Would Bill have published his sonnets? Not according to this. Apparently he was just doodling. And probably fawning privately over some sweet young thing. And back in those days, you didn’t really want that to get out. Luckily, the Judith Regan of the Elizabethan era got his filthy hands on things and fucked poor Willie over in the most non-iambic way possible. To our cultural benefit.
As Heylin tells it, publishing was a murky, anarchic business during the Elizabethan age. It wasn’t hard for an enterprising publisher to get his hands on a manuscript without the author’s approval, and Heylin believes that Thomas Thorpe, the man who published the sonnets, did just that.
“[Thorpe] was a man who lived on the very periphery of the London publishing world … who was constantly in trouble with the Stationer’s Company for publishing books that flagrantly breached the copyright of other publishers,” says Heylin. “This is somebody who, if he got his hands on Shakespeare’s sonnets, must have done so in some underhanded, slightly questionable way.”
But why was Shakespeare so intent on keeping the sonnets private? That gets to some of the most controversial questions about the poems.
Most of the sonnets are addressed to a “fair youth” whose identity has been the source of endless academic debate. Heylin believes it was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.