This is in NO WAY a comprehensive list of all the excellent resources available to guide your Sonnet Journey. It consists simply of my favorite friends I've met along my own. They are all steadfastly reliable, brilliantly insightful, exasperatingly challenging, and I would not be without a single one. Every time I begin learning a new sonnet, I pull out the exhaustively scholarly Booth (never do I refer to him by first name, though the rest are more friendly) and the father & son linguists David and Ben. With them by my side, I build the foundation that will support me as I memorize and eventually perform these lines. I check in with William on structure and theme, and then wander through my friends Katherine, Helen, and Don. These are my friends and companions who see me off  at the start of every leg of my journey.


But then I memorize. I have tricks and tips, but that's the tedious part, and no way around it but to plough through. And then I speak it for the first time, and somewhere in those lines I am struck with some small revelation, the first of many to come, that only comes with speaking the verse aloud, preferably to another human being. And thus the journey continues...

Shakespeare's Sonnets

edited with analytic commentary by

Stephen Booth

This is the gold standard for studying the sonnets. Booth is exhaustive in his pursuit of truth, and he presents historical emendations and edits with coherent context that allows the reader to make an informed decision for their own use. Do yourself a favor: don't sit down with a sonnet without Uncle Stephen by your side.

Shakespeare's Words

A Glossary & Language Companion


David Crystal & Ben Crystal

This is an incredibly comprehensive glossary of nearly every word in Shakespeare's cannon, with special attention paid to various topics like archaisms, elision, money, forms of address et al. Booth is so thorough in his commentary that this can sometimes seem superfluous, but I never sit with text for the first time (or 2nd or 3rd) without this by my side. You shouldn't either.


The Arden Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Sonnets

edited  by

Katherine Duncan-Jones

Of all the fine modern editions of the sonnets, KD-J stands a rank above for her solid and concise commentary (unlike Booth's expansiveness), and her clear-eyed conclusions. Still, she, like Booth and everyone else, edits the text and punctuation in line with historical practice, but at least KD-J and Booth tell you where they do this, and which editor originated the emendation. Many editions, like the Folger, do not bother providing that important context when their edition varies from the 1609 Q. I steer clear of them, simply because I don't have the patience to cross reference their work, especially when such fine scholars as KD-J and Booth have slaved to provide it.

Also, the Arden is the basis for the text analysis in the very fine Sonnets app.


The Art of

Shakespeare's Sonnets


Helen Vendler

HV offers an alternately stunningly insightful and slightly weird commentary. Her keen eye for pattern, whether linguistic or thematic or other, is unique and/or surprising and/or wackadoodle, sometimes all three. But read with an open mind and she will lead you down paths you never would have discovered otherwise, and sometimes her conclusions are downright brilliant. Also included is a recording of HV reciting selected sonnets. For someone who actually memorized all 154 (a rarity which truly shows in her commentary), she offers some of the most monotonous recitations you'll ever (hopefully) encounter.

Shake-speares Sonnets

once again imprinted by

WS (William Sutton)

William Sutton is a marvel. He's long ago memorized all 154 sonnets, but more importantly he has performed them around the world. He's spoken each poem directly to another human being. And trust me (as this is the thrust of my own work) you'll never really know what a sonnet's about, what it means, and what pound of flesh it demands of you until you speak it to another person. He has, and his understanding of the Sonnets is astounding. And after all these years of knowing them, he says they still surprise him with things they kept hidden away, waiting for the perfect moment of revelation. I can attest to their mystery, as that's certainly been my experience performing them, too. Speaking of performance, William provides readings of the sonnets in Readdle's wonderful Shakespeare Pro app.

He's taken his years of intimate insight and broken down each sonnet in form and content. Each thought is highlighted, each line ending noted, making understanding both the structure of the poem and the shape of the thought–the rhetorical structure–simply a matter of four colors. If you can still get a copy of his excellent book on his web site,, please do. It's absolutely worth it. But if you can't, he's generously shared his work (everything in the book, plus listings of sonnets by theme) on Fun Fact: note how he's structured of the sonnets on the site: they form a sonnet lying on its side! And so we see that the full set represents the theoretical maximum number of syllables possible in a proper English sonnet (14 lines x 11 syllables). Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe just genius.

BTW - a special note of thanks is in order to WS (this one, not the other one) as the Sonnet Journey cards owe a debt to this resource. It is the only other edition with Q text and punctuation with modern spelling that I know of, and made proofreading my work infinitely less painful.


Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets

a new commentary  by

Don Patterson

 Don Patterson offers commentary as an accomplished poet, not as a scholar (though he is also an academic). He sifts for the truth through the  challenges the Sonnets present a modern reader. And he finds them. Mostly. He also misses the point  quite a lot, but that's not his fault. He is who he is, and that's the platform from which he experiences the poems. Unfortunately, much of the great fun stuff comes from being down in the mud with them. DP is especially dismissive of the speaker/WS when he fails to understand the human condition underlying the verse. Or rather, he understands but fails to empathize with it. Showing an infuriating impatience with base or immature or illogical human quirks and failings, he finds them and the poems which contain them unbelievable and/or unworthy. Still, he is like that opinionated Uncle at family gatherings who takes life a little too literally. It's hard to dismiss his point of view simply because his experience is different (if more emotionally limited) than yours. He thanks a number of authors in his introduction, including Helen Vendler (thanks for the recommendation, Don), though he finds her analysis at times vexing. He says, "I'm having my copy of The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets rubberized so I can catch it again after I've thrown it at the wall." I feel exactly the same about Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets, but I wouldn't be without it. His essays are the basis  for the commentary in the excellent Sonnets app.

Shakespeare's Sonnets

iOS app for iPad only

by Touch Press and the Arden Shakespeare

This is a stunning app. Modern text and analysis from the Arden Shakespeare edition. Further commentary by Don Patterson. Facsimile of the 1609 Quarto. Video interviews with Don Patterson, James Shapiro, KD-J, Ben Crystal, Cicely Berry, and Henry Woudhuysen. Video performances by everyone from Patrick Stewart  and Stephen Fry to Kim Cattrall. Audio performances synced to the text. Manages your notes and favorites. It's as close to perfection as an app gets-it's worth getting an iPad just for this! JUST. GET. IT.


Shakespeare Pro

iOS app for iPhone and iPad



This app is a truly comprehensive complete works (including the sonnets and epic poems, and some doubtful entries), with a First Folio facsimile, glossary (powered by Shakespeare's Words), sonnet recordings by William Sutton, 1609Q, study Notes, quotes, portraits, and all of it is fully searchable! You may never need to reach for your Riverside/Oxford/Applause complete works again. There is a free, lite version, but skip it and spend the ten bucks to get the full featured Pro app. Really, when folks take a labor of love and do it so spectacularly well, they should be paid and encouraged. 'Nuff said.