Rivalry and its influence on the relation between Shakespeare and his patron

Term Paper, 2005

22 Pages, Grade: 2.0


List of contents

1. Patronage in the 16th century

2. Shakespeare’s relationship to his patron

3. The rival poet in Shakespeare’s sonnets and the consequences for the relationship to the patron


1. Patronage in the 16th century

The 16th century was the great period of the system of patronage in art and literature and continued until the end of the 18th century. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare defines patronage as “the social convention by which authors […] would receive protection, support and subsidy from wealthy individuals, families, or institutions, in return for furthering their reputations…” (2001, 338)

During the time of the Renaissance the system of patronage was at its highest point. King Henry VII was the first king who employed an official King’s Poet. His son king Henry VIII cultivated this tradition. The aristocracy adopted this and appointed their own poets. In most cases it was a well-off nobleman the artists courted for. They aimed to find a responsible sponsor who could afford protection and livelihood. Artists wrote literature and dedicated their works to different well-known lords, noblemen and ladies in the hope of winning the support of at least one of them “either simply by associating them with their work” (The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare 2001, 338 ) in the hope of participating of their fame “or actively praising them in it”(ebd.) and showing their gratitude or even servility by writing about the glory and beauty of his patron. They hoped that their poesy would sell better if the name of a famous person was on the title page. Writers who want to publish works needed to find a patron. If the artist had failed to secure a patron, he would have had to live as a vagabond and he would have to fear poverty and even death. To avoid such a destiny, artists were prepared to do every kind of service. This could have meant to entertain the household and the guests of his patron. If the artist had been a brilliant at his art and a good entertainer, the prestige and status of his patron would have improved and risen.

Nevertheless, the system of patronage had its drawback. It was a system of dependence. The author Thomas Nashe even speaks of “prostituting my pen like a courtesan.” (Nashe 1596) This lead to a conflict between moral integrity and enforced servitude. Catherine Bates claims that “patronage necessarily put the poet’s autonomy into question.” (2000) The result was on the one hand that poets were only orientated on the wishes of the patron and adjusted their works to this. On the other hand, poets were able to write the full truth about the patron without him knowing it.

2. Shakespeare’s relationship to his patron

There have been many attempts to identify the Shakespeare's patron but scholars never came to an undisputable solution. They orientated on the written dedication in the 1609 quarto entitled Shakespeare’s sonnets published by Thomas Thorpe:






T. T.

The mysterious Mr. W.H. was in most studies identified as Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton or William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and son of the patron of the Pembroke’s Men. To both William Shakespeare dedicated a poem. Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were written to Southampton and The First Folio to Pembroke. By dedicating poems to noblemen Shakespeare wanted to attract the attention of them and promised “to take advantage of all idle hours tilll I have honoured you with some graver labour.” (Grazia, Wells 2001, 73) in order to get their financial support . Since it is not clear who has been Shakespeare’s patron, I will concentrate on the character described in the sonnets.

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Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton

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William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke

Sonnet 26 is a good example to describe the relationship between the speaker and his patron. The speaKer wants to show how brilliant his poetry is and how loyal he is at the same time. At the beginning of the sonnet the speaker show his submission to his patron. But in the course of the sonnet it occurs to me that the speaker seems to be afraid of being rejected by his patron. He completely obeys his patron in order not to be left.

26) Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage

Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,

To thee I send this written embassage,

To witness duty, not to show my wit:

Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine

May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,

But that I hope some good conceit of thine

In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it;

Till whatsoever star that guides my moving

Points on me graciously with fair aspect

And puts apparel on my tatter'd loving,

To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:

Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;

Till then not show my head where thou mayst prove me.


Excerpt out of 22 pages


Rivalry and its influence on the relation between Shakespeare and his patron
University of Potsdam
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Rivalry, Shakespeare
Quote paper
Sarah Piecha (Author), 2005, Rivalry and its influence on the relation between Shakespeare and his patron, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/72876


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