The sonnets were published in 1609 and were sent to his patron, the Earl of Southampton. The collection includes 154 sonnets written in decasyllables, made up of three quatrains and a final couplet with a turning point.
The sonnets from 1 to 126 are addressed to a fair youth, probably the Earl of Southampton himself:
-1-18: theme of increase = he encourages the young man to marry and preserve his virtues and beauty through his children
-19-126: different topics, for example the warning about the destructive power of moral weakness and time, considered as an antagonist in opposition to art and sonnets, which are good because they preserve memory. In addition to that, the sonnets from 78 to 86 are addressed to a rival poet who talks about the dark lady of the fair youth; he’s a competitor for fame, wealth and patronage.
-126-154: addressed to the dark lady, who’s physically unattractive and who’s the opposite of the petrarchan angelic woman, because she’s described as real, not as an unreal and beautiful woman
The themes of the sonnets: the traditional love poems praising women’s worth and beauty are addressed to a young man, while negative and non-conventional poems are addressed to a woman.
The style: the rich and vivid descriptive language and the use of questions or pronouns like “Thou” or “thee” make the style conversational