The Sonnets Copy


  • His plays are masterpieces of psychological realism and depth in drama;
  • Believable characters that show the rich diversity of humanity;
  • Was influenced by classical and Renaissance ideas about the importance of reason and human individualism;
  • Progressed from the attitude of classical (Greek and Latin) tragedies to romances and dramas which hold a humanistic message;
  • The plays are infused with folklore-inspired supernatural elements;
  • Characters are not driven by religious motivations, but by humanistic ones;
  • Presents attitudes that are remote from the conventional Christianity of his time;
  • Characters act out of their free will, they are not fatalistically predestined to a certain fate;
  • Main themes: love, death, immortality (not in a metaphysical sense).

The Sonnets (1609)

Literary Form – sonnet

The English sonnet:

  • 14 lines long;
  • Most sonnets are divided into three quatrains and a final concluding couplet;
  • Rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg;
  • First used by Henry Howards, Earl of Surrey.

Shakespearean sonnets:

  • Use of the alternate rhymes of each quatrain to create powerful oppositions between different line and section;
  • The final couplet is a conclusion or a subversion of the meaning of the text.


1. Types of romantic love

  • Traditionally, 13th and 14th-century sonnets were addressed to stylised women or dedicated to noblemen who supported poets with money;
  • Shakespeare challenged this tradition addressing most of his sonnets to a young man, a unique feature in Elizabethan England.
  • The sonnets explore the different types of love between the young man and the speaker, the young man and the dark lady, and the dark lady and the speaker.
  • The young man is handsome and represents the ideal for the speaker. He is addressed in sonnets 1 to 126.
  • The dark lady is opposite to the angelic feminine ideal of the age. She is a sexual and faithless person. She is addressed in sonnets 127 to 152;
  • Sonnets 153-154 are free adaptations of two classical Greek poems.

2. Beauty

  • Sonnets 1-17 are addressed to the young man, praising his beauty and wishing for its immortality;
  • In the dark lady sonnets (130), the speaker contrasts an idealised woman to the real woman he loves, affirming that he loves her for what she is, not for an idealised version;
  • To preserve the beauty, the poet turns to art, which has the power of transcending time.

3. Time

  • Time has the power of ravishing beauty

“When forty winters shall beseige thy brow

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field …

How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use

If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine

Shall sum my count and make my old excuse’

Proving his beauty by succession thine!”

                                               Sonnet 2

  • Time can be defeated by having children, who will bear resemblance to their parents and take their beauty beyond years;
  • Time is a dimension of suffering in Sonnet 90, as the poet suffers from unrequited love

“Give not a windy night a rainy morrow”

  • The poet perceives himself as an aging man

“But when my glass shows me myself indeed

Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity”

Sonnet 62

4. Selfishness and greed

  • The poet expects faithfulness from both the fair lord and the dark lady, although he is unfaithful to both;
  • The speaker is jealous of the fair lord having another admirer (sonnets 79-86) and of the dark lady’s other admirers (sonnets 133-134);
  • The poet chastises himself for his unfaithfulness but demands that the ones he loves remain faithful to him.


  • The publishing order doesn’t necessarily reflect the writing order;
  • Shakespeare mocks the Petrarchan sonnet form (it has a rhyming octave – abbaabba and a rhyming sestet – cdcdcd). This type of sonnet was very popular in the Elizabethan Age and Shakespeare imitates it, but only to prove that it is too excessive.
  • Uses the iambic pentameter, the same metre used in the plays;
  • Uses words in which double meanings and enhances the message he transmits;
  • Personification “So long lives this [the poem], and this gives life to thee” (Sonnet 18) – art becomes alive;
  • Antithesis “And see the brave day sunk in hideous night” – the opposition between the visual image of the day and the night is an antithesis (Sonnet 12)
  • Alliteration

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall statues overturn.” – alliteration: a sharp sound representing the poet’s confidence in art’s power to defeat time. (Sonnet 55)

  • Metaphor

In me thou seest the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west.” – the poet feels weakened by old age and compares himself to the twilight of the day. (Sonnet 73)