Shakespeare’s sonnets

A. D. Cousins*

*Corresponding author for this work

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the most famous sonnets in the English language, are surrounded by uncertainties. Almost all of them were probably written in the 1590s, at the height of the Elizabethan fashion for writing sonnets; but they were published in 1609 well after the fashion had passed, and we do not know whether Shakespeare authorized their appearance in print. Consequently we don’t know whether the order of the poems is that intended by Shakespeare. In the order as we have it, Sonnets 1–126 are closely concerned with a young man; from Sonnet 127 until 152, the so-called Dark Lady becomes a focus of attention. The sonnets ending the collection, 153 and 154, are playfully mythological poems associating love with disease and portraying desire as unquenchable. Yet many of the sonnets do not identify the gender of the person they address or discuss, so if we don’t know whether the published order of the Sonnets is actually Shakespeare’s, we cannot always be sure which sonnets refer to the young man and which to the Dark Lady. Other things are also unclear, among them being the following. Was the young man a real person – and, if so, who? Was the Dark Lady real? If so, who was she? And who was the Mr W. H. to whom the publisher of the collection dedicated it?

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet
EditorsA.D. Cousins, Peter Howarth
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780511973758
ISBN (Print)9780521514675, 0521514673
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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