A rich and expansive look at ‘All the Sonnets of Shakespeare’ from Cambridge University Press

Two prolific scholars and writers on Shakespeare, and colleagues at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Paul Edmondson (Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival) and Stanley Wells (Honorary President at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and General Editor of the Oxford and Penguin editions of Shakespeare) have combined their considerable knowledge and expertise to present a fresh, expanded, and illuminating look at All the Sonnets of Shakespeare. The new tome, published by Cambridge University Press, extends beyond the standard collection of The Bard’s sonnets per se, while offering original interpretations and commentary on their chronology, content, and context.

The co-editors’ groundbreaking revisionist view expands the number of sonnets from the long-established 154, as published in the classic 1609 compendium (Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Never before Imprinted), to a total of 182, by including alternative versions of two of them, incorporating three that were first attributed to Shakespeare in an unauthorized anthology of 1599 (The Passionate Pilgrim), and integrating an additional 23 examples of his use of the sonnet structure within the dramatic scripts of his plays. They can be found in more than 30 years of his writing, from pre-1582 to 1613, as both stand-alone poems and amidst the texts of such diverse works as Love’s Labour’s Lost (“the most heavily sonnet-laden of all Shakespeare’s plays”), created at the height of England’s sonnet-writing vogue, to the iconic prologue and romantic passages of Romeo and Juliet.

In addition to enlarging the canon, Edmondson and Wells have grouped the sonnets in a revised sequence according to the probable dates of their composition, rather than publication, based on observations of their related subjects, grammar, and syntax. The reorganization is explained in a cogent introduction, which gives new insights into the sonnets’ sources, meanings, personal emotions, and the gender of their voices, while questioning the presumed autobiographical situations that were believed to have inspired them, and shedding new light on Shakespeare’s career, personality, and intimate thoughts and feelings about love and sexuality.

The introduction also contains a brief history of the sonnet, tracing its form, etymology, and predominant themes, as well as some interesting facts about Shakespeare’s – citing a pun on the surname of his future wife Anne Hathaway in the sonnet traditionally numbered 145 (“’I hate’ from hate away she threw/And saved my life, saying – ‘not you’”) and quoting the only full line from a sonnet that is duplicated in one of his plays (“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” appears in both Sonnet 94 and Edward III). And to aid with the understanding of present-day readers, the book includes explanatory notes with definitions of the archaic words and expressions used by Shakespeare and his era, and an appendix of literal paraphrases of the sonnets in modern English

Available for purchase on Amazon and other sites, All the Sonnets of Shakespeare presents a wealth of valuable material and compelling interpretations in a clear, comprehensible, and convincing style that will hold appeal not only for Shakespeare scholars and students, but for all devotees of “the supreme poet-dramatist” and his work.

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, Cambridge University Press, September 10, 2020, 208 pages, hardcover ISBN 978-1-108-49039-9, $17.95, Kindle, ISBN 110-8-49039-5, $9.99.

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Deb Miller
Deb Miller (PhD, Art History) is the Senior Correspondent and Editor for New York City, where she grew up seeing every show on Broadway. She is an active member of the Outer Critics Circle and served for more than a decade as a Voter, Nominator, and Judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. Outside of her home base in NYC, she has written and lectured extensively on the arts and theater throughout the world (including her many years in Amsterdam, London, and Venice, and her extensive work and personal connections with Andy Warhol and his circle) and previously served as a lead writer for Stage Magazine, Phindie, and Central Voice.


  1. Shakespeare’s work, the sonnets especially, fits The Earl of Oxford like the whole continent of Africa fits into your neighbourhood boating pond.

    Oxford did actually write a sonnet. Anyone who reads Oxford’s mediocre verse and imagines it to be written by the man whose work is in this volume needs serious help with their understanding of poetry.

    • Sicinius is an object lesson in the use of a pen name to maintain anonymity. Dr. Waugaman is not anonymous, nor am I.

  2. An odd place for someone to first flog the completely discredited theory that someone else wrote the works of Shakespeare, and then to flog his own article, published a decade ago in a psychology journal. In ten years, the article has only been cited in 13 subsequent articles, most of which were by this same author.

    On the other hand, Edmondson and Wells are well-regarded experts on Shakespeare whose publications have been widely and universally praised. Anyone interested in Shakespeare or the sonnet form will likely want to add this book to their collection. I can’t say the same for Dr. Waugaman’s offering.

    • I was taught way back in the mid-70’s that the man from Stratford was certainly not the author. So much in the Sonnets and Plays are totally autobiographical and that clearly points to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford who traveled out of England and to Italy!

    • Headlight, why would a writer try to hide their identity behind a pen name? Surely there is nothing in the Sonnets that hint that an author would use a pen name to avoid the embarrassment of revealing his true identity, is there? If you really think that this theory is “completely discredited” you would not be ashamed to say so under your true identity.

      • That makes no sense at all. Shakespeare authorship deniers are like other conspiracy theorists, and have been known to harass people online.

        The theory has been thoroughly disproved by scholars like James Shapiro, Drs. Edmondson and Wells, and virtually every competent scholar of early modern theater. Shakespeare’s authorship is demonstrated through a prima facie case that creates a rebuttable presumption that Shakespeare is the author of works attributed to him. What evidence (not just speculation) disproves this prima facie case?

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