The Folger has just added Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems to Folger Digital Texts, which means that the complete works of Shakespeare as edited by the Folger Shakespeare Library are now available online for free. (Bonanza for teachers!)
Using Folger Digital Texts, you can read and search the sonnets, Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, and Venus and Adonis. It’s the same familiar text as the one that appears in the Folger Editions, so you can be confident that everything’s been vetted by the experts.
Do you need some ideas for teaching the sonnets? You can find a variety of lesson plans on the Folger website.
As for the other three poems, here’s some good contextual material to rely on:
Shakespeare’s long poem Lucrece takes place as Rome becomes a republic. As a minor epic (a popular genre in Shakespeare’s time), it centers on figures of seemingly secondary importance: Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, and Lucrece, the wife of his friend. (Read more)
The poem by Shakespeare now known as “The Phoenix and Turtle,” or “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” was first printed with no title; it was one of several additional poems in the 1601 publication of a long poem by Robert Chester. In the classical tradition, the mythical phoenix consumes itself in fire, from the ashes of which another phoenix is born. In Shakespeare’s poem, the phoenix is female and the turtle (that is, a turtledove) is male. (Read more)
With Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare launched his career as a poet. The poem is a minor epic, a genre that many poets in the 1590s chose for their first efforts. Characters in a minor epic usually come from the periphery of myth or legend; its interest is in eroticism, sophistication, and wit. Within this genre, Venus and Adonis was so successful that it was Shakespeare’s most popular published work throughout his lifetime. (Read more)