Billy, Mistress Mary, And The Queen Of Hues: The Mystery Of W.H., Solved!

Billy, Mistress Mary, And The Queen Of Hues: The Mystery Of W.H., Solved!

By Larry Fyffe

Critics wonder, “Who the heck is William Holme?”:

“Scarlet Town in the month of May
Sweet William Holme on his death bed lay
Mistress Mary by the side of the bed
Kissin’ his face, heapin’ prayers on his head
So brave and true, so gentle is he
I’ll weep for him as he would weep for me”
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

But then these so-called ‘know-it-all’ critics miss that, in order to protect himself, Dylan changes the last name of “W.H”. when he refers to him in that song.

And, to compound their ineptitude, these very same critics dismiss out-of-hand, the songwriter’s claim that he’s hung around on the streets of America with a buddy, a writer of plays, by the name of ‘Billy’ Shakespeare:

“Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking with some French girl
Who says she knows me well”
(Dylan: Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)

There’s credible evidence that Dylan’s telling the truth: the sonnets of the same William Shakespeare back up Bobby’s story.

In ‘Portrait Of W.H.’, the investigative reporter Oscar Wilde uncovers loads of evidence that “Mr. W.H.”, to whom the sonnets are dedicated, is actually  William (Willie) Hughes; not William Herbert, the poet and patron of the arts, as it’s conjectured to be by many critics.

Turns out that ‘Willie’, as he is known to his friends, happens to be an effeminate and flamboyant stage actor who plays the parts of both male and female characters; rather embarrassed that he finds himself infatuated with the androgynous youth, with this ‘girlie boy’, Billy disguises the actor’s name in the sonnets by punning on the words ‘Will’ and ‘Hues’.

“A man in hue, all Hues, in his controlling
Which steal man’s eyes and women’s
souls amazeth”
(Shakespeare: Sonnet 20)

And somewhat more revealing:

“One will of mine, to make thy large will more
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill
Think all but one, and me in that one Will”
(Shakespeare: Sonnet 135)

And a close examination of song lyrics demonstrates that Dylan too resorts to puns when he talks about this ‘handsome young man’. Although the songwriter considers the actor to be “my friend”, he’s uncomfortable with “W.H.” hanging around the streets with Billy and himself. In one song, Bobby admits he’s against Willie being there:

“I was born here and I’ll die here against  my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’, but I’m standin’ still
Every nerve in my body is naked and numb”
(Not Dark Yet)

In another song, Dylan makes a cruel pun on ‘drag queens’ in reference to
the young actor:

“Yes, I wish for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you”
(Dylan: Positively Fourth Street)

Bobby gets his wish, and the whole messy truth is witnessed by another singer, Ricky Nelson:

“People came from miles around, everyone was there
Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air
And over in the corner, much to my surprise
Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes
Wearing his disguise”
(Ricky Nelson: Garden Party)

They all say  that it happened pretty quick……Dylan plugs in his electric guitar, and growls out, “It’s all over now, Baby Hue”.


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  1. Some Shakespearean scholars claim that William Holme be a publisher during Shakespeare’s day
    who died a bit before The Sonnets were put out by another.

  2. I’m demonstrating how the meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs can be misrepresented by interpretations thereof just like Oscar Wilde does with Shakespeare’s sonnets.

    Wille Hughes is supposed by Wilde to be a boy actor who plays women’s parts as women were not allowed on stage in Shakespeare’s day.

    If you’ve not read “Portrait Of WH”, by Wilde, you may not ‘get it”.

    Surely, you don’t take Cervantes literally, do you?

  3. Well, we can agree to disagree, with no need to put each other down;”Untold” is in part inspired by Dylan’s winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and it is not meant to be just a ‘silly comment’ forum like so many other sites.

    The songwriter can be interpreted at many different levels, and it’s the literary as well as the blues/folk song references that I happen to find interesting.

  4. All joking aside, Bob Dylan often inserts oblique references to early American history into his song lyrics

    William Holmes be a lieutenant under the command of Captain Miles (Myles) Standish who sailed to Plymouth Rock aboard The Mayflower.

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