A Guide to the Sonnets of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Portrait
What Sonnets Did Shakespeare Write?.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, which were collected and published posthumously in 1609.

Many critics segment the sonnets into three groups:

  1. The Fair Youth Sonnets (Sonnets 1 – 126)
    The first group of sonnets are addressed to a young man with whom the poet has a deep friendship.
     
  2. The Dark Lady Sonnets (Sonnets 127 – 152)
    In the second sequence, the poet becomes infatuated with a mysterious woman. Her relationship with the young man is unclear.
     
  1. The Greek Sonnets (Sonnets 153 and 154)
    The final two sonnets are very different and draw upon the Roman myth of Cupid, to whom the poet has already compared his muses.

Other Groupings

Other scholars lump the Greek Sonnets with the Dark Lady Sonnets and call out a different cluster (Nos. 78 to 86) as the Rival Poet Sonnets. This approach treats the subjects of the sonnets as characters and invites ongoing questions among scholars about the degree to which the sonnets may or may not have been autobiographical.

Controversies

Although it's generally accepted that Shakespeare wrote the sonnets, historians question certain aspects of how the sonnets came to print. In 1609, Thomas Thorpe published Shakes-Peares Sonnets; the book, however, contains a dedication by "T.T." (presumably Thorpe) that confounds scholars as to the identity of whom the book was dedicated, and whether the "Mr. W.H." in the dedication may be the muse for the Fair Youth Sonnets.

The dedication in Thorpe's book, if it had been written by the publisher, may imply that Shakespeare himself did not authorize their publication. If this theory is true, it's possible that the 154 sonnets we know today don't constitute the totality of Shakespeare's work.