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William Shakespeare was an English writer who wrote plays, sonnets, and poetry. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. These sonnets were published in 1609 and were titled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.: Never before imprinted.
Characteristics of Shakespeare's Sonnets
Shakespearian sonnets have distinct characteristics such as the following:
- Shakespeare's sonnets are written in quatrains and in iambic pentameter.
- The sonnets also rhyme in an abab cdcd efef gg pattern. Sonnets following this pattern have since been named the Shakespearean Sonnets.
- There are a few instances when the sonnet pattern breaks, but most of the sonnets follow this rhyme pattern.
- Of the 154 sonnets, sonnets 1-126 are written to the character of a young man, who is referred to as "Fair Youth."
- The "Fair Youth" sonnets seem to have a romantic tone.
The first seventeen sonnets are addressed to a young man, with whom the speaker expresses extreme admiration, if not outright infatuation. These first seventeen sonnets are preoccupied with procreation, or the perpetuation of the human race and the desire to use reproduction as a means of extending the durability of a thing of beauty. The surface narrative of these poems include the speaker of the poems encouraging the fair youth to marry, procreate, and fulfill his debt to Nature. Taken cumulatively, the first seventeen poems grow gradually more critical, blaming the fair youth for his self-interested ness and his failure to pay his debt to the universal cycle of birth, death and procreation.
Sonnet 20 is probably the most overtly sexual of the entire sonnet sequence, and its strong homoerotic content has made it a popular focus of critical attention over the years. A good deal of critical attention has been focused upon analyzing the text of Sonnet 20 as a means of discovering clues to the addressee's identity.
Characters of Shakespeare's Sonnets
Shakespeare's sonnets have three principal addressees. These include a young man, a "dark lady," and a rival poet. Particularly the presence of the male addressee has caused critics consternation for hundreds of years.
It is debatable weather the "Fair Youth" character points to a intimate sexual relationship or a platonic relationship between the writer and the "Fair Youth." Historians believe this character may have been fashioned after a real person. One of the most popular views is that the character resembles on of Shakespeare's patrons, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
Another character of the sonnets is "The Dark Lady." This character is present in sonnets 127-152. These sonnets have a very sexual tone. The character is named after her dark hair and skin tone. There are several possible real life people that this character might have been fashioned to resemble. These ladies include Lucy Negro, Mary Fitton, or Emilia Lanier.
Several sonnets in the "dark lady" mini-cycle also deal with sexual desire, particularly Sonnets 129, 135 and 136. It is strongly implied that the speaker's relationship with the Dark Lady would be socially unsanctioned, because of her nontraditional beauty, and perhaps, because of her sexual skill (with the implication of libertine practices, or even prostitution). However, because the homoeroticism of the earlier sonnets represents one of the ultimate sexual transgressions of Western civilization, namely, homosexuality. As such, the critical analyses addressed here will center on the homoerotic content of the sonnets, although this is by no means the only textual instance of transgressive sexual desire.
Finally, the "Rival Poet" is the last character. This character is present in sonnet 78-86. The writer sees the "Rival Poet" as his competition for his job security and livelihood. The real life correlation for this character is a mystery. Some have speculated that the character might have been made to resemble George Chapman or Christopher Marlowe.
The overall themes that run through the sonnets are love, beauty, and mortality.