Sonnet studies

Iambic pentameter
Octave • Sestet
Quatrain • Couplet
Sonnet writers


Petrarchan sonnet
Spenserian sonnet
Shakespearean sonnet
Petrarch's and Shakespeare's sonnets


Caudate sonnet • Curtal sonnet
Demi-sonnet • Pushkin sonnet


Crown of sonnets • Sonnet cycle
Sonnet redoublé
Sonnet sequence

How to ...

Write a sonnet
Write a sonnet like Shakespeare

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A Shakespearean sonnet, or Elizabethan sonnet or English sonnet, is a verse form used to write lyric poetry. The form is named after William Shakespeare, not because he was the first to write in this form but because he became its most famous practitioner.


The first sonnets written in English followed the form of the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. But it soon became evident that this form, which required only two rhymes in the octet and five in total, did not work as well in English as in Italian (where rhymes are numerous).

One of the first practitioners, if not the originator, of the English sonnet was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. An early example (based thematically on one of Petrarch's sonnets) is the The soote season, that Bud and Bloom forth brings, first published in 1557.[1]

Shakespeare circulated his sonnets privately among his friends; 154 of them were published in Shakespeare's sonnets in 1609.. The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet is also a sonnet, as is Romeo and Juliet's first exchange in Act One, Scene Five, lines 104-117, beginning with "If I profane with my unworthiest hand" (104) and ending with "Then move not while my prayer's effect I take." (117).[2]

Many aficionados of the sonnet, and some authorities (notoriously the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica), have held that Shakespearean sonnets are not true sonnets at all, but quatorzains.[3]


Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.[4]

–William Shakespeare
Main article: Sonnet

The sonnet consists of 14 lines of regular meter. In English language verse, with only rare exceptions, the meter is iambic pentameter (in which a pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable is repeated five times), although there is some accepted metrical flexibility (e.g., hendecasyllabic lines with an extra-syllable feminine rhyme, or a choriamb rather than two iambs following a line break or caesura).

The Shakespearean sonnet is distinguished by its rhyme scheme, which is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. Tht is equivalent to the rhyme scheme of three quatrains followed by a rhyming or heroic couplet, and the respective lines of a Shakespearean sonnet can be (and often are) referred to as the first, second, and third quatrains and the couplet.

The third quatrain (LL9-12) generally introduces an unexpected sharp thematic or imagistic "turn"; the volta . In Shakespeare's sonnets, however, he often builds in another turn in the couplet, where he usually summarizes the theme of the poem or introduces a fresh new look at the theme.

This example, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, illustrates the form (with some typical variances one may expect when reading an Elizabethan-age sonnet with modern eyes).

See alsoEdit


  1. Henry Howard, Early of Surrey, "The soote season, that Bud and Bloom forth brings", Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto,, Web, Nov. 21, 2011.
  2. Folger's Edition of "Romeo and Juliet"
  3. "Quatorzain," Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911),, Web, Oct. 28, 2011.
  4. Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet CXVI". Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. 

External linksEdit

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