‘This famous line, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” opens the sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare. Out of all the sonnets written, Sonnet 130 redefined the idea of romance with his metaphorical description of a higher form of love. Before getting to know more about Shakespeare, and how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total, let us first understand the origins of the sonnet and sonnet form. Italian Sonnet is a genre of literary texts in English literature.
1. How Many Sonnets Did Shakespeare Write in Total?
The literary genre of sonnets can be defined as a simpler form of lyric poetry. Sonnets are fourteen lines long poems, with the lines divided into four subgroups or quatrains. These lines are written in iambic pentameter. The first three quatrains are made up of 4 lines. The final couplet is two lines that conclude the poem. The sonnet form follows the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. sonnets have their origin in italian roots. The word sonnet is a variation of the Italian word ‘Sonetto‘, or little song. Sonnets are lyric poems first fashioned by italian poet giacomo da lentini. Owing to their origin, sonnets are usually referred to as italian sonnets.
This form of poetry was then introduced during the renaissance. Petrarchan sonnets are a popular sonnet subgroup and consist of the sonnets fashioned by the renaissance poet Petrarch. Sonnets eventually came to the English poets during the Elizabethan Age. The sonnets during this age were written by William Shakespeare and are famously known as Shakespearean sonnets. The mystery that is how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total continues. Other popular sonnet forms are Spenserian and Miltonic sonnets.
2. Elizabethan Sonnets
Elizabethan sonnets are the sonnets that were written during the Elizabethan period. The Elizabethan period began with the reign of King Elizabeth over the English throne. These sonnets are also known as English sonnets. William Shakespeare’s sonnets are included in the category. However, how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? William Shakespeare is also known as the ‘master of English sonnets‘. Other popular sonneteers in the age, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and John Donne. Death Be Not Proud is John Donne’s best sonnet from his collection, The Holy Sonnets. How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? The question remains.
However, William Shakespeare remains the master sonneteer of the time. His writings define the characteristic qualities of all English sonnets. The question here remains- How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total?
3. How Many Sonnets Did Shakespeare Write in Total?
How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? The answer to how many sonnets Shakespeare wrote in total is 154. William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets during his literary times. Shakespeare’s sonnets were published in his ‘quarto’ in 1609. Thomas Thorpe published these sonnets. His sonnets are personal reflections on various topics such as love, time, death, nature, physical union, and several other topics. Shakespeare’s sonnets can be further classified into subcategories based on the individuals he wrote them for.
4. Shakespeare’s Sonnets
How many sonnets did shakespeare write in total?
William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Shakespeare dedicated his life to theatre. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway. Despite having a family in his hometown, he left for London in the 1590s. Shakespeare worked as an actor and eventually started writing plays in London Theatre. However, theatres were closed after the plague of 1593. Then, He started writing short poems or sonnets and helped build a new theatre, The Globe. He wrote tragedies, comedies, and history plays in the following times. Shakespeare’s plays are as relevant to the modern reader as they were during his age. His legacy continues even after his death in 1616. Learn more about Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are lyrics of strong sentiments. All the sonnets are fashioned upon his personal life and experiences. His sonnets can be further classified as those addressed to his love, the rival poet, the dark lady, and Mr. WH, respectively.
How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? The answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total is 154 sonnets. The majority of these are addressed to WH. Out of 154 Shakespearean sonnets, 126 are addressed to Mr. WH. With the introduction of his sonnets addressed to Mr. WH, the mystery arises around the identity of WH or Shakespeare’s “lovely boy“.
There are different speculations about the identity of this person. Literary historians believe that the person is most likely Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton. He was a literary patron. His two early works, ‘Venus and Adonis‘ and ‘Rape of Lucrece‘ are dedicated to the earl of Southampton. Venus and Adonis were fashioned from the works of the Roman poet Ovid.
The first 17 of his sonnets are addressed to an aristocratic, fair man. In all the sonnets, Shakespeare urges this man to marry and procreate. He warns the man of the passing of time and how he should procreate to preserve his beauty. The content of these sonnets made some historians speculate about the identity of the fair youth as Earl of Pembroke William Herbert, who refused to marry Elizabeth Carey.
How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? The answer to the question is 154 sonnets. Sonnet 18 is the most popular of all the 154 sonnets. The opening lines of the sonnet are the most quoted lines. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?‘ sets the tone of the sonnet. Shakespeare immortalizes his love in the sonnet by comparison of his love to the most beautiful things. Later, sonnets in the fair youth sequence talk of Shakespeare’s love for his friend.
He also talks about the importance of love in his life. However, some of his sonnets talk about the pain of love, such as the one that describes the ill deeds of his friend and their eventual rift. He readily agrees to isolation from his friend. In sonnet 112, Shakespeare calls his friend his ‘world‘. Shakespeare also praises his friend by calling him the only person with all beauty, kindness, and faithfulness together. In the last sonnet of the fair youth sequence, he praises his friend’s beauty. The lovely boy, he says, has been the darling of time. He warns the lovely boy to beware of the time’s destructive power. Unlike all others, Sonnet 126 has only 12 lines.
Following these 126 sonnets, 9 of Shakespeare’s sonnets are addressed to his rival poet. The rival poet remains unnamed. However, it can be any of his various contemporaries. Can it not? The poet’s rival was introduced in sonnet 21. Shakespeare has always contrasted his writing with the style of his rival poets. The rival poet’s poem appears to him as artificial, with his ornamental language and false statements. Shakespeare’s sonnets describe his feelings of envy. Shakespeare says, ‘ I think good thoughts while other good words.’ He feels that the refined language of the rival poet is used to cover up the falsity of his statements and stolen ideas.
William Shakespeare also criticizes the readers’ sensibilities of the rival poet’s work. He then praises his work and says the rival poet has learned the word ‘virtuous’ through his works. The rival poet also has been stealing the beauty of his works. A very short part of his sonnet collection addresses the rival poet. The collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets is based more on obsessive love and maddening desire rather than hate and envy.
The later sonnets, starting from sonnet 127, are addressed to a woman known as ‘The dark lady‘. The woman is referred to as the dark lady because her skin is ‘dun‘ and her hair is black. In Elizabethan times, the ideal beauty standards were pale complexion, red hair, and blue eyes. Queen Elizabeth herself was the epitome of Renaissance beauty ideals. The description of the dark lady seems to be a progressive literary adaptation for which William Shakespeare should be acknowledged and appreciated.
Shakespeare’s description of love for this unfaithful and cruel lady raises many speculations. Some critics assume that she is a spirit. In A Shakespeare’s companion, the dark lady is identified as the mistress who was stolen from the writer by his friend. Some speculate that the dark lady is Anne Wheatly, a black beauty. The character of Rosaline in both Romeo and Juliet and Love’s labors lost was a hint at the dark-skinned mistress. The majority believe that a London prostitute Lucy Negro is The Dark Lady. She was a black woman who owned a brothel. The elusive presence of a woman of color in the literature of the times shook the literary historians.
William Shakespeare begins this section of sonnets by praising the dark and mysterious eyes of the lady. “Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap/To kiss the tender inward of thy hand?” Here, he describes vividly being envious of the piano she played with her tender fingers. His love had made him ‘her servant.’ Shakespeare seems to be on the verge of feelings of obsession. On the one hand, Shakespeare’s sonnet 127 describes the faithless and cruel nature of the dark lady. In Sonnet 142, on the other hand, Shakespeare confesses to being faithless during the course of the relationship.
There are several interpretations and variations of this love affair in different literary works. The best and the most popular of those works is the ballad fashioned from Caroline Randall Williams’s book of poetry, “Lucy Negro, Redux.” This ballad describes the affair from the point of view of Lucy. Lucy was unbothered by his presence and never loved him, whereas Shakespeare’s sonnets describe his unhealthy unrequited feelings. The famous performer of this ballad summed up the work by saying, “One of the undercurrents of those poems is that she is unbothered by him. ”
Shakespeare’s sonnets are not confirmed to be autobiographical. However, his emotions’ intensity purely translates to the sonnets being personal to him. His sonnets have undercurrents of homoerotic feelings, such as in his fair youth sequence. In his depiction of his complex and anguished relationship with a lovely boy and an obsessive and controlling relationship with the ‘Dark Lady‘, Shakespeare has mastered the creative imagination.
The answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total is 154 sonnets. To read the text of the sonnets, click here.
5. Additional sonnets
The answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total remains 154.
In his long poem The Passionate pilgrim, two other sonnets are also attributed to Shakespeare. The first edition of this mysterious anthology of poems opens with two sonnets and is followed by three poems that lovers write in the Love’s labor’s lost. The two sonnets are sonnets 138 and sonnets 144. In these, we get a brief glimpse of how Shakespeare used to compose his literary works.
These five poems out of all the twenty works are said to be written by William Shakespeare. The mysterious book was compiled and published by William Jaggard in 1599 and attributed to William Shakespeare. So the answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total is situational. The two additional sonnets in The Passionate Pilgrim attributed to Shakespeare also need to be considered.
How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? He wrote 154 sonnets.
All the 154 sonnets of William Shakespeare’s collections have some common motifs and themes that underlie the sonnets. These themes are time, death, beauty, nature, and grief of separation.
In sonnet 12, William Shakespeare describes the destructive power of time, causing all physical things to decay. Similarly, Sonnet 63 refers to the passing of time as ‘injurious.’ He has also repeatedly warned his lovely boy WH to be careful of the destructive powers of the time. However, In sonnet 116, Shakespeare admits to the power of love that transcends all barriers, especially the limitation of time. The theme of death is dealt with in Shakespeare’s sonnets. In Sonnet 13, he contemplates the fair youth’s beauty that will eventually rot with his death. In later sonnets, Shakespeare contemplated his own death.
Shakespeare also talks of all things beautiful in his sonnets. He has serenaded the beauty of the fair youth in his initial sonnets. He describes that he was blinded to all the natural beauty in his obsession with the inner and outer beauty of the fair youth. Shakespeare’s sonnets also deal with the natural elements. In Sonnet 44, he talks about the elements such as earth and water. In Sonnet 45, Shakespeare talks about the other elements, such as ‘slight ayre‘ and ‘purging fyre’.
“The other two, slight air and purging fire, /Are both with thee, wherever I abide;/The first my thought, the other my desire,/These present absent with swift motion slide.”
How many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total? William Shakespeare deals with the theme of separation and longing in all their sonnets. He describes being ill with grief during his separation from his friend. The rift started when his friend stole his mistress. In his sonnets addressed to the Dark Lady, he admits to sleeplessness and grief.
The answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total is 154. Shakespeare’s sonnets philosophize, celebrate, attack, plead, and express pain, longing, and despair, all in a tone of voice that rarely rises above a reflective murmur, all spoken as if in an inner monologue or dialogue, and all within the tight structure of the English sonnet form. These sonnets, over the years, have become a fixture of English literature on the theme of love. Different sonnets are used to describe various feelings and are also still quoted. Interestingly, Sonnet 116 has acquired a permanence in marriage ceremonies. (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”)
It is not the only individualistic meaning and genius of his sonnets that make his work impressionable. But it is also the story of the whole sequence, which seems to be the narration of their love life of Shakespeare, that proves the work to be extraordinary. Shakespeare’s sonnets do not only serve as pleasing love poems only. Additionally, they also present some of the most revolutionary ideas to contemplate for the people as well. His conception of the personality of the dark lady with her promiscuous nature and faithless ways was defiant of the notions of an ideal beloved in English literature.
“In the old age, black was not counted fair,
Or, if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;“.
These are the opening lines of the sonnet addressed to The Dark Lady. In this sonnet, the poet defends his love for a lady who is not considered beautiful by the standard conventions. The standard conventions of the Renaissance described the notions of beauty as pale complexion, red hair, and blue eyes. The Dark Lady stood in total contrast with her dark eyes and dark hair.
The theme of everlasting love through any and every situation underlies the whole sequence of sonnets. The concluding sonnet retells the parable of Cupid’s torch turning a fountain into a hot bath, this time to argue that the poet’s disease of love is incurable. The poet has an illness where he loses himself in the throes of his feeling. His love for his friend, hatred for his rival poet, and unrequited feelings for the dark lady all drove him to the verge of obsession. His feelings towards his disease can be best summed up as ‘Love’s fire heats water; water cools, not love.‘
Shakespeare is different as his interpretation of love does not align with that of Eros, of wanting to possess such love. His experience has been different, where he’s had to go through the process of grieving the loss of that love and the trappings of his emotions. His work is fashioned upon the Greek concept of Agape, selfless love, which came to be translated as a charity in the King James version of the Bible. Shakespeare’s sonnets describe William Shakespeare’s unabashed acceptance of baser feelings. This quality of his writings makes him humane, and his writing genius. The answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in total is 154.