Sexing Shakespeare's Sonnets: Reading Beyond Sonnet 20



Critics of Shakespeare's Sonnets typically accept the premise that Sonnets 1–126 are addressed to a young man, and Sonnets 127–52 to a woman. Two main schools of analysis, by no means mutually exclusive, have dominated the discussion of these groups: either the Young Man and Dark Lady sonnets are read as belonging to sustained, and usually interlaced, narrative sequences, or the sonnets are seen as a series of n number of contiguous mini-sequences connected by themes and images; we might call these the strong and weak sequence theories. Despite the widespread acceptance of these two approaches, serious weaknesses and inconsistencies underlie the arguments offered in support of both theories. A review and rebuttal of these dubious arguments may help to reestablish the burden of logical proof where it belongs, at the door of those critics who want to make sweeping interpretive claims about the sequence of the sonnets.