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Scandalous sonnets

Nancy Carroll and Gerald Kyd in Romeo and Juliet
Nancy Carroll and Gerald Kyd in
"Romeo and Juliet"
Ten years after most of them were written, Shakespeare publishes "Shakespeares Sonnets," many of which refer to his passion for the "Beautiful Boy" (probably William Herbert) and the "Dark Lady" (probably Emilia Lanier), and the love/sex triangle that seems to have involved them all. Candid and often sexually explicit, the sonnets were not universally well received at the time. This poetic "kiss and tell" may have exceeded the boundaries of taste for its intended audience, blending religious and erotic imagery in a raw, often savage way.

Later, Victorian censors would be horrified by the apparent homosexual undercurrent of the sonnets to Herbert, while twentieth-century feminists railed against Shakespeare's depiction of the Dark Lady as a feral, predatory sexual being. The Dark Lady herself, Emilia Lanier, would produce her own religious poems with a preface condemning the abuse of women.


portrait not availableWilliam Herbert

the Dark Lady at virginalEmilia Lanier (the Dark Lady?)

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