The Portrait of Mr. W. H.


It is not known whether or not Wilde himself subscribed to the theory presented in the story. His lover Lord Alfred Douglas states that he did believe it.[3] Samuel Butler accepted some aspects of it, regarding the name 'Will Hughes' as a "plausible conjecture".[3]

Wilde's story may have been an influence on John Masefield, whose book Shakespeare and Spiritual Life (1924) suggests that the Fair Youth was an actor who was delicate and small enough to play parts such as the boy-servant Moth in Love's Labours Lost and the sprite Ariel in The Tempest. He believed that he may even have been a kind of symbol to Shakespeare for his own creative genius.[3]

In James Joyce's novel Ulysses a character called Mr. Best says that Wilde's theory is "the most brilliant" of all identifications.[4] André Gide also expressed approval, stating that the theory was "the only, not merely plausible, but possible, interpretation".[5]

In G.S. Viereck's novel My First Two Thousand Years, the protagonist, the Wandering Jew, watches a performance given by Willie Hughes, who is "positively enchanting as Juliet". He learns that Shakespeare had dedicated his sonnets to the boy-actor, but when he meets him he discovers that the boy is actually a girl in disguise. Shakespeare knew this, and the girl blushingly admits that this is why he called her "the master-mistress of my passion".[6]

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