William Shakespeare's sonnets

Revision as of 08:56, 23 March 2021 by MorganEllison (talk | contribs) (→‎Other media)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

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

Forming the bulk of William Shakespeare's poems, the Sonnets intrigue, challenge, tantalize, and reward us as few other poetry collections do. All are written in the English sonnet form. It is not just the beauty and power of individual sonnets that engage us, but the story that their sequence seems to tell about Shakespeare's love life, whenever one reads the Sonnets in the order in which they appear in the 1609 Quarto.

It goes something like this: The first 17 sonnets advise a beautiful young man to marry and produce a child. The next 109 sonnets urge the poet's love for him and claim that the poems will preserve his beauty. The supposed narrative concludes with 28 sonnets to or about a "dark lady."

Evidence that puts the narrative in doubt seems to matter very little. Most critics and editors agree that the sonnets are only linked within specific clusters; they were written perhaps over many years and perhaps to or about different people. Only about 25 specify the sex of the beloved.

Yet such facts surrender to the narrative pull of the 1609 collection. The persona of the poet and the sequence of emotions are so strong that few editors can resist describing the Sonnets in terms of their irresistible story.[1]

Early editions

The 1609 Quarto title page of Shakespeare's Sonnets. STC 22353.


LUNA: 1609 Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22353

Modern editions

NFLS sonnets Folger Edition.jpg

Shakespeare's Sonnets can be read online with Folger Digital Texts and can be purchased from Simon and Schuster.

Hamnet link to Folger Edition: PR2753 .M6 2003 copy 2 v. 39


The Folger owns over 100 stand-alone translations of Shakespeare's sonnets (including both complete collections and selections) in various languages. Cataloging of these works is ongoing as of early 2015, and many have full-level catalog records, but some works still have only partial records. Translations can be found Hamnet in by searching for "Translations"in the Genre/Form Term field, or by searching the Call Number (Left-Anchored) field for call numbers starting with PR2796 (see the list of Sh.Col. translations call numbers for specific language call numbers). Since not all translations are fully cataloged, some items may only turn up in one of these searches.

Other media

Image Group

Explore the curated image group for the sonnets in the Folger digital image collection.

Content Advisory: this media group contains representations of nudity


  1. Mowat, Barbara A., and Paul Werstine. Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems. New York: Washington Square, 2006, 2004.