William Shakespeare is generally known as the most significant poet to have written in English, though most people think of his poetry mainly from his plays. As these plays are written predominantly in verse, it might at first sight seem unnecessary to make a distinction between ‘the poetry’ and ‘the poetry of the plays’. We can choose bits of poems and bits of plays and show that they seem really to be the same sort of thing. Take, for example, these two passages: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. These are the opening lines of Sonnet 18, probably the most familiar of the sonnets. In them one person praises another through hyperbolic comparison with an aspect of nature; with no other evidence to go on we might suppose the speaker to be a man addressing the woman he loves.
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