Expansive Poetry & Music Online Classic Reprint

These are most of the "Dark Lady" sonnets, as they have been called for some time, written by Shakespeare. The descriptive phrase came from readers and critics, not from the author. Literal interpretation has led to a case made for the subject to be Aemelia Lanyer, who almost certainly knew Shakespeare, but it's not a very convincing case. According to the Oxford edition editor of her poems, the originator of this idea misread his source materials. Another possibility, culled by G.B. Harrison from his research, is Mary Sitton, a Chambermaid notorious for affairs with and children by a variety of men at court, including some of the Lord Chamberlain's Players. (In answer to several complaints the poems have been edited with a closer eye).
It is also worth noting that the order of this "sequence" was in part contrived by the first publisher of the sonnets (Thomas Thorpe in 1609). As such the poems may be from a variety of times and built from diverse experiences. They may also be exercises in wit disguised as explorations of love -- a common enough approach to sonnets then as now.
As a depiction of an obsession, they are remarkable; as in case obsession, you would be hard-pressed to find anything recognizable of any subject but the narrator himself. However, there are delightful exceptions, as 128 and 138, which seem to be about something else altogether.
The use of black and white might seem to be racial. Is it? Sometimes it seems so; other times it seems more the traditional color signature for figures of good and evil, or good and bad, or sweet and sour. Too literal a reading of sonnets is a fool's errand, particularly of Elizabethan sonnets.
133 and 134 are humorously suggestive, yet could be read quite differently. 151 is more boldly so.  143 suggests the Elizabethans knew a long time before Freud about Oedipus, and that such could also be an amusing game.
These sonnets seem often to be a range of questions of "why did this go wrong, and what exactly was it" with  the usual accusations, self-pity, excuses and some disturbing possibilities, particularly that distortion of the senses that so marks obsession. In that light, the first four lines of #147 might be framed and presented as a gift to obsessives by their therapists.
As early explorations of what the author later examined in plays about distorted passions and senses, they are fascinating and rich. And they are, whatever else, terrific sonnets.
Interpretations of Sonnets 146 are welcome.
135, 136 (the silly "will" poems), and 144 and 145 have been left out, but pleas will be heard to put them back.
Though most know this, the use of " 'd" for "ed" is an editorial convention which may or may not date to Shakespeare's time, when punctuation and spelling were somewhat erratic. When it's used, "learn'd" is pronounced lurnd, and "learned" lurn-ed. Exceptions are "kled" and" ied," as in tickled, and tied.
Enough notes!

                             William Shakespeare

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