Shakespeare’s Sonnets- Introduction and Themes

Shakespeare, the great and most influential English playwright, has not only shown his brilliancy in play writing but also has conquered the ground of poetry buy writing beautiful and musical 154 sonnets. The sonnets of Shakespeare are completely different form his plays. The sonnets do not have any of the signature dramatic elements of Shakespeare’s plays; these sonnets have their own class which separates them from the sonnets of other poets. Many critics believe that Shakespearean sonnets are autobiographical–deal with real events, but as no one knows enough about his life, it cannot be said that whether these sonnets are inspired by real and personal events or not.    

The first 126 of the sonnets are addressed to a fair young nobleman, whom the speaker admires very much. From 126-152 sonnets are addressed to a dark mysterious woman, who is the subject of speaker’s love and hatred at the same time. The rest of the sonnets are not connected to any of the sets. This characterization is not done by Shakespeare himself, the editors have categorized the sonnets according to their content.

Themes of Sonnets

The most prominent themes of Shakespeare’s sonnets are the young man, the dark lady, immortality through verses, the rival poet, time and love.

The Fair Young man:

Shakespeare addressed 126 of his sonnets to an unidentified young man. This young man has shown having immense intellectual attributes and outstanding physical features. In first seventeen sonnets, the speaker urges the man to marry someone so that his beauty can be passed down to his offspring. In this way, he can attain immortality. Many critics have done too much leg work to solve the mystery of the young man. Most of them believe that the admiration and affection of Shakespeare for that fair man are out of his intention to flatter the man for his personal means.

The Dark Lady:

127-154 sonnets are addressed to a mysterious dark lady. In these sonnets, the speaker seems confused because he sometimes shows his hatred for the dark lady and sometimes his affection for her. Some critics believe that the reference of a dark lady is mere a literary rebellion of Shakespeare against the conventional obsession of contemporary and early poets with the fair women. Other poets have always praised the fairness of fair women; Shakespeare decided to revolt against them by praising the beauty of the Dark woman and showing his affection as well as his hatred for her.