About This Guide

There are many different kinds of texts, reading tools, and reading styles. We’ve been working hard at OwlEyes.org to try and improve the reading experience for everyone by providing users with accessible annotation tools, contextual and analytical insights, and opportunities for community collaboration. This Owl Eyes Guide to Shakespeare’s Sonnets is designed to help you navigate the many moving parts that go into these difficult little poems. Because of the strict structure of a sonnet, the rich historical context in which Shakespeare wrote, and the often hard-to-follow narrative of the overall sequence, this guide will help you situate yourself in the text so you can bypass confusion and delve right into talking about the rich metaphors and themes throughout the work.  

We’ve set up this guide in a particular way:

First, we briefly introduce the text to pique your interest. We broadly cover the reasons why you might want to read this collection of poems and point out some fun facts that you might not already know.

Second, we provide you with an introduction to the sonnet form. This section includes useful vocabulary items that will help you unpack poetic terms, as well as a breakdown of the structure and meter of this very prescriptive form.

Third, we dive into the particulars of this sonnet sequence. We’ve created a timeline by dividing the poems into sections based on the overall narrative so that readers might approach each sonnet already knowing its subject. This has certainly helped us, and we hope it will help you to better understand the speaker’s mental state in each grouping. (He’s got a lot of feelings.)

Fourth, we describe each of the recurring characters and outline five important themes that shape the entire sequence. These themes come with examples and links to images in the actual poems to help guide you as you read.

Finally, we give you some useful historical context that sheds light on some of Shakespeare’s influences as well as the quirks of the printed text.

Happy Reading!