Shakespeare's Sonnets


  • 1597 — Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet is published. The spoken prologue to the play, and the prologue to Act II are both written in sonnet form, and the first meeting of the star-crossed lovers is written as a sonnet woven into the dialogue.[58]
  • 1598 — Love’s Labour’s Lost is published as a quarto; the play's title page suggests it is a revision of an earlier version. The comedy features the King of Navarre and his lords who express their love in sonnet form for the Queen of France and her ladies. This play is believed to have been performed at the Inns of Court for Queen Elizabeth I in the mid-1590s.[59]
  • 1598 — Francis Meres published his quarto Palladis Tamia, which was entered on the Stationers' Register on 7 September that year. In it he mentions that sonnets by Shakespeare were being circulated privately:[60]

As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras: so the sweete wittie soule of Ouid liues in mellifluous & hony-tongued Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c.[61]

  • 1599 — William Jaggard published an octavo volume called THE PASSIONATE PILGRIME. By W. Shakespeare. It is an anthology of 20 poems. This small publication contained some spurious content falsely ascribed to Shakespeare; it also contained four sonnets that can be said to be by Shakespeare: Two of the four appear to be early versions of sonnets that were later published in the 1609 quarto (numbers 138 and 144); the other two were sonnets lifted from Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour's Lost. Sonnets 138 and 144 are anything but the sweet sonnets hinted at by Francis Meres’ comment. They are instead harshly frank, ironic and recriminative regarding the relationship of the speaker and the Dark Lady. The two sonnets that were taken from Love’s Labour's Lost, were, in the context of the play, written by comic characters who were intended to be seen as amateur sonneteers. Jaggard’s piracy sold well — a second printing was quickly ordered — but it, including poetry falsely ascribed to Shakespeare, must have been a disappointment to Shakespeare’s readers.[62]
  • January 1600 — an entry in the Stationers' Register is for a work that will include “certain other sonnets by W.S.” This may suggest that Shakespeare planned to respond right away and correct the impression left by Jaggard’s book with Shakespeare’s own publication, or the entry may have been merely a “staying entry” not regarding an upcoming publication, but intended to prevent Jaggard from publishing any more sonnets by Shakespeare.[63]
  • 14 August 1600 — Shakespeare’s play, The Chronicle History of Henry the fifth, is entered into the Register of the Stationers' Company. The spoken epilogue is written in the form of a sonnet.[64]
  • 20 May 1609 — The entry in the Stationers' Register announces Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The contents include a collection of 154 sonnets followed by the poem “A Lover's Complaint”. This publication was greeted with near silence in the documentary record, especially when compared with the lively reception that followed the publication of Venus and Adonis.
  • 1612 — Jaggard issues an expanded edition of his piratical anthology, The Passionate Pilgrim, which had been published in 1599. Thomas Heywood protests this piracy in his Apology for Actors (1612), writing that Shakespeare was "much offended" with Jaggard for making "so bold with his name." Jaggard withdraws the attribution to Shakespeare from unsold copies of the 1612 edition.
  • 1640 — The publisher John Benson publishes an anthology of poems; some are by Shakespeare, and about 30 are not, but all are ascribed to Shakespeare. It is titled ″Poems: Written by Wil. Shakespeare Gent”. Benson is even more wildly piratical than Jaggard. Benson draws on The Passionate Pilgrim and other sources, including Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609), which he rewrites and rearranges. Benson imperfectly rewrites the sonnets to make them appear to be addressing a woman — the pronoun "he" is often replaced by "she". This edition is unfortunately influential and resulted in confusing and confounding various critical understanding and response for more than a century.
  • 1780 — Edmond Malone, in his two volume supplement to the 1778 Johnson-Stevens edition of the plays, finally instates the 1609 quarto edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets as the sole authoritative text.[65]
  • 1986 — The New Penguin Shakespeare’s edition of the sonnets restores “A Lover’s Complaint” as an integral part of Shakespeare's Sonnets.[66][67]

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