Shakespeare’s Sonnets

The most famous sonnets to be written in English are probably William Shakespeare’s. The John Rylands’ copy of the first edition, published on the 20th May 1609 during Shakespeare’s lifetime, is a modest little book in octavo format. Printed rather erratically by George Eld and sold by John Wright for Thomas Thorpe, it comprises forty leaves of paper, 2,156 lines of verse, and 154 sonnets.Remarkable for its rarity, it is thought to be one of only thirteen copies to have survived to the twenty-first century. Purchased from Dr Richard Farmer by Earl Spencer for £8 in 1798, and bound in an elegant green morocco binding by Roger Payne, it found its way to Manchester in 1892 when Enriqueta Rylands purchased the Spencer Collection of books.

Taking its name from the Italian word sonetto, which in English means a ‘little sound’ or ‘song’, the sonnet is thought to have derived from a form of Sicilian poetry known as strambotto. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries sonnets found their way to France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, and the Netherlands whilst later they travelled to Germany, Scandinavia and Russia. During the last four decades of the sixteenth century it is estimated that some 300,000 sonnets were produced across Europe, attesting to their popularity.

This is an eBookTreasures facsimile edition.

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