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Shakespeare's Sonnets

Introduction to the Sonnets

Few collections of poems—indeed, few literary works in general—intrigue, challenge, tantalize, and reward as do Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Almost all of them love poems, the 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.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sonnet 18, lines 1–4

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her though I know she lies

Sonnet 138, lines 1–2

Shakespeare’s Sonnets in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Find more in our digital image collection

Sonnets…Illuminated by Ross Turner
Sonnet 91 : "Some glory in their birth." Drawn by Sir John Gilbert.
Title page of Songs and Sonnets. Illuminated by Alberto Sangorski
Henry Ospovat. Illustration for Sonnet 91 "Some glory in their birth." William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's Sonnets. London and New York, 1899

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Learn more about Shakespeare, his Sonnets, their language, and their history from the experts behind our edition.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

About Shakespeare’s Sonnets
An introduction to the themes and interpretations of the Sonnets

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and poetic techniques

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Early printed texts

Shakespeare’s Sonnets were first printed in 1609 in a quarto published by Thomas Thorpe. That edition is generally considered the authoritative text, and modern editors usually follow it as their source. Two of the poems in the 1609 sonnets (Sonnets 138 and 144) were published in the 1599 collection The Passionate Pilgrim; although the entire volume was attributed to Shakespeare, the collection is in fact a miscellany of poems by different authors. Some scholars, however, believe that the two sonnets by Shakespeare in that volume represent versions closer to Shakespeare’s manuscript than the 1609 versions. The sonnets were republished in 1640 by John Benson in a form very different from the 1609 collection, including a different order and individually titled poems. The Folger edition of the sonnets, like that of other modern editions, follows the 1609 text.