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The following is an imagined account from the life of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was William Shakespeare's friend and patron, and the only person to whom Shakespeare himself dedicated any of his works.


I don’t know how Will Shakespeare first became aware of me; maybe it was when he was acting at court even before he helped to found the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Anyhow, it came as quite a surprise when I had a letter from him asking if he might dedicate a poem to me. I got my secretary to reply a bit guardedly, but saying I’d be willing to read it, to see if I liked it. He sent me a manuscript, and as soon as I started to read I could see he had real talent – but it was also a bit cheeky, a really sexy poem about a beautiful young man – how could I fail to see myself in Adonis? – resisting the advances of the goddess of love – and all this just at the time when I was telling my guardian Lord Burleigh that I hadn’t the faintest intention of marrying the Earl of Oxford’s granddaughter, however large her dowry! Anyhow I quite fancied having a clever long poem written in English dedicated to me, so I told him he could go ahead, and he brought me the first printed copy along with a sonnet beginning with the words ‘Lord of my love’, and that really did it. He was ten years older than me, brimming with creative energy, witty and sexy. He completely bowled me over, and before long I was in thrall to him.

Of course it wasn’t easy for us to meet, because of the difference between our positions, on top of his being a married man, but he came down to Titchfield whenever he could and we had great times together. Then he wrote another long poem - a deadly serious one this time, about Lucretia – and I allowed him to dedicate that to me, too, which he did in rather passionate terms. Shortly afterwards, I knew he wanted to buy shares in the new theatre company, and, a bit later, a big house in Stratford, for his wife and family. So I gave him really a rather large amount of money. My mother was furious, of course, and so was Lord Burleigh. But it was my money, after all. After that Shakespeare became terribly busy once the theatres reopened after the plague had abated. I had to get married, and went to Ireland with Essex, but I found consolation there with one of his captains. When I got back, Rutland and I went to see Shakespeare’s plays as often as we could. Essex has just asked me to help him get Richard II put on for a special performance at the Globe, but he’s being a bit secretive about why. I hope all will be well, but when Essex is on the rampage like this, I fear the worst.

Cast: Paul Curran,

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