Name: Period: Date:
The Shakespearean Sonnet
A Shakespearean Sonnet (or English Sonnet) contains three quatrains and a final couplet, which is often a
dramatic statement that resolves, restates, or redefines the central problem of the sonnet. Shakespearean sonnets
follow the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. The volta typically comes in line 13 (though sometimes earlier).
Keep in mind that in spite of the rules that are placed on sonnets, there are no criteria regarding the number or
type of sentences they contain. Shakespeare often plays with syntax (word order or sentence structure) for
effect. In fact, many of his sonnets are only one sentence.
The legacy of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) needs no explanation, but to most of his fellow dramatists, he
was merely a successful playwright and a rather less successful actor. Shakespeare himself seems to have cared
little about perpetuating his fame; he made no real attempt to put his plays into book form. (The famous First
Folio of his work was published posthumously in 1623.) Had Shakespeare written no plays at all, he would still
have an immense reputation as a poet for his sonnets. Although probably written between ___________ and
___________ (London’s theaters were closed from 1592 to 1594 because of an outbreak of the plague.),
Shakespeare’s sonnets were not first published until ____________.
Even though Shakespeare is supposed to have left school after his thirteenth year, his knowledge of Greek and
Latin might easily have exceeded that of a modern college student who has specialized in those languages.
Shakespeare is said to have authored ________________________ words and ___________________ lines.
The Oxford English Dictionary attributes all of the bold-faced words below (and some 500 more) to him:
From the spectacled pedant to the schoolboy, all gentlefolk recognize Shakespeare as a fathomless
fount of coinages. The honey-tongued Bard had no rival, nor could he sate his never-ending addiction to
madcap, flowery (or foul-mouthed!) neologisms. Even time-honored exposure cannot besmirch our
amazement at the countless and useful words that lend radiance to our lackluster lives. All in a day’s work!
The inscription at Shakespeare’s gravesite reads: Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Sonnet 29 (p. 259)
1. The poem’s speaker is obviously in love, but what other emotions are present?
2. Like many of the sonnets, Sonnet 29 is actually a single sentence (despite the textbook’s punctuation). In the
long introductory clause, what does the speaker say he envies?
3. The main clause begins the turn. Where is it, and how does the speaker’s tone change after the turn?
4. How does the couplet encapsulate the sonnet’s theme?
Sonnet 116 (p. 261)
5. Sonnet 116 contains one of the most elegantly expressed definitions of love in English. According to the
sonnet, what are the distinguishing characteristics of love?
6. How does the poem use metaphors to define love?
7. How is time personified in this poem?
8. Where is the turn?
Sonnet 130 (p. 262)
9. How does the speaker poke fun at Petrarchan sonnets?
10. Why is the couplet absolutely necessary to keep the sonnet from being misunderstood?
General Questions on Shakespeare’s Sonnets…Answer if you dare!
Is the sonnets’ speaker a dramatic character invented by Shakespeare, or is he the poet himself?
Who are the real people behind the characters the sonnets mention?
Is the order in which the sonnets were originally published (possibly without Shakespeare’s consent) the
correct or intended sequence? Could/should they be arranged to tell a more coherent story?