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Analysis: Allusions

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.

Biblical Shout-Outs

  • The phrase "desire is death" (8) might be a shout-out to the following Biblical passages: Romans 6:19-23, 8:6; Ephesians 2:1-3

Shout-Outs to 16th- and 17th-Century Proverbs

  • "Past cure, past care" (9)
  • "Desire has no rest" (10)
  • "As black as hell" (14)

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 16th-century English literature—we're talking everything from Romeo and Juliet to Shakespeare's Sonnets.
  • Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542): This 16th-century English dude 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): He's another 16th-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 English poet was 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. 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 that the sonnets are autobiographical 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 (aka the dude who sponsored Shakespeare's acting company).
  • Elizabeth Vernon: The wife of one of Shakespeare's patron's, 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. (F.Y.I., some people think William Herbert is the "Fair Youth" of the sonnets.)

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