In the absence of definitive proof to the contrary

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In the absence of definitive proof to the contrary, Shakespeare must be viewed as the author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets that bear his name. The legacy of this body of work is immense. A number of Shakespeare's plays seem to have transcended even the category of brilliance, becoming so influential as to affect profoundly the course of Western literature and culture ever after. The Sonnets Shakespeare's sonnets are very different from Shakespeare's plays, but they do contain dramatic elements and an overall sense of story. Each of the poems deals with a highly personal theme, and each can be taken on its own or in relation to the poems around it. The sonnets have the feel of autobiographical poems, but we don't know whether they deal with real events or not, because no one knows enough about Shakespeare's life to say whether or not they deal with real events and feelings, so we tend to refer to the voice of the sonnets as "the speaker"--as though he were a dramatic creation like Hamlet or King Lear. There are certainly a number of intriguing continuities throughout the poems. The first 126 of the sonnets seem to be addressed to an unnamed young nobleman, whom the speaker loves very much; the rest of the poems (except for the last two, which seem generally unconnected to the rest of the sequence) seem to be addressed to a mysterious woman, whom the speaker loves, hates, and lusts for simultaneously. The two addressees of the sonnets are usually referred to as the "young man" and the "dark lady"; in summaries of individual poems, I have also called the young man the "beloved" and the dark lady the "lover," especially in cases where their identity can only be surmised. Within the two mini-sequences, there are a number of other discernible elements of "plot": the speaker urges the young man to have children; he is forced to endure a separation from him; he competes with a rival poet for the young man's patronage and affection. At two points in the sequence, it seems that the young man and the dark lady are actually lovers themselves--a state 6
of affairs with which the speaker is none too happy. But while these continuities give the poems a narrative flow and a helpful frame of reference, they have been frustratingly hard for scholars and biographers to pin down. In Shakespeare's life, who were the young man and the dark lady? Historical Mysteries Of all the questions surrounding Shakespeare's life, the sonnets are perhaps the most intruiguing. At the time of their publication in 1609 (after having been written most likely in the 1590s and shown only to a small circle of literary admirers), they were dedicated to a "Mr. W.H," who is described as the "onlie begetter" of the poems. Like those of the young man and the dark lady, the identity of this Mr. W.H. remains an alluring mystery. Because he is described as "begetting" the sonnets, and because the young man seems to be the speaker's financial patron, some people have speculated that the young man is Mr. W.H. If his initials were reversed, he might even be Henry

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