Presents a collection of sonnets along with essays on Shakespeare's life and the theatrical world during his lifetime.
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The following is written by the editors of this text to provide some historical background information about William Shakespeare.
While reading Shakespeare's sonnets, people are usually curious to know if the sonnets are a reflection of Shakespeare's personal life. Some scholars do believe that they were written about Shakespeare's life, but most won't draw that conclusion. Most scholars read Shakespeare's sonnets as works of literature and nothing more. As you read the sonnets, decide for yourself if you think they are about Shakespeare's life.
There are three main "characters" within Shakespeare's book of sonnets. The first is the poet or speaker, the second is a handsome young man, and the third is a dark mistress. The sonnets will connect in a way to tell a "story" about the speaker's interactions with the young man and the dark mistress.
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Keep in mind, while reading Shakespeare that some words might not be included in the online dictionary. If this happens, look the word up using another search engine.
A sonnet is a poem that consists of fourteen lines and has a specific structure and rhyming scheme. We will be exploring the characteristics and structure of Shakespeare's sonnets as we read. (This annotation contains an image)
"Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament."Keeping in mind that this sonnet is written to a young handsome man, what do you think it means to be the "world's fresh ornament"?
From Sonnet 1 to Sonnet 126, Shakespeare will be mainly writing to or about a handsome young man. In Sonnet 1, he is telling the young man that he should have children to pass his beauty on to other living beings. (This annotation contains an image)
Beneath each sonnet, specific words and phrases will be explained to help you decipher the complicated language.
How are the messages in Sonnet 1 and Sonnet 2 similar?
The English language that we speak today is much different from the language of Shakespeare's time. Do you know what the word, "thy" means? It is the Elizabethan way to say "your." Click the link below to see translations of Elizabethan words to their contemporary translations. Refer back to this site as you read to help you decipher the language. (This annotation contains a link)
One characteristic of a sonnet is that it is made up of four sections. The first three sections are called "quatrains" which are made up of four lines each. The final section is called a "couplet" and is made up of only two lines. We will talk more about these sections throughout this text.
Which season does Shakespeare compare a person's time of greatest beauty to?
Sonnet 6 continues from Sonnet 5. Shakespeare is again saying that a beautiful man should have many children. Shakespeare had three children in his lifetime, not the ten that he is recommending in this sonnet. (This annotation contains an image)
The "gracious light" being referred to in the highlighted text is the sun. Shakespeare uses personification when he says that the sun "Lifts up his burning head..." Personification is a literary device where human qualities are given to nonhuman things. To learn more about this type of figurative language, watch the video clip below. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Shakespeare compare a happy family to in Sonnet 8?
If Shakespeare's sonnets reflect his internal feelings, which of the following describes something that Shakespeare valued in his life?
Which type of figurative language is used in Shakespeare's reference to nature? What is the purpose of the figurative language?
Let's talk more about the four sections of a sonnet. The general structure of these sections is that the three quatrains pose a problem and the final couplet provides a resolution to or alternative thought about the problem. As you read, see if Shakespeare's sonnets follow this structure.
What is the highlighted group of lines called?
Based on his sonnets, what could be Shakespeare's opinion about time?
In Sonnet 17, what does Shakespeare say he is unable to capture in his poem? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
Sonnet 18 is one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets. Pay careful attention to this poem. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the overall message being conveyed in Sonnet 18?
Sometimes it helps to hear poetry read aloud in order to understand it. Watch this video to hear Sonnet 18 read aloud. (This annotation contains a video)
Which type of figurative language is used in the highlighted phrase, "Devouring Time..."
One common motif within Shakespeare's sonnets include a battle between time and art. Time is portrayed as the enemy because it causes beauty and love to fade. However, through the use of literature (art), Shakespeare can make the beauty of a loved one immortal. To learn more about motifs, watch the video clip below. (This annotation contains a video)
"As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air:"What is Shakespeare referring to in this line?
One of the other characteristics of a sonnet is its use of iambic pentameter to create the rhythmic sound the sonnet creates when read aloud. To learn about iambic pentameter, watch the video clip below. (This annotation contains a video)
Read the first line of Sonnet 25 aloud. The rhythm created by five repetitions of stressed and unstressed syllables is called _____________.
Remember that iambic pentameter includes five pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables in a row (10 syllables total). Write your own line that is an example of iambic pentameter. If you need help, refer to the lines in Sonnet 26.
Which word best describes the speaker of this poem?
"Vassalage" is a position of subordination, similar to a servant. The speaker in this poem states that he is a servant to his lover. (This annotation contains an image)
"Weary with toil, I haste to my bed,"What is the meaning of this line?
In Sonnet 27, what causes the speaker to have a difficult time going to sleep at night? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
This is a sweet sonnet. The speaker states that when he feels badly about himself, all he has to do is think of his love and he realizes that he wouldn't trade places with even a king. (This annotation contains an image)
What is causing the speaker in Sonnet 30 to feel depressed?
Each quatrain has its own rhyming scheme. Watch the video below to learn how to determine the rhyming scheme of a given quatrain or stanza. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the rhyming scheme of the first quatrain?
What does the speaker compare his or her lost love to?
This sonnet continues with the same metaphor that was used in Sonnet 33. The speaker is asking "the sun" why he promised that it would be a beautiful day only to then hide behind the clouds. Have you ever felt let down by the broken promises of someone you cared for? (This annotation contains an image)
The first two lines of Sonnet 38 mean; "How can I run out of things to write about while you are alive?" That is very romantic! (This annotation contains an image)
With which proverb would the speaker of Sonnet 39 most likely agree?
Have you followed the story within Sonnets 41 and 42? Watch this short play where Sonnet 42 is acted out. See if the actors in the play perform the sonnet in the same way that you picture it in your head as you read it. Be ready to discuss the play in the following question. (This annotation contains a video)
Describe the situation that took place in Sonnet 41 and 42. Do you think the play was effective in portraying this story? Cite evidence from the text and play to support your response.
Which type of figurative language is used in the highlighted text? Describe the effect of the figurative language.
"When I shall see thee frown on my defects,"Which of the following is a synonym for the word defects as it is used in the highlighted sentence?
The speaker of this poem is sad to travel because his travels will take him further and further away from his friend. "The beast that bears me..." refers to a horse that the speaker is traveling on. Shakespeare again uses personification by saying that the horse feels heavy under the weight of the speaker's sadness. (This annotation contains an image)
In this sonnet, the speaker states that he enjoys his time away from his loved one so that he does not have too much of a good thing. (This annotation contains an image)
In Sonnet 53, Shakespeare refers to Adonis who was the Greek god of beauty and desire. He is often considered the perfect specimen of a man. He also speaks of Helen. Helen refers to "Helen of Troy" from Greek legends. She is considered the most beautiful woman in the world and the cause of the Trojan War.
According to Sonnet 54, what makes a rose even more beautiful?
Which word describes the tone of Sonnet 57?
Again, Shakespeare describes time as being an evil thing that takes everything good, beautiful, and loving away. Other artists have also conveyed their own opinions about time. Look at the painting below by Salvador Dali titled "The Persistence of Memory." Compare Shakespeare's views about time to that conveyed in Dali's painting. (This annotation contains an image)
How would you compare Shakespeare's description of time with that of Salvador Dali's painting, The Persistence of Memory? Cite evidence from both Shakespeare's sonnets and Dali's painting to support your response.
What is the mood of the speaker in Sonnet 62?
Again, Shakespeare uses personification by using a capital letter for the word, "time." This creates the sense that time is an evil human whose purpose is to take away his love. (This annotation contains an image)
What do the brass, stone, earth, and sea all have in common?
Explain the theme, or central message, of Sonnet 65. Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
"To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:" This line is referring to a physically beautiful person who is ugly on the inside. Do you know anyone like that in your own life? (This annotation contains an image)
According to Sonnet 71, why doesn't the speaker want his love to mourn his death?
Which of the following is true about the speaker in Sonnet 73?
Sonnet 74 continues from Sonnet 73. The speaker says that after he dies his body belongs to the earth, but his spirit belongs to his lover. (This annotation contains an image)
"So are you to my thoughts as food to life..."What is the meaning and tone of the highlighted statement? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
Based on Sonnet 76, why would some people believe that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets about his own life?
Again, Shakespeare refers to time as being the enemy of beauty. He sure does like to write on this topic! This repeated motif gives many of his sonnets a depressing tone.
A "muse" is a person that is an inspiration to an artist's creativity. In this case, the subject of the speaker's poetry is his muse. The speaker in Sonnet 79 says that his poems about his muse are becoming repetitive and dull. (This annotation contains an image)
"I am a worthless boat..."Which type of figurative language is used in the highlighted text? What is the tone of this statement?
Again, in Sonnet 81 Shakespeare writes about death. Some people say that there is a link between creativity and mental illnesses like depression. What do you think? Click the link below to read more about this possible connection between creativity and mental illness. (This annotation contains a link)
Do you think that there is a connection between creativity and mental illness? Cite evidence from the previous article, Shakespeare's sonnets, and your own life to support your response.
In this sonnet, the word "painting" does not mean a style of artistic expression. It means "flattery" or a "complimentary description." (This annotation contains an image)
Sonnet 85 states that many other poems are being written about the one that the speaker loves. The speaker's lover must be a very popular person! (This annotation contains an image)
How is the speaker of Sonnet 86 feeling?
Why is the speaker telling his love "goodbye" in Sonnet 87? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
You can see that the tone of the writing is becoming increasingly angry and aggressive. Often, anger is used to hide sadness that someone feels inside. Clearly, the speaker of the poem cares more for his love than his love cares for him. Have you been in a similar situation where your feelings are not reciprocated? Did you react in a similar way as the speaker is reacting? (This annotation contains an image)
Sonnet 89 and 90 continue as the speaker writes to his love about his broken heart. Even 16th century world-renowned poets can write desperate love letters! (This annotation contains an image)
How does the speaker feel about material possessions?
The theme in Sonnet 91 can be found in other forms of artistic expression. Listen to this song by Alicia Keyes titled, "If I Ain't Got You." Compare the message of this song to the theme of Sonnet 91. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the overall theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 91 and Alicia Keyes' song "If I Ain't Got You"? Cite evidence from both the sonnet and the song to support your response.
What does Shakespeare compare a beautiful person to in Sonnet 94?
"The hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge."What is the meaning of the highlighted text?
It seems like the speaker's love behaves badly around town. In spite of this behavior, everyone still loves this person.
What is the overall message of Sonnet 97? Cite evidence from the poem to support your response.
The speaker compares the absence of his love to a long and cold winter. Many artists use winter to represent feelings of sadness. Listen to this song by the Counting Crows titled, "A Long December." Compare the tone of Sonnet 97 to that of the song. (This annotation contains a video)
How does Shakespeare use personification in Sonnet 99?
Sonnet 99 is unique because it has 15 lines instead of the usual 14 that Shakespeare's sonnets have.
The speaker is putting a lot of pressure on his love! He wants to examine his love's face to see if there are any wrinkles on it after his absence. It seems like the speaker holds his lover to an unattainable standard! (This annotation contains an image)
What does the speaker compare his poetry to in Sonnet 102?
This is another one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets. In this sonnet, the speaker states that his love will never grow old. That three years have passed and his love still looks just as beautiful. The speaker states that he will always see his love as beautiful. (This annotation contains an image)
The final couplet of this sonnet is very interesting. These two lines mean that future generations should know that before they were even born, the most beautiful human to ever live was already dead. Wow!
Again, we can find the same message that was expressed in Sonnet 104 in music. Listen to this song by Joshua Kadison titled "Beautiful in My Eyes." Pay attention to the lyrics and see how they are similar to Sonnet 104. (This annotation contains a video)
In Sonnet 108 the speaker says that ____________.
After reading Sonnet 110, what inference can you make about the speaker?
Sonnet 111 gives us some evidence that Shakespeare may have written his sonnets about his personal life. In this sonnet, the speaker states that his love dislikes the fact that he has such a public occupation. We know that Shakespeare was very famous in his day, so this detail could reflect his real life. (This annotation contains an image)
"Love is a babe; then might I not say so,To give full growth to that which still doth grow."What is the speaker saying in the final couplet of Sonnet 115? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
What similarities exist between Sonnet 116 and 1 Corinthians 13:4 in their description of love? Use evidence from both texts to support your response.
This is one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets on the subject of love. Below is another famous text on the subject of love from the Bible; Paul's letter to Corinthians. Click the link below to read 1 Corinthians 13:4 and compare it to Sonnet 116. Be ready to describe the similarities between the two texts in the following question. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on the previous sonnets and now Sonnet 120, what can you tell about the speaker and his lover?
In Sonnet 123, Shakespeare again shows his obsession with time by speaking directly to "Time." What does this tell you about Shakespeare?
"Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure"Who is "she" that is spoken of in Sonnet 126?
This is the final sonnet that the young man will be mentioned in Shakespeare's sonnets. This poem is the speaker's way of saying goodbye. (This annotation contains an image)
Beginning with Sonnet 127, the speaker begins talking about a woman or mistress. In this sonnet, the speaker says that black was not previously thought to be beautiful, but now it is. He talks about the black eyes of his mistress and how everyone now thinks they are beautiful. Remember that these sonnets were written in the 16th century, so there may be some racial remarks that would be considered rude and inappropriate in today's society.
The speaker in Sonnet 128 wants to become his love's __________.
The speaker in Sonnet 130 does not describe his mistress in a favorable light. He states that her eyes are not like the sun and that her breath reeks. In spite of this, what is the speaker saying about his lover? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
Sonnet 130 is another one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets. Watch the video below to hear the sonnet read aloud. (This annotation contains a video)
The speaker continues to insult the looks of his mistress in Sonnet 131! He states that she acts cruel like a beautiful woman is apt to do and that many people tell him that his mistress's face does not have the power to "make love groan." Is this a love poem that you would like to receive?
What does the speaker's mistress do in Sonnet 133?
In Sonnet 135, we have another clue that Shakespeare's sonnets are written about his personal life. In this poem he uses the name "Will" which is short for William.
Who is the speaker of Sonnet 137 calling a "fool"?
It is clear that the speaker's mistress treats him poorly. What does this mistress and the young man from Sonnets 1-126 have in common?
"In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes"What is the meaning of the line above?
You can see that the speaker is desperate for attention from his mistress. This sounds very similar to the speaker's feelings for the young man from the earlier sonnets!
Many other artists speak about cruel women. Listen to this song titled, "Evil Woman" by the band Electric Light Orchestra. (This annotation contains a video)
"My love is as a fever, longing stillFor that which longer nurseth the disease"What is the meaning of the highlighted text?
Again, Shakespeare mentions the eyes as being deceived by love. Eyes have become a common motif in these sonnets. (This annotation contains an image)
Which set of words from Sonnet 149 help create an angry mood?
What do you learn about the speaker's mistress in Sonnet 152?