The Sonnet Form: William Shakespeare

6305 Words Jun 19th, 2013 26 Pages
Shakespeare’s Sonnets
William Shakespeare
The Sonnet Form
A sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem, traditionally written in iambic pentameter—that is, in lines ten syllables long, with accents falling on every second syllable, as in: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The sonnet form first became popular during the Italian Renaissance, when the poet Petrarch published a sequence of love sonnets addressed to an idealized woman named Laura. Taking firm hold among Italian poets, the sonnet spread throughout Europe to England, where, after its initial Renaissance, “Petrarchan” incarnation faded, the form enjoyed a number of revivals and periods of renewed interest. In Elizabethan England—the era during which Shakespeare’s sonnets were
…show more content…
Past cure am I, now reason is past care,
And frantic mad with evermore unrest,
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed; For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright, Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
In many ways, Shakespeare’s use of the sonnet form is richer and more complex than this relatively simple division into parts might imply. Not only is his sequence largely occupied with subverting the traditional themes of love sonnets—the traditional love poems in praise of beauty and worth, for instance, are written to a man, while the love poems to a woman are almost all as bitter and negative as Sonnet 147—he also combines formal patterns with daring and innovation. Many of his sonnets in the sequence, for instance, impose the thematic pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet onto the formal pattern of a Shakespearean sonnet, so that while there are still three quatrains and a couplet, the first two quatrains might ask a single question, which the third quatrain and the couplet will answer. As you read through Shakespeare’s sequence, think about the ways Shakespeare’s themes are affected by and tailored to the sonnet form. Be especially alert to complexities such as the juxtaposition of Petrarchan and Shakespearean patterns. How might such a juxtaposition combination deepen and enrich Shakespeare’s
Open Document