The Upstart Crow Fact Check – Episode 4: Love Is Not Love

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A very affectionate look at the Upstart Crow episodes by @ChasquiPenguin.

Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles our aim is to give a little more background to those and the Upstart Crow storyline surrounding it, together with the facts, deliberate anachronisms, and the characters involved.

Series 1

Episode 4 – Love is Not Love


The title of this episode is from Sonnet 116, the first lines of which are:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:


This episode’s story revolves around Shakespeare’s sonnets and the two subjects to whom they were dedicated: The Fair Youth and The Dark Lady. As their actual identities are not known, there are a number of candidates but Lord Southampton and Emilia Lanier are considered to be strong possibilities. However, it is fairly certain that none was written to his wife Anne.


Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets to The Fair Youth and 28 to The Dark Lady but none has a title. For their publication in 1609 they were merely numbered, probably randomly, so there is no hint as to the chronology of their writing. However, academics believe Shakespeare wrote and revised them in the 1590s and the early 1600s. The first publication contains all 154 sonnets, followed by a longer poem entitled The Lover’s Complaint. There are 13 extant copies of the original edition and, interestingly, actor Edward Alleyn (who played lead roles in Marlowe’s plays among others) bought a copy for a shilling in June 1609.


The published book of sonnets was dedicated to “Mr. W. H.”. As these are the initials of Henry Wriothesley (Lord Southampton) who was a patron of writers, especially of Shakespeare, it is speculated that he was The Fair Youth, but not all scholars agree. There are various theories surrounding Shakespeare’s writing of these 126 sonnets, including the views that they were romantic, platonic, commissioned (rather than reflecting any personal interest by Shakespeare) and written in memory of his son Hamnet who died aged 11 in 1596.


There seem to be fewer theories regarding the identity of The Dark Lady but there is a belief that Shakespeare had an affair with Emilia Lanier (née Bassano), though there is no evidence. Equally, he is likely to have been acquainted with Lucy, also known as Black Luce, an African woman who worked in the taverns of South London and appears in many episodes of Upstart Crow.



The discussion which Will had with Kate and Bottom about the rhyming of love and prove is unlikely to have taken place in the 16th century as these words were almost certainly pronounced the same way then. However, here in the 21st century, ‘the jury is still out’ on the sound. There is a tendency to favour loove over pruv, but no certainty as no one today has ever heard Tudor English spoken. However, Will is not the only poet to have rhymed these two. Probably in the mid 1580s, before Shakespeare wrote his sonnets, Christopher Marlowe used the same rhyme with the opening lines of his poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:

Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove,


As with other roles the Upstart Crow Robert Greene holds, he was never Print Master, a role which almost certainly did not exist in the Elizabethan era, and would not have had the power to arrest Will. The trial Will underwent in this episode is presumably an invention by Ben, giving the storyline greater depth. Its conclusion that the sonnets are too boring and obscure to read, and thus to influence anyone, gives a hilarious twist. Whether Edward Alleyn ever nodded off while reading them is, unfortunately, not recorded; therefore we can neither prove nor disprove the tedium theory or even speculate on how it would have stood up in court in Shakespeare’s day.


Towards the start of the trial we learn that Bottom’s first name is Ned (the popular Tudor short form for Edward/Edwin). Although he is rarely addressed by his first name in Upstart Crow, it is obviously inspired by Shakespeare’s character Nick Bottom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.


As we see in Upstart Crow, the sonnets were mostly 14 lines long and written in iambic pentameter. However, there is no record of the one-and-a-half-line sonnet Will wrote for Anne – this must have been the equivalent of a private love letter, not available for publication!


Cover of the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, published in 1609



For more information on Lord Southampton and Emilia Lanier, in my Facts List on this website, please click on


In Episode 5 we discover Will’s inspirations for ‘the Scottish play’ Macbeth!


Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin


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