou in losing me shall win much glory.

And I by this will be a gainer too,

For bending all my loving thoughts on thee,

The injuries that to myself I do,

Doing thee vantage, double-vantage me.

If this isn't the story of Marlowe's life as Shakespeare nothing is.

Herbert would have been 15 in 1595, which seems a bit early to be urging a boy to wed, but scholars know there was real pressure brought to bear on young William Herbert towards this end when he was precisely fifteen.  Some worry that Herbert would never have been addressed by his initials, let alone by the title "Mr."   However Herbert had not assumed his Lordship when these sonnets were first written to him.  Moreover because the dearth of these initials among the peerage, making it clear would have identified him exclusively.

With all this evidence in mind, Chambers reversed his lifelong opinion against Herbert and joined with Boas and Thomas Tyler in supposing that Herbert, was after all was said and done, Shakespeare's mysterious "Mr. W.H."  So the question is why haven't other scholars including G. B. Harrison joined them?

The answer is that they know they cannot place a young William Shakspere anywhere  near Mary Sidney Herbert c. 1579.  On the other hand Marlowe scholars can put them in the same town at the moment of Mary's conception of William Herbert.  We can also prove Mary's much older husband, Sir Henry Herbert, had been childless through several marriages and many affairs.  Finally scholars can prove that Mary's first biographers found evidence that her brother was the father of her children.  We'd rather suppose it was one of his pages.  Mary's brother can be placed with young Sir Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe's patron and friend, on 13/23 August 1572, in Paris where they witnessed the St. Bartholomew Massacre.  With them was Marlowe's friend William Faunt.  Marlowe, all should remember, wrote about this Massacre as if he too had witnessed it in his diplomatic docudrama, Massacre at Paris.

In closing the case for William Hatcliffe is one of the least strongest.  William Herbert remains, as Chambers knew, the most likely object of these important sonnets.  They could not name him in the clear without implying him the poet's son.  This implication would strip young Herbert of this lands and titles.  Without them he would be of little use to the poet, who was dependent on his patronage.  The poet comes as close as he dared to making their relationship clear.  He calls him is "sun."  He says the boy is his, "thou being mine."  He assures us the guilt and shame that connects them is his alone.  No social condition fits these constraints better than the relationship between an illicit father and his de facto son, or at least none have been suggested.  Also indicative of this relationship is the fact the "boy" doesn't seem to mature, though many years pass. (126) This is always a factor in father/son relationships: the father is the last to acknowledge his son's maturity.  The Sonnets, along with the rest of the poetry said Shakespeare's, was excluded from the First Folio, which was published by Herbert (or rather backed by his name and money).  No one knows why, because Jonson's poetry was included in his Folio.  The most likely reason is that it is too closely associated Herbert with the poet.  Moreover the life of the poet was clearly at odds with the life of the actor, so the poems were orphaned, so not to raise any factual questions.  Not only do they link to the plays in obvious ways, such as allusions and quotes, they also link to the plays in mysterious and hidden ways, in particular in their reliance on the numerology of three.  This means that Marlowe, the poet's illicit father, was also the author of the plays later attributed to the actor, William Shakspere.  In my opinion, attribute to him by a still thriving Marlowe.


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