William Wordsworth (1770-1850) later wrote his own sonnet on Shakespeare’s Sonnets …
Scorn not the Sonnet…
with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart
DID HE? IF SO, THE LESS SHAKESPEARE HE!
Robert Browning (1812-89) scoffed at Wordsworth forty years later, and he was correct. The Sonnets are flamboyant Renaissance examples of poetic and dramatic playfulness. But because comparatively little is known of Shakespeare himself, the temptation to read them autobiographically is almost irresistible.
August Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767-1845), the German translator of Shakespeare, outlined the emergent manifesto in a lecture in Vienna in 1808.
INDEED THEY DO, AND ONE OF THE ODDITIES IN READING SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS AS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL IS THAT THEY GIVE HIM A LIMP… SONNET 37: “SO I, MADE LAME BY FORTUNE’S DEAREST SPITE”. SONNET 89: “SPEAK OF MY LAMENESS, AND I STRAIGHT WILL HALT”.
It betrays more than ordinary deficiency of critical acumen in Shakspeare’s commentators that none of them, as far as we know, have ever thought of availing themselves of his sonnets for tracing the circumstances of his life. These sonnets paint most unequivocally the actual situation and sentiments of the poet; they make us acquainted with the passions of the man; they even contain remarkable confessions of his youthful errors.