When poets refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
- Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: The speaker alludes to Christ's crucifixion and sort of echoes the phrase "My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?" (7-8)
Major Literary Influences
Shakespeare may be the best sonnet writer of all time, but he didn't exactly invent the wheel. Here's what you need to know about the major poets that influenced Shakespeare's sonnet writing:
- Francis Petrarch (1304-1374): This 14th century Italian guy is the Mac Daddy of all love sonneteers. He's famous for the 366 Italian (a.k.a. Petrarchan) Sonnets that appear in a book called Il Canzoniere (Song Book), a.k.a. Rime Sparse (Scattered Rhymes). Petrarch's sonnets are addressed to a hot girl named "Laura," who seems to enjoy torturing the poet (kind of like the mistress in Shakespeare's Sonnet 133 is accused of getting off on torturing the speaker and his buddy). Petrarch's smokin'-hot-yet-unattainable girl becomes a major cliché in sixteenth-century English literature—we're talking everything from Romeo and Juliet to Shakespeare's Sonnets.
- Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542): This was a sixteenth-century English dude who made sonnets cool in England when he translated a bunch of Petrarch's work into English. Basically, he did for sonnets in the 1500s what Bon Jovi did for power ballads in the 1980s. Wyatt's stuff appeared in the first ever printed English poetry anthology, Tottel's Miscelleny (1557).
- Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547): Here's another sixteenth-century English guy who (along with Wyatt) made the sonnet popular in England. Surrey's poetry is also featured in Totell's Miscellany.
- Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586): This is the English poet famous for writing Astrophil and Stella (published 1591), which was the first ever English sonnet cycle. It contained 108 sonnets and 11 songs. Hmm. Not too shabby.
- Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): Yep. Spenser's another English poet. Spenser wrote Amoretti (published 1595), a sonnet cycle dedicated to his wife. Aww. He was another major influence on Shakespeare.
Shout-Out to Shakespeare's Real Life Mistress?
Some folks think the mistress (a.k.a. the Dark Lady) in the sonnets is a real person Shakespeare may have hooked up with. We're not convinced there's any hardcore evidence to support this, but if you want to know more, here are some of the major candidates:
- Emilia Lanier: She was a dark haired and dark complexioned woman who hung out in Elizabeth's court and also mingled with theater types and aristocrats. Also, she was a poet and a bit of a feminist. At one point, she was the mistress of Lord Chamberlain (a.k.a. the dude who sponsored Shakespeare's acting company).
- Elizabeth Vernon: She was the wife of one of Shakespeare's patrons, the earl of Southampton. (Some people think the "Fair Youth" addressed in Sonnets 1-126 is this guy.)
- Mary Fitton: Fitton was a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth I and had an affair with one of Shakespeare's patrons, a dude named William Herbert (see below).
Shout-Out to Shakespeare's Mystery Friend?
When read together, Sonnets 1-126 seem to be addressed to an unnamed young man that most scholars refer to as "The Fair Youth." This is the same dude our speaker talks about in Sonnet 133 (a.k.a. the buddy who is also sleeping with our speaker's mistress).
Like we've said, we shouldn't assume the sonnets are autobiographical, but in the past, some literary critics (like E.K. Chambers) have argued that Shakespeare addressed the sonnets to real life people. These are the two major candidates for the speaker's friend:
- William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke: He was a younger patron of Shakespeare. (A patron is just someone who offers support and helps bankroll an artist.) His initials match the dedication of The Sonnets: "Mr. W.H."
- Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton: Wriothesley was another one of Shakespeare's patrons. Shakespeare dedicated two poems, The Rape of Lucrece (1594) and Venus and Adonis (1593) to Henry Wriothesley. That's why some people think that the "W.H" initials in the dedication of the Sonnets accidentally got flipped around and were supposed to read "H.W"