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Shakespeare's Sonnets
Author "William Shakespeare
Country "England
Language "Early Modern English
Genre "Renaissance poetry
Publisher "Thomas Thorpe
Publication date

Shakespeare's sonnets is the title of a collection of 154 "sonnets by "William Shakespeare, which covers themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man; the last 28 to a woman.

The sonnets were first published in a 1609 "quarto with the full stylised title: SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Never before Imprinted. (although sonnets "138 and "144 had previously been published in the 1599 "miscellany "The Passionate Pilgrim). The quarto ends with ""A Lover's Complaint", a narrative poem of 47 seven-line stanzas written in "rhyme royal. There has been "critical debate regarding its authorship.

The sonnets to the young man express overwhelming, obsessional love.[1] The main issue of debate has always been whether it remained platonic or became physical.[2] The first 17 poems, traditionally called the "procreation sonnets, are addressed to the young man urging him to marry and have children in order to immortalize his beauty by passing it to the next generation.[3] Other sonnets express the speaker's love for the young man; brood upon loneliness, death, and the transience of life; seem to criticise the young man for preferring a rival poet; express ambiguous feelings for the speaker's "mistress; and pun on the poet's name. The final two sonnets are "allegorical treatments of Greek "epigrams referring to the "little love-god" "Cupid.

The publisher, "Thomas Thorpe, entered the book in the "Stationers' Register on 20 May 1609:

Tho. Thorpe. Entred for his copie under the handes of master Wilson and master Lownes Wardenes a booke called Shakespeares sonnettes vjd.

Whether Thorpe used an authorised manuscript from Shakespeare or an unauthorised copy is unknown. "George Eld printed the quarto, and the run was divided between the booksellers "William Aspley and "John Wright.



Dedication page from The Sonnets

The Sonnets include a dedication to one "Mr. W.H.". The identity of this person remains a mystery and, since the 19th century, has provoked a great deal of speculation.

The dedication reads:

Its oblique nature has led Colin Burrow to describe it as a "dank pit in which speculation wallows and founders".[4] "Don Foster concludes that the result of all the speculation has yielded only two "facts", which themselves have been the object of much debate: First, that the form of address (Mr.) suggests that W.H. was an untitled gentleman, and second, that W.H., whoever he was, is identified as "the only begetter" of Shakespeare's Sonnets (whatever the word "begetter" is taken to mean).[5]

The initials "T.T." are taken to refer to the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, though Thorpe usually signed prefatory matter only if the author was out of the country or dead.[6] Foster points out, however, that Thorpe's entire corpus of such consists of only four dedications and three stationer's prefaces.[7] That Thorpe signed the dedication rather than the author is often read as evidence that he published the work without obtaining Shakespeare's permission.[8]

The capital letters and periods following each word were probably intended to resemble an "ancient Roman "lapidary inscription or "monumental brass, thereby accentuating Shakespeare's declaration in Sonnet 55 that the work will confer immortality to the subjects of the work:[9]

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this pow'rful rhyme,

126 of Shakespeare's sonnets are addressed to a young man, often called the "Fair Youth." Some theories concerning the identity of Mr. W.H. take him to be that youth, while others assert him to be a separate person.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of contenders:


Sonnet 30 as a "wall poem in Leiden

The sonnets are almost all constructed from three "quatrains, which are four-line "stanzas, and a final "couplet composed in "iambic pentameter.[21] This is also the "meter used extensively in Shakespeare's plays.

The "rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. Sonnets using this scheme are known as Shakespearean sonnets. Often, either the beginning of the third quatrain or of the last couplet mark the volta ("turn"), or the line in which the mood of the poem shifts, and the poet expresses a revelation or epiphany.[22]

There are a few exceptions: Sonnets "99, "126, and "145. Number 99 has fifteen lines. Number 126 consists of six couplets, and two blank lines marked with italic brackets; 145 is in "iambic tetrameters, not pentameters. In one other variation on the standard structure, found for example in "sonnet 29, the rhyme scheme is changed by repeating the second (b) rhyme of quatrain one as the second (f) rhyme of quatrain three.


When analysed as characters, the subjects of the sonnets are usually referred to as the Fair Youth, the Rival Poet, and the Dark Lady. The speaker expresses admiration for the Fair Youth's beauty, and—if reading the sonnets in chronological order as published—later has an affair with the Dark Lady. Current linguistic analysis and historical evidence suggests, however, that the sonnets to the Dark Lady were composed first (around 1591-95), the procreation sonnets next, and the later sonnets to the Fair Youth last (1597-1603). It is not known whether the poems and their characters are fiction or autobiographical; scholars who find the sonnets to be autobiographical, notably "A. L. Rowse, have attempted to identify the characters with historical individuals.[23]

Fair Youth[edit]

"Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton at 21. Shakespeare's patron, and one candidate for the Fair Youth of the sonnets.

The "Fair Youth" is the unnamed young man to whom sonnets "1–"126 are addressed.[24] Some commentators, noting the romantic and loving language used in this sequence of sonnets, have suggested a sexual relationship between them; others have read the relationship as "platonic love.["citation needed]

The earliest poems in the sequence recommend the benefits of marriage and children. With the famous "Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day") the tone changes dramatically towards romantic intimacy. "Sonnet 20 explicitly laments that the young man is not a woman.["citation needed] Most of the subsequent sonnets describe the ups and downs of the relationship, culminating with an affair between the poet and the Dark Lady. The relationship seems to end when the Fair Youth succumbs to the Lady's charms ("Sonnet 144).

There have been many attempts to identify the young man. Shakespeare's language often seems to imply that the subject is of higher social status than himself.["citation needed] Shakespeare's one-time patron, "Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and his later patron, "William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, are frequently suggested.[25] Both claims begin with the dedication of the sonnets to "Mr. W.H.", "the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets"; the initials could apply to either earl, though in one case their order would have been reversed.

In his short story ""The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," Oscar Wilde proposed that some lines of the sonnets represent a series of puns suggesting that the sonnets are written to a boy actor called "William Hughes; however, in his story Wilde acknowledges that there is no evidence for such a person's existence. "Samuel Butler believed that the friend was a seaman. Joseph Pequigney argued in his book Such Is My Love that the Fair Youth was an unknown commoner.

The Dark Lady[edit]

The Dark Lady sequence (sonnets 127–154) distinguishes itself from the Fair Youth sequence by being overtly sexual in its passion. Among these, "Sonnet 151 has been characterised as "bawdy" and is used to illustrate the difference between the spiritual love for the Fair Youth and the sexual love for the Dark Lady.[26] The distinction is commonly made in the introduction to modern editions of the sonnets.[26] The Dark Lady is so called because the poems make it clear that she has black hair and dun coloured skin. As with the Fair Youth, there have been many attempts to identify her with a real historical individual. Lucy Negro,[27][28] "Mary Fitton, "Emilia Lanier, "Elizabeth Wriothesley, and others have been suggested.

The Rival Poet[edit]

The Rival Poet's identity remains a mystery; among the varied candidates are "Christopher Marlowe, "George Chapman, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex,[29] or an amalgamation of several contemporaries.[30] However, there is no hard evidence that the character had a real-life counterpart. The speaker sees the Rival as competition for fame, coin and patronage. The sonnets most commonly identified as the Rival Poet group exist within the Fair Youth sequence in sonnets "78–"86.[30]


One interpretation is that Shakespeare's sonnets are a "pastiche or "parody of the 300-year-old tradition of "Petrarchan love sonnets; Shakespeare consciously inverts conventional gender roles as delineated in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex depiction of human love.[31] He plays with gender roles ("20), comments on political events ("124), makes fun of love ("128), speaks openly about sexual desire ("129), parodies beauty ("130) and even references pornography ("151). In a dozen of the sonnets to the youth, Shakespeare also refers to his "disgrace":[32] "My name be buried where my body is / And live no more to shame nor me nor you." ("72)


Shakespeare's Sonnets can be seen as a prototype, or even the beginning, of a new kind of "modern" love poetry. During the eighteenth century, The Sonnets' reputation in England was relatively low; as late as 1805, "The Critical Review could still credit "John Milton with the perfection of the English sonnet. As part of the renewed interest in Shakespeare's original work that accompanied "Romanticism, The Sonnets rose steadily in reputation during the nineteenth century.[33]

The Sonnets have great cross-cultural importance and influence. They have been translated into every major written language, including German, French, Italian,[34] Japanese,[35] Turkish,[36] Spanish, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Esperanto, Albanian, Arabic, Hebrew, [37] Welsh and Yiddish.


Like all Shakespeare's works, The Sonnets have been reprinted many times. Prominent editions include:

First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sobran, Joseph Shakespeare's Disgrace, Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Spring 1997
  2. ^ Ogburn, Charlton The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & The Reality, EPM Publications, 1992, p342
  3. ^ "Stanley Wells and Michael Dobson, eds., The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare "Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 439.
  4. ^ Burrow, Colin, William Shakespeare: Complete Sonnets and Poems, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 98.
  5. ^ Foster, Donald. "Master W.H., R.I.P." PMLA 102 (1987) 42–54, 42.
  6. ^ Burrow, Colin (2002). Complete Sonnets and Poems. Oxford University Press. p. 99. "ISBN "0-19-818431-X. 
  7. ^ Foster 1984, 43.
  8. ^ Vickers, Brian (2007). Shakespeare, A lover's complaint, and John Davies of Hereford. Cambridge University Press. p. 8. "ISBN "0-521-85912-3. 
  9. ^ Burrow 2002, 380.
  10. ^ a b c Schoenbaum, S. (1977). William Shakespeare: a compact documentary life (1st ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 270–271. "ISBN "0-19-502211-4. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Foster, 1987.
  12. ^ Bate, Jonathan. The Genius of Shakespeare (1998) 61–62.
  13. ^ Vickers, 2007,8
  14. ^ Collins, John Churton. Ephemera Critica. Westminster, Constable and Co., 1902; p. 216.
  15. ^ Appleby, John C (January 2008). "Hervey, William, Baron Hervey of Kidbrooke and Baron Hervey of Ross (d. 1642)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 
  16. ^ "Berryman, John (2001). "Haffenden, John, ed. Berryman's Shakespeare: essays, letters and other writings. London: Tauris Parke. p. xxxvi. "ISBN "978-1-86064-643-0. 
  17. ^ "Neil, Samuel (27 April 1867). "Athenæum. London: 552.  Missing or empty |title= ("help)
  18. ^ Neil, Samuel (1863). Shakespere: a critical biography. London: Houlston and Wright. pp. 105–106. "OCLC 77866350. 
  19. ^ Colin Burrow, ed. The Complete Sonnets and Poems (Oxford UP, 2002), p. 98; 102-3.
  20. ^ "Hyder Edward Rollins, The Sonnets, New Variorum Shakespeare, vol. 25 II, Lippincott, 1944, p. 181−4.
  21. ^ A metre in poetry with five iambic metrical feet, which stems from the Italian word endecasillabo, for a line composed of five beats with an anacrusis, an upbeat or unstressed syllable at the beginning of a line which is no part of the first foot.
  22. ^ "Glossary of Poetic Terms". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 12 February 2018. 
  23. ^ "The International Literary Quarterly". Interlitq.org. Retrieved 2014-04-02. 
  24. ^ Articles by FORT, J. A. (1933-01-01). "The Order And Chronology Of Shakespeare'S Sonnets". Res.oxfordjournals.org. Retrieved 2014-04-02. 
  25. ^ Boyd, William (19 November 2005). "Two Loves Have I". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  26. ^ a b Matz, Robert. The World of Shakespeare's Sonnets: An Introduction. p. 111. "ISBN "978-0-7864-3219-6. 
  27. ^ Furness, Hannah (2013-01-08). "Has Shakespeare's dark lady finally been revealed?". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-04-02. 
  28. ^ "'Dark Lady' of Shakespeare's sonnets 'finally revealed to be London prostitute called Lucy Negro' | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-04-02. 
  29. ^ Moore, Peter. The Lame Storyteller, Poor and Despised. Verlag Laugwitz, 2009.
  30. ^ a b MacD. P. Jackson (2005-04-01). "Francis Meres and the Cultural Contexts of Shakespeare's Rival Poet Sonnets". Res.oxfordjournals.org. Retrieved 2014-04-02. 
  31. ^ Stapleton, M. L. "Shakespeare's Man Right Fair as Sonnet Lady." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 46 (2004): 272
  32. ^ Sobran, Joseph Shakespeare’s Disgrace, Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Spring 1997
  33. ^ Sanderlin, George (June 1939). "The Repute of Shakespeare's Sonnets in the Early Nineteenth Century". Modern Language Notes. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 54 (6): 462–466. "doi:10.2307/2910858. "JSTOR 2910858. 
  34. ^ e.g. : William Shakespeare, Tutte le opere, edited by Mario Praz, Firenze, Sansoni, 1964
  35. ^ Sonetto-shū, translated by Takamatsu Yūitsu, Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo 1986
  36. ^ Tüm Soneler, translated by Talat Sait Halman, Istanbul 1989
  37. ^ In Eternal Lines, translated by Yaakov Ostrover, Netanya, Israel 2017

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