Shakespearean Sonnets – what are they and how to write one.

Another type of sonnet is the Shakespearean sonnet.

This type of sonnet has three quatrains (4 lines) which are then followed by a couplet (2 lines).

The rhyming scheme for this type of sonnet is:

A

B

A

B

C

D

C

D

E

F

E

F

G

G

As an example I will use Sonnet 130 from Shakespeare’s sonnet cycle.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; A
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; B
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; A
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. B
I have seen roses damasked, red and white, C
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; D
And in some perfumes is there more delight C
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. D
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know E
That music hath a far more pleasing sound; F
I grant I never saw a goddess go; E
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. F
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare G
As any she belied with false compare. G

Like the Petrarchan sonnet the Shakespearean sonnet also has a volta. The volta is where the sonnet launches into a very distinct transformation. This is where the tenet of the poem changes. With the volta the poet remarks on the rest of the sonnet.

In Shakespearean sonnets the volta is most usually found with the couplet (the last 2 lines). Shakespeare used the couplet to usually do one of two things:

1.      Summarize the poem’s subject matter

2.      Introduce a new view of the subject matter

If you look at Sonnet 130, for the first 12 lines Shakespeare is contrasting his mistress in a pretty critical light to nature.

With the couplet the poem turns around completely.

Shakespeare also used sonnets in his famous work Romeo and Juliet. The following places are sonnets that can be found in the text:

  1. Prologue
  2. Act One, Scene Five, lines 104 – 117

If you are interested check out Shakespeare’s Sonnet Cycle. Just make sure you set aside a good amount of time to read it – you’re going to need it.

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5 thoughts on “Shakespearean Sonnets – what are they and how to write one.”

  1. Are you a teacher in real life? If not, you should be. You have such a nack for explaining these things clearly.

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  2. God no – i don’t have the patience. I was looking for myself and trying to make sense of all the differing explanations. They so often are really hard to figure out – they use terms as if you already know what they mean etc. I mean – if that was true, why would you be looking it up !!

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