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 two other fairly lengthy poems, The Phoenix and Turtle and A Lover’s Complaint, are also thought to date from early in his career. They were published some years later, perhaps without his permission. 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:
Venus and Adonis
The Phoenix and Turtle