The Complete Shakespeare Experience    

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First published collectively in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe

(some say without the author’s permission),

Shakespeare’s sonnets are a series of poems almost all

of which are written in 14 lines consisting of three

four-line stanzas (“quatrains”) and a couplet (two lines)

written in iambic pentameter.

Shakespeare addressed the first 126 sonnets to a young man,

“the Fair Youth.” It remains the subject of scholarly debate

whether Shakespeare’s relationship to the “Fair Youth” was

romantic or platonic. Also unclear is the young man’s identity.

Some suggest it was Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Hampton

and Shakespeare’s patron, 21-years-old at the time. Other purport

that it was William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, but the list of

possible candidates for the “Fair Youth’s” identity is long. Indeed, the collection was dedicated to a Mr. W.H., “the onlie begetter” of the poems, but the list of possible contenders is no less clear because of this.

 Sonnets 127-152 were addressed to the “Dark Lady” (a reference to her black hair and darker skin tone) and these tributes are clearly more sexual in nature. The lady’s identity is also unknown but two of the commonly suggested possibilities include Mary Fitton and Emilia Lanier.


Sonnets 1 - 20

Sonnets 21 - 40

Sonnets 41 - 60

Sonnets 61 - 80

Sonnets 81 - 100

Sonnets 101 - 120

Sonnets 121 - 140

Sonnets 141 - 154

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:…

“Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,
With April's first-born flowers, and all things rare…”

“All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show…”
thee me.

“For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told…”

“There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise…”

“Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express'd
Even such a beauty as you master now…”

“Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me, for my name is 'Will.'”

“If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee…”

Also mentioned prominently in the sonnets is the “Rival Poet” against whom Shakespeare competed for patronage, remuneration, and glory. The ‘Rival Poet group’ of poems is Sonnets 78-86, within the Fair Youth section.  Contenders for the mysterious Rival Poet include Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman.

In these works, Shakespeare ponders love, loneliness, death, the fleeting nature of life itself, gender roles, politics, sex, and beauty, among others.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, while noteworthy given the author’s stature as a playwright, were not held in especially high regard as late as the early 19th Century, when John Milton’s sonnets were considered the epitome of the art form. Eventually though, Shakespeare’s sonnets came into high regard and have been translated into more than 70 languages over the centuries.


The Sonnets