Mr. William Shakespeare is not just famous for writing plays to be performed – he wrote poetry as well. In 1592 there was an outbreak of plague in London and so the theaters were shut down for two years. During this time Shakespeare decided to put his talents to use by writing poetry that wasn’t for the stage. At least some of his sonnets were written during this time along with a few other poems: Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, A Lover’s Complaint, and The Passionate Pilgrim.
Sometime in the 1590s (and maybe after, too) Shakespeare completed 154 sonnets. Unlike the number of plays he wrote, we’re pretty darn certain about the number of sonnets. One very helpful reason is that they were all published – also unlike the plays – during his lifetime (1609) in a volume called Shake-speare’s Sonnets.
You may be asking… What is a sonnet anyway? A sonnet is a certain structure of a poem that was very popular during this time. Over a thousand sonnets from various authors have survived from the late 16th century. A sonnet consists of 14 lines with a three rhyming quatrains followed by a couplet. Or in plainer terms, the rhyme scheme is as follows: A – B – A – B. C – D – C -D. E – F – E – F. G – G. Each line is written in Iambic Pentameter, 10 syllables per line. Much like Shakespeare’s verse in his plays, sometimes these rules are broken. He will play with the meter to create deviant rhythms to add some drama to the verse. Some lines here and there have an extra syllable. What else would you expect from The Bard? Sonnet 99 even breaks the line limit and has 15 lines. Shakespeare never really liked to stick to the rules.
No one can be sure to whom Shakespeare’s sonnets were addressed, if anyone, but there are many theories. More on that some other time. The sonnets are great to just sit down with and speak aloud. I’m sure you’ll find one that really speaks to you. They’re not all about “flowery love” like some think. With 154 of them I think you will find a sonnet for any occasion.