The sonnets of William Shakespeare were his final non-dramatic works to receive publication (in 1609, although several had received prior publication). Most historians agree that the sonnets were originally intended for private readership, and they have been categorized in two series: One group appears to have been written about "the dark lady," a lustful series about the love of a woman of dark complexion. The other group is about the love of a young man, the "fair youth."
The sonnets were dedicated to the unknown and much speculated "Mr. W. H." At the end of the dedication appear the initials "T. T.", probably the publisher Thomas Thorpe; it is believed that Thorpe signed his intitials himself and that the publication was probably not authorized by Shakespeare.
Scholars have long wondered about the identity of "fair youth" of Shakespeare's sonnets. Among the candidates were William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke; Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton; dramatist William Haughton; William Hart, Shakespeare's nephew; William Hatcliffe; and Willie Hughes. Other theories suggest Shakespeare wrote them to himself or to a fictional "W. H."
The identity of the "Dark Lady" is totally unknown with few guesses to her identity even by Shakespearean scholars.
A third character, the "Rival Poet," is believed to have been either Christopher Marlowe or George Chapman.