Our source for Shakespeare’s Sonnets is Thorpe’s edition of 1609. It is our only source.
We have no evidence that Shakespeare approved it. Thorpe’s text, Thorpe’s order, may be Shakespeare’s, it may not be: it’s all we’ve got.
Some groupings, Thorpe’s for sure, maybe all or some of Shakespeare’s too, seem obvious. There are 154 sonnets. The first 126 seem to form a natural group: we call them the fair love sonnets. As my reading of Sonnet 119 will argue, all is not simple in that group, not consistent. Sonnets 127 and following also seem to form a natural group: we call them the dark lady sonnets. I am not comfortable with the coherence or integrity of that group either, nevertheless, that’s what we’ve got. We have no explanation by Shakespeare. I’ll offer some interpretations, to the mountain already on hand. Shakespeare wrote his sonnets in an age full of sonnet sequences. My introductory essays, online in the late 1990s, commented on that, more comments will come. But Shakespeare’s Sonnets seem clearly not to be the kind of sequence that Petrarch and Sidney wrote. I’ll argue that they are a sequence provided you change the meaning of sequence from something linear to something non-linear!
But some areas of the Sonnets form “sequences” in the narrow traditional sense, form groups, sub-groups … pairs …
The first seventeen sonnets form a thematic subgroup: preservation of value through marriage, procreation.
Sonnet 18 begins a different preservation theme: immortality though poetry: specifically through Shakespeare’s poetry/ Those are not necessarily side by side: Sonnet 18, Sonnet 54, for example.
I’ll make a menu of subgroups once the sonnets are all here and some of the detailed readings are under way.