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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was a famous English poet, dramatist, and actor, often regarded as the greatest English writer of all time. Shakespeare's early life was spent in Stratford-upon-Avon, where little else is known about him until he married at age 18 to Anne Hathaway. He enjoyed quick recognition as a skilled playwright in London as a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Company (also known as the King's Men). He retired in 1610, having spent a successful career as a writer and heralded by royalty and peasants alike.         Sonnets Click to Order The Sonnets: Narrative Poems (Signet Classic Shakespeare) (soft $)

Shakespeare's privacy resulted in a sketchy timeline of the writer's life, leading many over the years to attempt to fill in the gaps, often with scraps of fact and fiction that only result in nothing close to the truth (A truth we will probably never know). Among the rumors and hypotheses offered over the years: that he was gay; a womanizer; illiterate (reciting his works to a scribe), and a puppet (in which he didn't write the works but was encouraged to take credit to shield the real writer -- a person with political ties).

Shakespeare's sonnets give readers a glimpse into the mind and heart of the playwright. Published in 1609, the 154 sonnets involve the author's relationship with various characters, including a striking young man, a mysterious woman, and a rival poet. The identities of the characters have also been the subject of much speculation over the years, despite the fact that they may have been completely created in the mind of the bard.

The featured sonnet is in a fairly straight-forward narrative-style. I chose it because the opening lines seemed intriguing descriptions of going to sleep and entering the world of dream: "journey in my head." For the speaker of the poem, his love exists in his dreams and there he travels nightly to her. We are told in the twelveth line that his "imaginary sight" enables him to see "her old face new," informing us that his love should appear aged. Perhaps she has died. The closing lines, a rhyming couplet, tell us that the speaker spends his days in anguish, living only to visit his love in dreams. A love poem indeed!


Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
      Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
      For thee and for myself no quiet find.

Links of Interest:

William Shakespeare
Renaissance Electronic Texts' edition of "Shake-speares Sonnets" (1609) for original old-spelling texts of all 154 sonnets.
Wm. Shakespeare
This site, part of the University of Toronto, has the text to more than 30 poems and sonnets, including "O Mistress Mine! Where are you Roaming?"
This site is aimed at educating students, and includes the complete works, a passage finder, discussion forum, study guides, and FAQs.
William Shakespeare Illustrated
This site explores nineteenth-century paintings, criticism, and productions of Shakespeare's plays and their influences on the arts.
William Shakespeare
On this site, you can search for words, phrases, or dialogue from Shakespeare's histories, comedies, and tragedies.
William Shakespeare
This site allows users to sarch the complete works of Shakespeare, browse quotes, follow a chronology of his poetry and plays, and/or join a discussion group.

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