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Shakespeare's Works
• The Poems

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The Poems

Alberto Sangorski. Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Manuscript, 1926

William Shakespeare is best known today for his plays, but in his time poetry was far more important to any writer’s literary reputation. Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote his two long poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, during a period of forced unemployment in 1592–94, when an outbreak of the plague closed London’s theaters. The poems were published, respectively, in 1593 and 1594.


Shakespeare’s famous sonnets and another fairly lengthy poem, The Phoenix and Turtle, are also thought to date from early in his career. They were published some years later, perhaps without his permission. Scholars disagree about whether to attribute another poem, A Lover's Complaint, to Shakespeare. Still more of Shakespeare’s poems and songs can be found within the plays themselves.


Like his plays, Shakespeare’s poems are full of passages that remain embedded in our popular culture. Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) is a fixture of wedding ceremonies, and Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”), Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”), and Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”)—to name only a few—are known and quoted in the same way that famous lines and passages are quoted from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth.


Read more about Shakespeare's poems:
The Sonnets
Venus and Adonis
The Phoenix and Turtle

Shakespeare. The Rape of Lucrece. London, 1594

Learn More

High School Student Programs: Shakespeare's Sisters

On Stage

Folger Poetry: About the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series

Audio Archive: Poems from the Folger Poetry Reading Series

Teacher Resources

Poetry in the Schools

Teaching Sonnets

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