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Shakespeare's Sonnets


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Shakespeare's Sonnets

  1. 1. Shakespeare’s SonnetsBy: Lauren Santoru
  2. 2. Background  William Shakespeare first made his mark on the literary globe in the competitive theatre business in 1587 in the city of London.  He wrote dramatic comedies influenced by the Queen Elizabeth I followed by fantastical tragedies that gained support from King James I.  Around the year 1598, there was an enforced absence from theatre in England, which allowed for Shakespeare to focus more on poetry as opposed to playwrights.  This is the assumed time in which Shakespeare wrote his 154 sonnets that are known and read today.
  3. 3. Publishing  Without Shakespeare’s permission, reputable publisher Thomas Thorpe published Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Because Shakespeare did not title his sonnets, they are entitled by the order in which they were published, for example, sonnet 130 is the 130th sonnet that appeared in the original publishing.  It is unknown if Shakespeare intended for his sonnets to be ordered as they appear in the first publishing or if the publisher, Thorpe, organized them into the sequence they are now known in.
  4. 4. What is a sonnet?  A typical sonnet is a poem consisting of fourteen lines with some sort of rhyme scheme.  Although there are some unconventional sonnets, the three known sonnet forms include:  Italian/Petrarchan Sonnets  Spenserian Sonnets  English/Shakespearean Sonnets  Italian sonnets are broken into two sections based on how the lines rhyme, the first half being known as the octave and the remaining half being known as the sestet.  Spenserian sonnets have an identifiable rhyming scheme in the first twelve lines and conclude with a separate rhyming scheme in the final two lines.
  5. 5. The Shakespearean Sonnet Instead of using other conventional forms of sonnets within his time, Shakespeare decided to develop his own form of a sonnet that is widely known today.  Shakespeare’s first twelve lines of his sonnet contain three alternating rhyming quatrains. To end the sonnet, Shakespeare completes the last two lines with a rhyming couplet.  The rhyming scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is: A B A B C D C D E F E F G G
  6. 6. Sonnet Themes  Shakespeare’s sonnets can be broken down into three subcategories according to themes.  Since it is not known who organized his sonnets, either Shakespeare grouped his sonnets purposely according to their themes or the publisher went through them, recognized the themes, and ordered them according to their relevance.  Sonnets 1-17 have a common theme of procreating.  Sonnets 1-126 are all addressed to a young man.  Sonnets 127-154 share the theme of a dark lady.
  7. 7. The Procreating Sonnets  Shakespeare writes these sonnets in an attempt to persuade his audience, a young man, to get married and procreate.  The young man in these sonnets is selfish, attractive, self- loving man who does not see the benefits of procreating or the reason to have children.  In an attempt to encourage the young man to procreate, Shakespeare writes that having children will allow for him to multiply his own beauty, which will eventually fade, and as a result everyone will better from his offspring.  Lastly, these sonnets tell the young man that he is depriving women of marriage and motherhood by marrying himself and hoarding his “seeds.”
  8. 8. The Young Man Sonnets  With the first 27 sonnets being in reference to procreation, the first 126 sonnets are all addressed to a young man.  In reference to love, these sonnets note that as time goes on, true love truly endures despite the fading of beauty with age.  The young man sonnets also reference death and the fact that it will eventually happen to everyone; therefore, they almost serve as a warning to the young man in a sense that the young have a hard time realizing this reality.  These sonnets also help to ground the young man being that they reference that some men think too highly of themselves.  In the 126th sonnet, Shakespeare leaves the final rhyming couplet blank, which could be in reference to the fact that he is letting the young man go, just as death eventually lets everyone go.
  9. 9. The Dark Lady Sonnets  Shakespeare’s final sonnets, numbers 127-154, are all in reference to a dark lady.  These sonnets depict a dark lady who is grim but still admired by Shakespeare.  Although she is now what society considers to be beautiful in Shakespeare’s time, she talks about likeable subject matters and is grounded.  The dark lady sonnets display a tension between idealized love and realistic love within poetry.  It is likely that Shakespeare wrote sonnets 127-154 as a parody toward his other poetic counterparts and their overdramatic, pleasurable imagery used to describe their lovers.
  10. 10. What are the sonnets telling us?  The procreating sonnets urge young man to start a family and have numerous children.  Both the procreating sonnets and young man sonnets stress the theme of everlasting love despite the eventual fading of beauty.  Sonnets 1-127 all emphasize that death is a reality that cannot be escaped by anyone.  The dark lady sonnets tell of a grim woman who, although she physically described otherwise, is a beautiful lover.
  11. 11. What is Shakespeare telling us? With the procreating sonnets, Shakespeare is persuading young men to share their beauty with the world by giving up their vain love for themselves by marrying and having children.  The procreating sonnets and young man sonnets are Shakespeare’s attempt to tell his readers that the value of true love goes beyond the physical changes that happen with age.  Shakespeare uses sonnets 1-127 to make it clear to his readers that they will eventually have to come to terms with the fact that they will not live forever.  The dark lady sonnets set the stage for Shakespeare to tell his readers that although she may not be described as attractive, the dark lady truly is attractive because she is a grounded and realistic lover.
  12. 12. What do the sonnets tell us about Shakespeare?  Although it has not been confirmed, the procreating sonnets give readers an insight to Shakespeare’s possible religious affiliation being that he urges his readers to be fruitful and multiply, which is a common belief within the Protestant of Catholic faith.  The young man sonnets give readers a possible idea that Shakespeare himself had recognized that love is much deeper then the physical sense and he believes that others do not make this connection.  Sonnets 1-127 can also give readers a sense that Shakespeare was accepting of the idea of death and that he possibly does not fear it.  Lastly, the dark lady sonnets can give readers a hint that Shakespeare thought highly of himself in comparison to his literary counterparts being that sonnets 127-154 serve as a mockery towards other love poetry at his time.
  13. 13. Works Cited Damrosch, David. “William Shakespeare.” Gateways to World Literature: The Ancient World through the Early Modern Period. Ed. David Damrosch. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 1083-1085. Print. Miller, Nelson. "Basic Sonnet Forms." Sonnet Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <>.