The Complete Shakespeare Experience
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
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-
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 1 -
Sonnets 21 -
Sonnets 41 -
Sonnets 61 -
Sonnets 81 -
Sonnets 101 -
Sonnets 121 -
Sonnets 141 -
“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-
“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-
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.