This web site was mainly created between January 2000 and January 2001. All the commentaries have been revised to make them of uniform format and to eliminate errors. Please inform the web master if you find errors and wish them to be corrected. (Details on the home page.)
Additional material has been added subsequently, including sonnets by the lesser known Elizabethan authors, and all the poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt. The web site does not have a time constraint and it may be revised or added to continuously over a long period. Details will be published on the home page.
Please read also the note on our general policies at the bottom of this page.
This is an entirely new and original commentary on Shakespeare's sonnets. The text is a modified version of that which is freely available on the internet, e.g. at Project Gutenberg. I have made corrections where necessary, and a few emendations, either to conform with present day thinking on a particular crux, or on the basis of judgements which are argued for in the relevant commentaries. I have not changed all past tense -'d endings into -ed, as many editions now do. My taste in this matter has been somewhat haphazard, but I have preferred to retain a few of the -'d endings printed in the original 1609 edition, as a totally corrected version seems too sanitised. I do not insist that it is entirely relevant that anything of Shakespeare's should have the additional fillip of an antiquarian interest tacked on to it, but neither is it right or practicable that we should attempt to make him entirely into a modern. Though he might have been for all time, he nevertheless lived in a circumscribed and bounded age, just as we live within the cage and boundaries of our own world. Therefore one may easily allow some of the trappings of that (to us) antique world to slide over into our own. The 1609 Quarto version is given with each sonnet, as close to the original as possible, although many of the minor details cannot be reproduced. It is not an exact facsimile, but as near as I can make it within the limitations of html, and not having direct access to an original copy. Readers may judge of the success or otherwise of this attempt by looking at the web page on text facsimiles which gives photographic examples of early texts, and transliterated versions alongside.
The guiding principle behind this commentary is that it should be freely available, intelligible and self-contained. It is not my intention to send readers to seek obscure articles in distant libraries, so I have attempted to put relevant information on the appropriate page for each sonnet, even though on occasion this means that the page becomes overloaded. I would prefer to use references only to what is available on the Internet, but this is currently not possible. The editions consulted, listed below, are not available on line. Editions of Elizabethan sonnets by other authors will gradually be added. These are generally not easily to be found, even though some Renaissance sites provide samples from most of the Elizabethan writers.
The illustrations are provided both as light relief and to add atmosphere and information, also sometimes as an oblique commentary on the text. Download times vary, but generally all the text and commentary appears long before the pictures, so that anyone growing impatient may consult the written words without significant delays.
The editions consulted have been principally those of SB, GBE, KDJ, JK, and HV, details of which are given below. Q stands for the original edition of 1609.
Stephen Booth, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Yale University, 1978 Printing. SB
G. Blakemore Evans, The Sonnets, New Cambridge Shakespeare, Cambridge 1996. GBE
Katherine Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare's Sonnets, The Arden Shakespeare, 1997. KDJ
John Kerrigan, The Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint, Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth, 1986. JK
Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets, Harvard University Press, 1997. HV
The 1609 Quarto edition of the sonnets by Thomas Thorpe is referred to as Q (for Quarto). Shake-speare's Sonnets. Neuer before Imprinted. Published by Thomas Thorpe 1609.
SB - Stephen Booth;
GBE - G. Blakemore Evans
KDJ - Katherine Duncan Jones;
JK - John Kerrigan;
HV - Helen Vendler
Q - 1609 edition by Thorpe.
Occasional reference is made to:
Shakespeare's Bawdy, by Eric Partridge, Routledge, London 1947, (referred to as Partridge).
A Shakespeare Glossary, by C. T. Onions, Oxford, 1965, (referred to as Onions).
A&S. Astrophel and Stella, by Sir Philip Sidney, 1591. (A&S.)
Other commentators and editors are referred to by full name where appropriate.
The bible is cited from the Authorized version. Commentators nowadays prefer earlier versions, which are the ones Shakespeare would have used. At the time of writing I did not have access to the Geneva, Tyndale or Bishop's Bible, and depended on what was more widely available. The AV relies considerably on earlier translations so its language is not entirely alien to a consideration of the sonnets. The early bibles are now available on line and may be used to check references. See for eaxmple http://www.studylight.org/ for the text of most of the early bibles.
Citation and authorisation policy for this site.
I receive requests occasionally for use of material from this site. Please note that I observe the unwritten rules of the Internet, that as much material as possible should be freely available. However, please acknowledge the source of whatever you use. The picture material may in some cases be used, but Oxquarry Books Ltd. cannot give a blanket authorisation for use of all pictures available on this site, as the copyright on some of them is not ascertainable. Consult the web master (see the home page) if necessary for further details.
Requests are also received regarding the authorship of the commentaries. The web site and the notes are the work of
Dr. G. R. Ledger, formerly Honorary Fellow, Classics, University of Reading, U.K., now retired.
Information on how to cite web pages in academic works may easily be found by googling 'How to cite web pages'.