The Sonnets as Autobiography
So it was in the 18th century that Shakespeare’s Sonnets began to be read as autobiographical, describing real people. The “Young Man” is usually supposed to have had a destructive affair with the “Dark Lady”.
BOTH, IN SOME VERSIONS, ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SHAKESPEARE’S LOVERS. THE SONNETS WERE IGNORED WHEN I FIRST PUBLISHED THEN IN 1609.
There was little interest in them until a heavily revised edition appeared in 1640. John Benson edited the Sonnets to remove any apparent homosexuality by switching the gender of the male addressee (he also reorganized the cycle quite radically). They were reprinted in the 18th century, and by 1780 Edmond Malone had restored them intact to the canon.