As I read through our selection of sonnets, two basic questions emerge as central to our critical task. They are as follows:
(1) What does the poetic treatment of love and desire in the 16th/17th
century have to tell us about conceptions of selfhood in that period?
(2) In what ways does Shakespeare interrogate or struggle with those conceptions of selfhood?
The first question is methodological and theoretical. It has to do with poetry's status as intellectual-historical evidence. What can this kind of source tell us about selfhood that other sources can't? The second question has to do with an individual writer's craft. To get a better sense of this, you may (if you have time) choose to look at some other sonnets written by other English Renaissance poets for comparison. A couple useful ones are Edmund Spenser's sonnet 75 (from the Amoretti, 1594) and Philip Sidney's sonnet 1 (from Astrohpil and Stella, 1591).