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Last Updated on July 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

The Fair Youth

It is generally assumed that the first 126 sonnets in Shakespeare's sonnet cycle are all addressed to one person, a mysterious Fair Youth. This person is sometimes referred to as Mr W.H., as this person was mentioned in the dedication to the sonnets when they were first published. However, while many have speculated about his identity, nobody knows who he was.

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Although the most of the sonnets describe or at least address the fair youth, little of his particular character emerges in the works. The speaker describes him as "more lovely" than summer, and having fewer downsides than summer, which can be too hot, or too dim. By contrast, the beloved is "temperate." The poet seeks to capture the beloved's beauty in this poem as a means of preserving him against the "shade" of Death. So long as the poem is still read, it will "give life" to the beloved and preserve the memory of his beauty— something which has turned out to be true, although we do not now know who the person was.

The Speaker

The speaker, often read as a version Shakespeare himself, is wedded to this idea of immortalizing his beloved through his verse, and returns to it repeatedly in his sonnet cycle. Thus, the speaker is clearly engaged in the act of poetry, and so the distance between poet and speaker is narrower here than in much lyric poetry.


Another character mentioned in this poem is Death itself. The speaker personifies Death, suggesting Death might "brag" about having possession of the young man. However, the speaker promises this will never come to pass, as he has taken steps against it.

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