Sonnets are the title of the collection of 154 sonnets by Shakespeare, which covers themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man; the last 28 to a woman.
The sonnets were first published in a 1609 quarto with the full stylised title: SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Never before Imprinted. The quarto ends with “A Lover’s Complaint”, a narrative poem of 47 seven-line stanzas written in rhyme royal. There has been critical debate regarding its authorship.
The sonnets to the young man express overwhelming, obsessional love
The Sonnets include a dedication to one “Mr. W.H.”. The identity of this person remains a mystery and, since the 19th century, has provoked a great deal of speculation.
The dedication reads:
Structure – The sonnets are almost all constructed from three quatrains, which are four-line stanzas, and a final couplet composed in iambic pentameter. This is also the meter used extensively in Shakespeare’s plays.
Characters – When analyzed as characters, the subjects of the sonnets are usually referred to as the Fair Youth, the Rival Poet, and the Dark Lady. The speaker expresses admiration for the Fair Youth’s beauty, and—if reading the sonnets in chronological order as published—later has an affair with the Dark Lady.