WILLOBIE (or WILLOUGHBY), HENRY ds7S?-1596?), the supposed author of a poem called Willobie his Avisa, which derives interest from its possible connexion with Shakespeare's personal history. Henry Willoughby was the second son of a Wiltshire gentleman of the same name, and matriculated from St John's College, Oxford, in December 1591, at the age of sixteen. He is probably identical with the Henry Willoughby who graduated B.A. from Exeter College early in 1595, and he died before the 30th of June 1596, when to a new edition of the poem Hadrian Dorrell added an " Apologie " in defence of his friend the author " now of late gone to God," and another poem in praise of chastity written by Henry's brother, Thomas Willoughby. Willobie his Avisa was licensed for the press on the 3rd of September 1594, four months after the entry of Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece, and printed by John Windet. It is preceded by two commendatory poems, the second of which, signed " Contraria Contrariis; Vigilantius; Dormitanus," contains the earliest known printed allusion to Shakespeare by name:
" Yet Tarquyne pluckt his glistering grape, And Shake-speare paints poore Lucrece rape."
In the poem itself, Avisa, whose name is explained in Dorrell's "Epistle to the Reader" as Amans Uxor Inviolala Semper Amanda, takes up the parable alternately with her suitors, one of whom is introduced to the reader in a prose interlude signed by the author H. W., as Henrico Willobego Italo Hispalensis. This passage contains a reference which may fairly be applied to the sonnets of Shakespeare. It runs:
" H. W. being sodenly infected with the contagion of a fantastical! fit, at the first sight of A, ... bewrayeth the secresy of his disease unto his familiar frend W. S. who not long before had tryed the curtesy of the like passion, and was now newly recouered ... he determined to see whether it would sort to a happier end for this new actor, then it did for the old player."
Then follows a dialogue between H. W. and W. S., in which W. S.," the old player," a phrase susceptible of a double sense, gives somewhat commonplace advice to the disconsolate wooer. Dorrell alleges that he found the MS. of Willobie his Avisa among his friend's papers left in his charge when Willoughby departed from Oxford on her majesty's service. There is no trace of any Hadrian Dorrell, and the name is probably fictitious; there is, indeed, good reason to think that the pseudonym, if such it is, covers the personality of the real author of the work. Willobie his Avisa proved extremely popular, and passed through numerous editions, and Peter Colse produced in 1596 an imitation named Penelope's Complaint.
See Shakspere Allusion-Books, part i., ed. C. M. Ingleby (New Shakspere Society, 1874); A. B. Grosart's " Introduction" to his reprint of Willobie his Avisa (1880).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)