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Shakespearean Sonnet or English Sonnet or Elizabethan Sonnet

2 posts in this topic

Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
The Sonnet
Sonnet Comparison Chart
English Verse
The Shakespearean, English or Elizabethan Sonnet

By Shakespeare's time, (his works are believed to date from 1590 through 1613), the sonnet had already been established in English poetry, thanks primarily to Wyatt, Surrey and Spenser

William Shakespeare utilized and popularized the sonnet with the declamatory couplet. His popularity springboarded the sonnet to a prominent place in English literature and become the 2nd dominant sonnet form along side the Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet.

The Shakespearean Sonnet, sometimes called the English Sonnet or Elizabethan Sonnet, does not use the octave/sestet structure of the Italian Sonnet. It is usually found in three quatrains ending with a rhyming couplet. Although the Italian form often pivots between the octave and the sestet, the Shakespearean Sonnet pivots deeper into the poem, sometime after line 9 or 10. Shakespeare even delayed the pivot until the 13th line in his Sonnet 30. Wherein the Italian sonnet discloses the epiphany of the subject slowly, the Shakespearean Sonnet makes a swift leap to the epiphany at the ending couplet.

Cartoon by Steve Shann found at wordpress.comShakespeare.jpg

Shakespeare knew well the sonnet sequence is not a way of telling a story, but exists for the sake of prolonged lyrical meditation. His thoughts, his dreams, his loves all playout in this musical form.

The elements of the English or Shakespearean Sonnet are:

  1. a quatorzain made up of 3 quatrains and ending in a rhymed couplet.
  2. metric, written in iambic pentameter. Sometimes the opening line of the sonnet begins with the first foot, a trochee before the poem falls into a regular iambic pattern.
  3. composed with the volta (a non physical gap) or pivot (a shifting or tilting of the main line of thought) deep into the poem, varied but always well after the 2nd quatrain.
  4. developed so that each quatrain progresses toward a surprising turn of events in the ending couplet. The epiphany of the poem arrives in a swift leap at the end.
  5. rhymed with up to 7 rhymes with a rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg.
  6. composed with an ending rhymed couplet which should be declamatory and the defining feature of the sonnet. This couplet is often the loudest, most powerful part of the sonnet.
    Twelfth Night Sonnet by Judi Van Gorder                                          

    from Act I Scene IV by William Shakespeare
    Viola, shipwrecked, pretends to be a boy in the
    service of Duke Orosini. She falls in love with
    him. He, thinking her his male servant sends her
    on an errand to woo the fair Olivia for him.
    Her response as Shakespeare wrote it is:

    Viola:"I'll do my best
    To woo your lady:"
    Aside Viola says:
    "yet, a barful strife!
    Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife."

    Instead of Shakey's response, here is what
    I think she really said in sonnet form…..

    In your command I pledge I'll do my best
    To sing of you as hero, strong and fair
    and press the thought of you inside her breast
    that for your love, tis nothing she won't dare

    On your behalf with ruptured heart I meet
    To woo Olivia, the lovely lass
    and lay sweet blossoms at her dainty feet
    allowing all my hopes and dreams to pass

    Oh would that you could see beyond my dress
    No lad am I to tell your ribald jokes,
    A maid am I who pines for your caress
    and on your love for her, forever chokes.

    Alas I find this scene "a barful strife!
    Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife."

    For Pauline by Judi Van Gorder

    Again, brand new the acts of life unfold
    in chaos as her mind is purged and hurled.
    At every turn she must be watched and told,
    in vain she tries to comprehend her world.

    Before, she was a mother, now a child.
    Routine and care create dramatic masks
    when eyes look lost where once they probed and smiled.
    In fright she looks for him, Where's Leigh? She asks.

    Bewilderment and dread can lead to rage,
    Where's Leigh? her voice demands, the same refrain.
    Serenity and ease should come with age
    still, loyal friends and those she loved remain.

    The mystery delays instinctive tears
    while she resides unconscious of our fears.










    Now for the real deal .....

    XVIII. To His Love by William Shakespeare(1564-1616)                    
    SHALL I compare thee to a summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer's lease hath all too short a date;

    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
    And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd.

    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
    Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:—

    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


    CXCVIII. "Bright Star! by John Keats(1795-1821)
    BRIGHT Star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
    Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night,
    And watching, with eternal lids apart,
    Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,

    The moving waters at their priest-like task
    Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
    Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
    Of snow upon the mountains and the moors:—

    No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
    Pillow'd upon my fair Love's ripening breast
    To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
    Awake for ever in a sweet unrest;

    Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
    And so live ever,—or else swoon to death.


  • Reversed English Sonnet is simply a Shakespearean or English Sonnet with a reversed order of stanzas and rhyme scheme. aa bcbc dede fgfg

                    "Sonnet Reversed" by Rupert Brooke
    Hand trembling towards hand; the amazing lights
                   Of heart and eye. They stood on supreme heights.

                   Ah, the delirious weeks of honeymoon!
                   Soon they returned, and, after strange adventures,
                   Settled at Balham by the end of June.
                   Their money was in Can. Pacs. B. Debentures,
                   And in Antofagastas. Still he went
                   Cityward daily; still she did abide
                   At home. And both were really quite content
                  With work and social pleasures. Then they died.
                  They left three children (besides George, who drank):
                  The eldest Jane, who married Mr Bell,
                  William, the head-clerk in the County Bank,
                  And Henry, a stock-broker, doing well.

Returning to Italy

Caudate Sonnet

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