These 154 poems constitute the most famous sonnet cycle in the English language. Many are addressed to a beautiful young man whom the poet admires and venerates, and urges to marry and raise children; others to a "Dark Lady" (i.e., not blonde) for whom the poet feels strong desire and sometimes revulsion (she's a bit free with her charms). Many of the sonnets meditate on the meaning of life and mortality, as well as beauty and love, and the difficulty of adequately putting all into words. As with the plays, the reader is apt to stumble upon a familiar phrase ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?", "...I summon up remembrance of things past," "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," or "Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang"). Since the wordplay and wit are often complex, it helps to have a notated edition; I recommend the one edited by Stephen Booth.
This report prepared by David Loftus