The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man – described as the “fair youth” – and reveal a deep, loving friendship. The speaker encourages the friend to procreate so that his youthful beauty can be carried on through his children. The speaker also believes that the man’s beauty can be preserved in his poetry, as the final couplet of Sonnet 17 reveals:
But were some child of yours alive that time, [in the future]
You should live twice: in it, and in my rhyme.
Some believe that the intimacy of the relationship between the speaker and the young man is evidence of Shakespeare’s homosexuality. However, this is probably a very modern reading of a classical text. There was no public reaction to the relationship when the sonnets were first published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609, suggesting that the expression of a deep friendship through such language was perfectly acceptable in Shakespeare's time. It was perhaps more shocking to the Victorian sensibility.
Top 5 Most Popular Fair Youth Sonnets:
- Sonnet 1: From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase
- Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?
- Sonnet 29: When In Disgrace With Fortune and Men's Eyes
- Sonnet 73: That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In Me Behold
- Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds
A full list of the Fair Youth Sonnets (Sonnets 1 – 126) is also available.