the late 16th century it was
fashionable for English gentleman authors to write sonnets, lyric poems composed of 14 lines. The sonnet is composed
with a formal rhyme scheme, denoting different thoughts, moods, or emotions,
sometimes summed up in the last lines of the poem.
two main forms of the sonnet are the Petrarchan
(Italian) and the Shakespearean
Sonnets had been glorified by Petrarch
in Italy more than 200 years before English poets even knew about them. Sir
Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were among the first to
introduce the sonnet into England. William Shakespeare's first and second years
in London were spent writing in the Petrarchan style. The Petrarchan sonnet has
an eight-line stanza, or octave, and six-line stanza, or sestet. The octave has
two quatrains, rhyming abba, abba, but avoiding a couplet; the first
quatrain gives the theme, and the second develops it. The sestet is built on
two or three different rhymes; the first three lines reflect on the theme, and
the last three lines bring the whole poem to an end.
The English sonnet is divided into three quatrains, each rhymed
differently, with an independently rhymed couplet at the end. Its rhyme scheme is
abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Each quatrain takes a different appearance of the
idea or develops a different image to express the theme. In his lifetime William
Shakespeare composed 154 sonnets which were
in this form and can be divided into three groups:
1. twenty-six sonnets written
mostly to a young man, seventeen
of them urging marriage;
2. one hundred and one sonnets,
also written to a young man (probably the same young nobleman as in the first
twenty-six). These have a variety of themes, such as the beauty of the loved
one; destruction of beauty; competition with a Rival Poet; despair about the
absence of a loved one; and reaction
toward the young man's coldness;
3. the remaining twenty-seven sonnets are written mainly to a woman,
popularly known as "the Dark Lady."
Many students of
Shakespeare's work believe that he had a love affair with this woman.
Most Elizabethan sonnets were written
about joys and sorrows of love. Some of Shakespeare's sonnet arrangements are
thought to be autobiographical. This is why scholars have tried to learn about
William Shakespeare's life from his sonnets. But
some of the critics view the sonnets as "purely literary exercises."
In the late 16th century it was fashionable for English gentleman authors to write sonnets, lyric poems composed of 14 lines. The sonnet is composed with a formal rhyme scheme, denoting different thoughts, moods, or emotions, sometimes summed up in the last lines of the poem.