William Shakespeare's poems

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This article is about William Shakespeare's long poems. For related articles, please see William Shakespeare's works (disambiguation).

William Shakespeare may be best known today for his plays, but in his time poetry was far more important to any writer’s literary reputation. Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote his two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, during a period of forced unemployment in 1592–94, when an outbreak of the plague closed London’s theaters. The poems were published, respectively, in 1593 and 1594.

William Shakespeare's sonnets and another fairly lengthy poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle, are also thought to date from early in his career. They were published some years later, perhaps without his permission. Scholars disagree about whether to attribute another poem, A Lover's Complaint, to Shakespeare. Still more of Shakespeare’s poems and songs can be found within the plays themselves.

Like his plays, Shakespeare’s poems are full of passages that remain embedded in our popular culture. Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) is a fixture of wedding ceremonies, and Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”), Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”), and Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”)—to name only a few—are known and quoted in the same way that famous lines and passages are quoted from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth.

A print edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems is available from Simon and Schuster and the print edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets is available from Simon and Schuster.

Read the poems online with Folger Digital Texts. Read this article to learn more about our open-source digitization of the Folger Shakespeare Library editions edited by Paul Werstine and Barbara Mowat.

To read more about the Folger Shakespeare Library editions of Shakespeare in partnership with Simon and Schuster, visit Folger Shakespeare Library editions of Shakespeare's works.