The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Background

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Background

The Portrait of Mr. H. W. is a work of prose written by Oscar Wilde, originally published in 1889 in the Blackwood's Magazine. The text is often referred to as a story, however, it also contains elements of literary criticism and biography. The plot is concerned with an effort of several men to reveal the identity of the dedicatee of Shakespeare's Sonnets, the mysterious Mr. H. W. The theory that Wilde's characters try to validate was the one of Thomas Thyrwit, who based on the assumption that the person the work is dedicated to is also the Fair Youth in the sonnets, claimed that the Mr. H. W. was actually Willie Hughes, a young male actor who often performed female roles in Shakespeare's plays.

It is not known whether Wilde himself believed in this conspiracy, but it is plausible to say that the questions of the actual validity of the theory plays a minor role for the reader. The more important aspect of The Portrait of Mr. H. W. is Wilde's illustration of how an analysis of a literary text, or of any other object for that matter, should not be carried out. On their mission to discover the truth about Shakespeare, the characters of the story go to great lengths to achieve a literary breakthrough by proving their tempting theory valid, but they are so blinded by what they want to believe to be true, that they completely disregard the facts which are not aligned with their hypothesis.

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