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Fair Youth Sonnets
Rival Poet Sonnets
Dark Lady Sonnets
Sonnet Commentary




In 1598, Francis Meres, a commentator on the London literary scene, released a tome called Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury, a collection of criticisms praising many of England's writers both past and present.  Among them he lavished praise on Shakespeare and listed several plays that he had written prior to that year.  Meres went on to make a more intriguing comment regarding Shakespeare's 'sugar'd sonnets, among his private friends'.  This was the first mention of a group of love poems that are potentially the most revealing and the most mysterious of Shakespeare's life.  Aside from legal documents such as court transcripts and his will and his dramatic works, Shakespeare left no letters or journals that would give a line into his personal life or thoughts.  However, with the strange publication of Shake-Speare's Sonnets in 1609, a group of 154 personal poems that chronicle relationships between a poet, a fair young man, a woman of dark complexion and morals and poet rivaling his relationship with the young man.  


Above, the title page for the 1609 edition of the Sonnets and the strange accompanying dedication.

The sonnet form, first pioneered by the Medieval Italian poet Petrach, came into fashion in the 1590's, which is when scholars feel that most of the Sonnets were written. While other poets of the period wrote elaborate sonnet sequences featuring fictional characters in a central story line, other poets like Shakespeare's near contemporary Phillip Sidney wrote the series Astrophel and Stella that recounted his secret love affair with the noblewoman, Penelope Devereaux   Did Shakespeare simply create new characters for a trendy writing style or did he begin writing personal poems for a young aristocrat that then evolved due to real life circumstances?  The mystery is compounded more by the matter of the strange publication of the works.  The volume appeared years after they were in vogue and were accompanied by a strange dedication, not by the author but by the printer to an enigmatic Mr. W.H (see image above).  Could this be the fair young man?  Could this be the person who gave the Sonnets to the printer for publication?  Or could it be a dedication to Shakespeare himself?  Unlike other published poems by Shakespeare, the volume included no author's dedication and the editing is of a generally inferior quality than his other authorized publications, leading to the assumption that it was a pirated publication.  Accompanying the Sonnets was a "Complaint" poem, called A Lover's Complaint which features familiar character types from some of the plays.   Whatever the true nature behind the sonnets they make up some of the English languages best love poems. Click on the links below or on the side to read the Sonnets and to learn more about the possible people behind them.


To view other Sonnet sections

Sonnet Main Page     Fair Youth Sonnets      Dark Lady Sonnets     Rival Poet Sonnets     Sonnet Commentary  


To view other Shakespeare Library sections:

Biography     Plays     Poems     Sonnets     Theaters     Shake Links

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