10 OCTOBER 1970, Page 19

Shakespeare and Dr Rowse

Sir: Dr Rowse's contention (26 September) that the young man of Shakespeare's sonnets was the Earl of Southampton is not quite so commonsense as he supposes. One awkward thing is that the name of the young man of the sonnets was William or, as Shakespeare called him. Will. This is evident from the punning sonnets. numbers 135 and 136. For Dr Rowse's theory to stand up. the Earl of Southampton's christian name ought to have been William. It seems rather unfortunate that his name was Henry.

. Furthermore. the Earl of South- ampton had a considerable social position. Yet Shakespeare makes it clear that his Will was just an ordinary person and Shakespeare contrasts his own position with that of 'great princes' favourites'.

Finally, the Earl of Southampton was Shakespeare's patron and it does not seem likely that Shakes- peare would have attacked him in the bitter terms with which he reproached the young man of the sonnets. Shakespeare likens his young friend to the canker in the rose and the festering lily. This is hardly respectful language appro- priate for addressing a wealthy and powerful patron.

The verdict of commonsense must surely be that the young man of the sonnets was a social equal of Shakespeare. called William and with the initials W.H. Whoever he was he cannot have been the Earl of Southampton.