We learn from the Sonnets that Shakespeare caught some awful disease from the lovelie boy, and went to take the waters at Bath to try to cure it.
    Now Leslie Hotson likes to refer to scholarly research as detective work, and to compare himself to Sherlock Holmes. And what he goes on to do in Mr W H is a piece of detection that would have earned the great detective’s respect.
    First he notes one curious contradiction in the Sonnets. Shakespeare refers to W H as some kind of royalty, a prince or a king. When W H goes abroad he is carried under a canopy, an honour reserved for royals. Yet the Sonnets also make it clear that he is not true royalty – that is impossible, for otherwise how could Shakespeare refer to him as Mr W H?

    How can he be both royal and not royal? One answer occurs to Hotson as he considers a reference to Shakespeare in a poem by one John Davies, which comments that he has ‘played some kingly parts in sport’. Of course, Shakespeare has played many kings on the stage. Could W H be an actor, too? It seems not, for an actor plays a part only briefly, while it appears that W H was a ‘king in sport’ for a lengthy period.
    Then the answer dawns on Hotson. The Inns of Court had an amusing custom of appointing a kind of King for a Day – except that it was far more than a day. The king 'in sport' was known as the Winter Prince, and he ruled a charade called the Revels until the next one was chosen. Surely, W H must have been a Winter Prince of the Inns of Court?
    Then all Hotson had to do was look up who was the Winter Prince during the period Shakespeare wrote the Sonnets. And the answer was in contemporary documents. It was a young man, five years Shakespeare’s junior, called William Hatcliffe, also spelt with such Elizabethan variations as Hatliffe, Hatleffe and (since the 's' in Elizabethan script looks like an 'f', Hatlesse. William Hatliffe was the son of a wealthy and distinguished family from Lincolnshire, and he attended Cambridge University, then went to study law in London (as so many Elizabethan gentlemen did, for it was good training for running their estates).    Contemporary documents make it clear that he was immensely good-looking and talented, and also bisexual, and cut a swathe not only through the ladies, but through gentlemen who were thus inclined. The beautiful young man seemed to have inspired the kind of adoration that in our own time has fallen to the lot of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. And since he was bisexual, he could take full advantage of his fans of both sexes.
    Part of the Winter Prince’s job was to preside over plays written in his honour. So we can see how the young William Shakespeare might have come to be associated with him. 
    So who was the Dark Lady, who was seduced by Hatcliffe? Here Sherlock Hotson has more difficulty tracking his quarry. Once more, the few clues are to be found in the Sonnets. The Dark Lady is of bad reputation, a harlot, yet Shakespeare associates her name again and again with brightness and light. Could her name therefore be Lucy or Lucia? Hotson discovers among women associated with the festival of the Winter Prince three well-known bawds or brothel-keepers, of whom only one fits the bill, Lucy Negro, Abbess of Clerkenwell. An abbess hardly sounds like a bawd, but it is obvious that the title is a sardonic joke. Again, John Davies has a poem that says that ‘Luce did like a whore begin but ended like a bawd’ (ie, a madam). A little more research revealed that Lucy Negro, or Black Luce, was a lady called Luce Morgan. And Luce, the records revealed, had been at Court, and had been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth. The queen often showed her favour by giving Luce dresses.
    The Court was a dangerous place for pretty girls, even though the Queen kept a jealous eye on them. There were too many handsome men, whose natural impulse was to plunder virginity, even if it meant being banished from Court. Besides, most of the girls were on the lookout for a husband – even if he happened to have a wife already - and many traded their innocence for a promise of future marriage. Mary Fitton, one of the most popular candidates for the Dark Lady, would yield to the Earl of Pembroke and become pregnant by him, only to be abandoned when he decided not to leave his wife.
    Leslie Hotson admits he does not know why Luce fell out of favour and left Court. His nephew Donald Hotson, my fellow author, reached his own conclusion: Luce left Court to protect herself from a particularly persistent admirer, and was sent by the Queen into a nunnery. Shakespeare, who met her through Hatcliffe, was deeply attracted, but a poor player stood no chance of seducing such a beautiful and well-born lady. Besides, Luce had fallen instantly in love with the Winter Prince, and lost no time in yielding up her maidenhood. And Hatcliffe, who wanted to bed Shakespeare – a lifelong heterosexual – felt he now had a winning hand. If Shakespeare would consent to join himself and Luce in bed, Will could possess his Dark Lady and give pleasure to Hatcliffe at the same time.
    The result, as we can see from the Sonnets, is that Shakespeare found he was in love with the lovelie boy, although this does not seem to have led him to experiment with other boys.
    Giving herself to Hatcliffe was also the beginning of Luce’s downfall. And Shakespeare, who had daydreamed of acquiring a demure and ladylike mistress, was soon disconcerted to discover that he had bedded a nymphomaniac. Luce obviously wondered why she had not tried sex earlier. Hatcliffe and Shakespeare were the first of many lovers. Even at the time of the Sonnets, Shakespeare refers to her bitterly as ‘the bay where all men ride’.
    Luce, like Shakespeare, picked up the pox from Hatcliffe. But her resistance seems to have been higher than Shakespeare’s, and her dose was relatively mild. He was to discover – halfway through the Sonnets – what he had contracted, and was understandably distraught as his face and genitals became covered with pustules.
    It should be noted that, like most Shakespeare scholars since Dr Johnson, Leslie Hotson could not bring himself to believe that Shakespeare’s masochistic adoration of the lovelie boy was anything but platonic. No scholar could accept that the Bard would engage in such filthy activities.
    Leslie Hotson was not yet finished with the story of Shakespeare and Mr W H. Noting that Shakespeare speaks of gazing on the portrait of his beloved, and that he calls the artist ‘this time’s pencil’, implying that he is one of the great artists of the period, Hotson argues that this could fit only one man, Nicholas Hilliard, the most distinguished miniaturist of the Elizabethan age. What, he wonders, happened to the portrait? He suggests that the answer is a famous portrait of an unidentified youth leaning against a tree among roses, painted at just the right time, about 1588. It is regarded as ‘one of the prime masterpieces of English painting’. And the guide to the Victoria and Albert Museum even suggests that it is an illustration to a sonnet sequence. 
    And having identified W H and the Dark Lady, Hotson then turned once more to the portrait, in a book called Shakespeare by Hilliard, and sub-titled A Portrait Deciphered (1977), written when he was 80. 
    He begins by discussing another portrait by Hilliard, to be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, of a bearded man with auburn hair, reaching up with his right hand to take a hand being extended from the clouds. Anyone who has read a Shakespeare biography will agree it looks very like the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. It also contains the obscure Latin motto ‘Attici amoris ergo’, which means roughly ‘Attic [Greeks] for love’. 
    What does it all mean? Why is the man reaching up? Whose hand is he taking?
    The problem, Leslie Hotson explains, is that we must set out to see things through Elizabethan eyes, otherwise we are likely to make absurd mistakes. For example, when Shakespeare writes: ‘Warwick was a bug that fear’d us all’, he does not mean that Warwick was a louse who was frightened of everybody, but that Warwick was a bugbear who scared us all. And when we look at a picture like that of the man clasping a hand from the clouds, and a motto that implies he was in love with a Greek, we have to know that the Elizabethans loved an art called the impresa – meaning impression or device – which came from Italy and was a kind of puzzle in which words and picture were combined to suggest a hidden meaning, rather as in heraldry. The meaning has to be decoded. And in the Elizabethan age, most cultured people were proud of their skill at decoding impresa.
    This is what Hotson proceeds to do in the remainder of this book. He begins by looking at a number of other ‘devices’ used on contemporary title pages, pointing out that a caduceus – a rod with two snakes entwined round it – make it look as if we are dealing with the god Mercury. But the Latin phrases ‘Nosce te ipsum’ (‘Know thyself’) and ‘Ne quid nimis’ (‘Nothing in excess’) are associated with Apollo, the sun god. 
    So the hand reaching down from the clouds is the royal hand of young Phoebus Apollo. The bearded man has his fingers pressed to his palm, which is consecrated to Apollo.
    But why is Apollo blessing the bearded man? Hotson’s detective work leads him to conclude that the hand reaching from the clouds is that of the unknown youth in the Hilliard portrait of 1588, and whom we know to be William Hatcliffe. Equally close analysis leads Hotson to conclude that the man himself is Shakespeare, and he goes on to demonstrate that the impresa identifies him with Mercury, the god of writing and inspiration. In 210 pages, this immensely erudite book establishes beyond doubt that the Hilliard portraits are of Shakespeare and William Hatcliffe.
    Hotson was fascinated to discover that there was a second version of the Shakespeare miniature, known as the Howard portrait. He tracked it down and succeeded in buying it – at a price beyond his means – and took it back with him to Canada. 
   

Will Shakespeare's Hand

A book outline by Colin Wilson and Donald Leslie Hotson. The book has yet to be published.

I am not a Shakespeare scholar – only a writer with a penchant for literary detection. But my fellow author Donald Hotson is not only a scholar, but the nephew of one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars of the 20th century – the late Leslie Hotson. And the story we have to tell is certainly the most fascinating piece of literary detection I have ever been engaged in. 
    The basic story is easily summarised: 
    It has now been proved that Shakespeare contracted the pox as a result of a triangular love affair involving ‘Mr W H’, the person to whom he dedicated the Sonnets, and the ‘Dark Lady’, who is the subject of so many of the Sonnets. At the time, Shakespeare was 23, and was already a highly successful actor and playwright.
    As a result of the pox (a mixture of syphilis, gonorrhea, chancres and other sexual diseases), Shakespeare lost his hair, gained weight, and had to go to Bath for the cure. Naturally, his career as an actor appeared to be finished, for in the Elizabethan theatre, many privileged customers paid to sit on the stage, where his pox scars would be highly visible under the most skilfully-applied makeup. The only role left to him was to write plays, which paid very poorly in comparison with acting.
    Then Shakespeare had an idea. He decided to write himself a brief role as a mis-shapen monster in one of the plays. It was a great success. He did it in a second play, and was even more successful. This encouraged him to write himself a whole play in which he would play the mis-shapen monster – Richard III. And it was such an overwhelming success that it reinvigorated Shakespeare’s career as an actor. From then on, he played fat comic parts like Falstaff and Bottom the Weaver.
    After that, he was both actor and playwright – the most successful in London. But his appalling experience had destroyed the sunny optimism of his early work, and had laid the foundation for his career as a great tragic poet. In due course, he became a wealthy man, and bought himself a country house in Stratford and one in London. He became a business partner of the ‘Dark Lady’, who had once been Queen Elizabeth’s favourite maid of honour, but was now a brothel-keeper. And in due course, his health failing, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, where he died at the age of 52 after a drunken session with his friend and rival Ben Jonson.
    That, in summary, is the story. And why is it only now possible to prove it beyond doubt? That tale is equally fascinating.
    The late John Leslie Hotson was one of the great Shakespeare scholars of the 20th century – some would say the greatest. He was a Canadian, born in 1897, who became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge in 1954. 
    At the age of 28, he launched his career as a scholar in a spectacular manner with The Death of Christopher Marlowe. The latter, Shakespeare’s main rival as a playwright (and his rival in love with Mr W H), died mysteriously in a pub brawl at Deptford in 1593, but the exact circumstances of his death were unknown until Hotson tracked them down in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane in 1925. Hotson’s discovery of Shelley’s lost letters to his first wife Harriet came in 1929. His first book on Shakespeare, Shakespeare versus Shallow, which appeared in 1931, was again a remarkably original piece of research, in which Hotson uncovered a law case in which Shakespeare sued a judge called Sir William Gardiner, a man so incredibly corrupt that he challenges comparison with modern Mafia bosses. 
    But one of Hotson’s most important books is Shakespeare’s Sonnets Dated (1949) in which he establishes that Shakespeare’s Sonnets were written about ten years earlier than the date scholars have always assigned. He did this by looking at references to contemporary events in the Sonnets, such as the puzzling reference to a ‘pyramid’ in sonnet 123. Hotson established that in Shakespeare’s day, obelisks were referred to as pyramids, and went on to point out that one of the most celebrated events of the years 1585 to 1589 was the erection by Pope Sixtus V of five Egyptian obelisks in front of the Vatican. The latest edition of the Sonnets in the Arden Shakespeare series, edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones, dismisses this theory:
    ‘Though impressively documented, Hotson’s theory has commanded little support. It would require us to believe not only in a Shakespeare who took an active interest in cultural events in Rome, but also in one who had mastered the art of writing densely allusive and complex sonnets at the very beginning of his literary career’. In spite of which, history has proved Hotson correct, as we shall see.
    His next major work, as far as we are concerned, is called simply Mr W H, and appeared in 1964. This sets out to solve one of the most famous mysteries in the history of literature: the identity of the man to whom Shakespeare dedicated the Sonnets, and of Shakespeare’s ‘mistress’, always referred to as the ‘Dark Lady’. 
    The mystery dates from 1609, when Shakespeare’s sonnets were published in London. The famous dedication, signed by the publisher Thomas Thorpe, runs:


TO.THE.ONLIE.BEGETTER.OF.
THESE.INSVING.SONNETS.
M'.W.H. ALL.HAPPINESSE. 
AND.THAT.ETERNITIE.
PROMISED.
BY
.
OVR.EVER-LIVING.POET. 
WISHETH.

THE.WELL-WISH1NG. 
ADVENTVRER.IN. 
SETTING. 
FORTH.

T.T.T.


    It reads oddly, as if a ‘who’ has been omitted before ‘wisheth’. It also looks odd on the page - in effect, a kind of treble triangle. But we can also see that if ‘who’ was added before ‘wisheth’ it would have spoiled the second triangle.
    So we have a strong hint of a love triangle, which is exactly what we find in the Sonnets. And anyone who then reads the Sonnets straight through, like a novel, will also find a story. The poet is in love with Mr W H, who is also referred to as ‘the lovelie boy’. They have had a passionate affair – which seems odd, because Shakespeare comes over in his plays and other poems as heterosexual. (The well-known English Shakespeare scholar A L Rowse, who was homosexual, once assured me (CW) that Shakespeare was undoubtedly heterosexual because his plays are so full of bawdy jokes, and homosexuals in general tend to be prudish).
    The Sonnets go on to speak of Shakespeare’s dark mistress, but their tone is definitely ambivalent. Although enslaved sexually, the poet obviously doesn’t like her much. And the tone becomes even less flattering when it becomes clear that the dark lady has also seduced the lovelie boy, to Shakespeare’s misery and despair. Yet the poet seems to take a masochistic delight in his own misfortune. One feels he enjoyed being trampled on.
   

And at this point, Leslie Hotson’s nephew Donald enters the story. I shall refer to him, as everybody does, as Don.
    Don, who was an ardent admirer of his brilliant uncle, was himself something of a scholar, specialising in literary conundrums - he had written on Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, and Balzac’s Seraphita and Louis Lambert. He was fascinated by Mr W H and Shakespeare on Hilliard. But as he studied the latter, and looked at the Hilliard miniature owned by his uncle, he noticed something that his uncle had also noticed but chosen to ignore. Hotson had remarked that in the Howard portrait the eyes are ‘a little faded’. But when Don looked at the original, and compared it with the Victoria and Albert miniature, he saw instantly that it is far more than that. In the V & A version, Shakespeare looks wide awake and alert. In the Howard version, he looks as if he is suffering from a bad hangover, with eyes half-closed. In the V & A version he has bright flowers in his hatband. In the Howard version there are no flowers, and even his jerkin – which looks new in the V & A version – looks faded and a little grubby.
    So Don read carefully through the Sonnets, and realised that they are telling a story. In the first dozen or so, the poet is happy to be in love with the lovely youth, his only concern being to urge him to father a son (Shakespeare must have been introduced to Hatcliffe’s mother during the revels, and been charged with the task of persuading the pleasure-loving young man to marry and settle down). Within a few more sonnets, the shadow of sorrow seems to indicate that the youth is already pursuing other loves, but the masochistic Shakespeare seems to accept this resignedly. By 27, he is admitting that he cannot sleep because of some secret grief, and in the next, he ‘beweeps his outcast state’ and curses his fate. Clearly he has been abandoned. 
    By 33, more serious problems are on the horizon. ‘Base clouds’ soon spoil the morning sunlight, and he admits that the sun-like youth was ‘but one hour mine’. But it can’t be helped. ‘Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth’ – that is to say, exposure to the sun can produce a painful sunburn, and exposure to the young man can hurt just as much – not just emotionally, but physically. In 34, the young man has apparently relented enough to apologise, ‘to dry the rain on my storm-beaten face’, but that is not much comfort. ‘For no man well of such a salve can speak/ That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace’. By 37, he mentions that the disease has made him lame. By 42, it is clear that the faithless lover has not merely deserted him, but has gone to live with the Dark Lady. ‘That thou hast her, it is not all my grief…’
    By 78, it seems that ‘alien pens’ are now writing about the bored young man, and by 86, another poet is writing in the ‘proud full sail of his great verse' about the faithless lover. This is almost certainly Christopher Marlowe, at that time more famous than Shakespeare and of higher social standing.
    No-one who reads the Sonnets can have the slightest doubt that Shakespeare and Mr W H were lovers in the physical sense. Hatcliffe was obviously a thoroughly spoilt brat, and wanted what he could not have. The Sonnets make it clear that he wooed Shakespeare with all the arts of a yielding woman, and that the poet found this strangely pleasant. Being required to make love to a young man (Hatcliffe was clearly the passive partner) was not all that disagreeable when Luce was thrown in as a bonus. And to his astonishment, Shakespeare found he was soon enjoying it. The situation struck him as delightful. In effect, he had two mistresses: the beautiful maid of honour and the aristocratic and charming young man.
    But Hatcliffe, having got what he wanted, was soon bored with it. Fidelity was not in his nature. And as the lovestruck poet began to show signs of a heavy dose of pox, his lover moved on to pastures new, which included Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s chief rival.

    Don lost no time is passing on his suspicions to his uncle Leslie. And Hotson was horrified and disgusted. It is impossible not to suspect that he knew in his heart that his nephew must be correct, in which case it was his own duty to announce to the learned world that Shakespeare was a pederast. It would ruin his life’s work, for everyone would remember him as the man who proved that England’s greatest poet was a sodomite. 
    There must also have been an element of jealousy. He was the Shakespeare scholar, the man who had devoted fifty years to original research, and here was his nephew, a mere ‘intellectual’ with no academic qualifications, basing his new theory – which was sure to create a storm – on his uncle’s life’s work. It wasn’t fair. Of course, if Don had been a different kind of person – a suave, cultured product of Harvard – it might well have been different. But Don shared with Hotson a quality that made his uncle a great scholar – obsessivenss. And two obsessives in a family is one too many. 
    So Hotson not only told his nephew he was talking nonsense - he also broke with him and disinherited him. When Hotson died, Don did not even receive a mention in his will.
    In spite of this shattering setback, Don pressed on with his Shakespeare studies. He read dozens of books on the Elizabethan age, and every modern book on Shakespeare. It continued to stagger him that no other scholar had seen the truth. It also amazed him that his uncle had refused to see it, for the more he studied it, the more it became clear to him that Hotson had looked squarely at the evidence, and still refused to see it. For example, he quotes a line from one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Thomas Lodge – one of the ‘University wits’ who looked down on Shakespeare as plebeian – who describes meeting a playwright he calls Diffilus (obviously Shakespeare) and remarks: ‘For I knew well he had the poxe of Luce’. So his uncle acknowledged Shakespeare had picked up a bad dose of pox, which implied he probably died of it, yet had ignored the fact, made so plain in the Sonnets, that Shakespeare had contracted it from Hatcliffe, not Luce.
    Now Don wanted to know what had happened to Shakespeare. He knew what had happened to Luce and Hatcliffe, for his uncle had uncovered the documents. Luce was arrested for keeping a brothel in 1600 (by which time Shakespeare was rich and famous) and imprisoned in Bridewell, and that she was soon back in her bawdy house, and died at about the age of 48, sometime before the Sonnets were published in 1609. Hatcliffe finally married, at the age of 27, in 1596, and received two manor houses from his father, and inherited more property on his father’s death. But he was a gambler and spendthrift, and when he died in 1633, at the age of 63, he was more or less broke.
    As to the unhappy Shakespeare, Don’s researches revealed that he went back to Luce, but decided that if she was a nymphomaniac, she could at least make money out of it; and soon she was running a bawdy house in Clerkenwell, and Shakespeare had added ‘whoremaster’ to his list of professional accomplishments. 
    But the disaster turned out to be a blessing. Shakespeare had been writing plays since he was 20, in 1584 – the year before he met Hatcliffe – but they were not masterpieces – mostly collaborations and prentice works like Titus Andronicus and Much Ado About Nothing. Now playwriting would be his only salvation, and in 1589, the year he finished the Sonnets, he wrote his first play, Henry VI, Part 1. The verse has a thunder reminiscent of Marlowe; it opens with the magnificent lines:


Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets importing change of times and states
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky.


    It was a great success – but made him little money. If Shakespeare was to avoid avoid penury, he had to get back into the acting business. 
    At which point he had the most brilliant idea of his life. Richard of Gloucester – later Richard III - whose brother Edward toppled the gentle (and half-mad) Henry VI from his throne, was widely believed to be an evil monster, who had his own nephews murdered in the Tower of London (in fact, history has largely absolved him). Shakespeare decided to turn Richard into the archetypal villain and play the part himself. So in the Battle of St Albans – the opening battle of the Wars of the Roses - Richard has a small part in which he kills the king’s supporter the Duke of Somerset, then snarls a brief speech that ends:


Sword, hold thy temper; heart, be wrathful still:
Priests pray for enemies, but princes kill.


    The real Richard was only three at the time, but Shakespeare never let the facts spoil a good story. And his instinct was correct; his villain was a great success with audiences. 
    There was even more opportunity for villainy in the third of the plays, since Richard’s elder brother becomes King Edward IV, and Richard can now begin brooding on how to replace him. He begins by murdering Henry VI, who is in the Tower, then tells the audience in an aside that he intended to betray his brother. The play was a triumph, and so was Shakespeare’s acting of the villain.
    The next play, of course, was Richard III, in which Richard organises the murder of his brother the Duke of Clarence – by stabbing, then drowning him in a butt of Malmsey. Then, after King Edward dies of natural causes, Richard plots his way to the throne by having the natural heir declared a bastard, after which he has the young princes imprisoned in the Tower and murdered.
    The play made Shakespeare the most popular actor-playwright in London. He had overcome disaster and made it the basis of future greatness.
    Now my Shakespeare dictionary states that Burbage, the company's leading actor, was famous as Richard III. Don argues thus: the part of Gloucester (the young Richard III) was tailored by Shakespeare for himself, and since Burbage would be King Henry VI, that would be natural. But in Richard III, Henry VI also reappears – as a ghost, leaving the role of Richard for Shakespeare. It is true that Burbage was a famous Richard – but after Shakespeare's retirement.
    For Shakespeare, the rest of the 1590s were a series of triumphs – The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V and Julius Caesar. The century ended in triumph when Shakespeare was commissioned to write a special play for the arrival of the Italian ambassador, to be performed at Court in front of the Queen, and responded with his most popular comedy, Twelfth Night. In the following year came Hamlet, the first of the great tragedies that would include Othello, Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra.
    But Shakespeare’s health was failing; his great period was over by 1608, and Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale all show a falling off in quality. In 1609, at the age of 45, he decided to return to Stratford, where he was able to retire to a fine house, and became a moneylender. In 1611 he had to endure his greatest humiliation when his former company, the King’s Men, performed The Alchemist by Ben Jonson, his envious major rival, in which Shakespeare’s ‘alchemical wedding’ with Hatcliffe and Luce was held up to ridicule. In that year, he also wrote his last great play The Tempest.
   But in the year of his retirement to Stratford, 1609, he also had the satisfaction of seeing his Sonnets published at last. Why had he left it so long? Because publication of the Sonnets could have had dangerous consequences. Homosexual acts were punishable by death. So Shakespeare made certain he was far from London when they came out. 
    How do we know this was his motive? First, because there is evidence that the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, was a homosexual. He published other homosexual material, and his nickname was Odd Tom, ‘odd’ meaning then what we used to mean by ‘queer’. 
    Even more convincing is the evidence that the Sonnets were suppressed. Most publications of the time were intended to be sold through only one outlet, so had on the title page some such inscription as ‘To be sold by Simon Higgins at 2 St Paul’s Churchyard’. There is evidence that Thorpe launched the Sonnets through several outlets simultaneously. Even so, the fact that only thirteen copies survive indicates that its career was brief.
    The Sonnets were not published again until 1640, 24 years after Shakespeare’s death. Its publisher, John Benson, made huge changes, removing the ‘tri-part’ dedication to Mr W. H, and altering the male pronoun to female in many places. He even linked some of the sonnets together into longer poems, giving them invented titles. Further evidence that the Sonnets were regarded as a giveaway of a homosexual relation is hardly necessary.
    And so Shakespeare lived on in Stratford, occasionally engaging in lawsuits (another reason why his contemporaries took care not to hint too openly about homosexuality), and died after the famous drinking bout in 1616. The first collected edition of his plays appeared in 1624. And the transformation of Shakespeare into the god of English literature was soon under way. What Shaw called Bardolatry was well-established by the 18th century, and shows no sign of flagging today.
    Why was Leslie Hotson’s proof of the identity of Mr W H, the Dark Lady and Shakespeare’s syphilis ignored, when he had established them beyond all possible doubt? Because Shakespeare scholars in general feel as Leslie Hotson felt about the possibility of Shakespeare's homoeroticism and reject it out of hand. 
    When this book is published, it should be impossible for the most hidebound literary department in the world to ignore its findings.

* The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare, above, and the Hilliard portrait 'decoded' by the Shakespeare scholar John Leslie Hotson.

* The Nicholas Hilliard portrait of an unknown man, said by John Leslie Hotson to to be William Hatcliffe, the 'Mr W H' to whom Shakespeare's Sonnets were dedicated when published in 1609.

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