The Sonnets

"So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee."

Read | Questions | Resources | Links | Papers | Back


  • first read the Introduction to the Sonnets in your text
  • read at least these sonnets (read others in addition if you wish): 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 29, 30, 33, 40, 42, 55, 57, 65, 73, 93, 94, 116, 127, 130, 135, 146
  • There are a number of useful Internet resources on the SONNETS, which I recommend exploring.
  • read the sample sonnet analysis written by your professor (you may be writing something similar!)


    (1) In Sonnet 15, consider the imagery that Shakespeare uses. Why does he draw upon the natural world to illustrate the idea of mutability and change?

    (2) Do Sonnets 17 and 18 seem to be contradictory, at least in the powers that the poet attributes to his rhymes? What other sonnets deal with this same subject?

    (3) In Sonnet 29, how would you describe the logical shift in thought after line 8?

    (4) What phrase from Sonnet 30 has been used as the title of a famous novel? How does Shakespeare use alliteration to tie together the first two lines in this sonnet?

    (5) In Sonnet 33, to whom does the pronoun "his" in lines 6 and 7 refer? How does this sonnet play upon the idea of correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm?

    (6) What is the speaker's tone in Sonnet 40? How does the repetition of the word "love" in this sonnet help to create the tone?

    (7) What is the "riddle" in Sonnet 42, and how does Shakespeare answer it in the end?

    (8) In Sonnet 73, how does the poem's meaning correspond with the formal division of the sonnets into three groups of four lines and a final couplet? To what different natural cycles does Shakespeare refer in each of the first three groups of four lines? What images does he concentrate on in each of these groups of lines? How is the final couplet a reflection on the descriptions in the earlier portions of the sonnet?

    (9) In Sonnet 94, how does the last line serve as a kind of epigram for the poem?

    (10) How does Shakespeare define love in Sonnet 116?

    (11) What Petrarchan conceits does Shakespeare poke fun at in Sonnet 130? (See Sonnet 127 for a more realistic description of the "Dark Lady.")

    (12) What word is the central pun in Sonnet 135?

    (13) What is the paradox at the end of Sonnet 146?

    (14) What images or image patterns do you find Shakespeare frequently using in the sonnets that you read?

    (15) Basing your answer on the sonnets that you read, what themes do you find recurring frequently? (You might think about how Shakespeare develops some of these topics in the Sonnets and what attitudes he typically expresses towards them.


    If you are interested in doing any outside reading on the Sonnets for one of your optional reaction papers, consider the following:

    Other articles and books that may interest you are these:

  • A now suspect but still highly interesting autobiographical reading of the Sonnets is found in A. L. Rowse's reading of the Sonnets in relation to Shakespeare's complicated relationships with the "dark lady" and the "rival poet."

    Some articles and commentaries on the Internet include these:


  • To compare Shakespeare's sonnets with some of the typical Elizabethan love poetry of the time, much of which is doggerel, visit this site: Herbert Collmann's "Ballads and Broadsides chiefly Of the Elizabethan Period".

  • Here is Kurt Daw's extremely helpful piece on scansion.


    Analyze one sonnet of your choice (approximately 500 words), following the sample sonnet analysis. A helpful book to consult for comments about the sonnet you choose is Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. Stephen Booth (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1977) [RES: PR 2848 .A2 B6]. Last Updated: 8 Sept. 2012