One of the many intriguing aspects of Shakespeare's Sonnets is the identity of the principal characters within them, of which there are three: The Young Man, the Dark lady, and the Rival Poet. Nowhere in the Sonnets are these people explicitly identified and their anonymity has spawned much debate as to who these people could have been. The content of the Sonnets that refer to these people however, undoubtedly show that these were indeed real, living people and not imaginary inventions by the author for the sake of literary exercise. .
"They are love poetry beyond what was considered love poetry by the Petrarchan sonneteers [ ] they are, often, ingenious exercises in wit-verbal, rhetorical, logical. They are not in any way poems meant to be overheard. They speak, most of the time, to a persona, perhaps invented, and perhaps derived, in some way from an actual person. They are lyric poems, expressing mainly feelings that any capable reader can respond to as profound and true. But they are poems of the second voice, poems addressed to an audience of one or more [ ] The persona of the hearer enables the reader to participate in the poem in a more active way than is possible for the [sic] over hearer [ ] this is the kind of poem that only a dramatist could write. Even in the compass of the sonnets, all the worlds a stage"(Hallett 79). This is something that every critic of Shakespeare's sonnets knows. But what is still questionable is who he is saying everything too. In most love poems he has a certain listener in mind. In Shakespeare's case he writes to two people, "A young man who is fair and socially and morally superior, and a woman who is dark, dishonest, and down right damnable"(Malabika 347). Sonnets 127-152 are mostly directed to the dark lady. Shakespeare describes her as "black as hell, with black eyes and brow, and black wires in place of hair on her head"(Malabika 347). He says this about her but yet talks of his love for her.