SONNET NOTES by accinent


									                                     SONNET NOTES

Sonnet: a lyric poem of fourteen lines, following one or another of several set rhyme
schemes. The sonnet as a form developed in Italy probably in the thirteenth century.
Petrarch, in the fourteenth century, raised the sonnet to its greatest Italian perfection and
so gave it, for English readers, his own name.

The form was introduced into England by Thomas Wyatt, who translated Petrarchan
sonnets and left over thirty examples of his own in English. Surrey, an associate, shares
with Wyatt the credit for introducing the form to England and is important as an early
modifier of the Italian form. Gradually the Italian sonnet pattern was changed, and since
Shakespeare attained fame for the greatest poems of this modified type, his name has
often been given to the English form.

The two characteristic sonnet types are the Italian (Petrarchan) and the English
(Shakespearean). The first, the Italian/Petrarchan form, is distinguished by its bipartite
division into the octave and the sestet: the octave consisting of a first division of eight
lines rhyming abbaabba and the sestet, or second division, consisting of six lines
rhyming cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce.

It might be said that the octave presents the narrative, states the proposition, or raises a
question; the sestet drives home the narrative by making an abstract comment, applying
the proposition, or solving the problem. The turn of thought in a sonnet (usually at the
nineth or twelfth line) is known as a volta.

The English (Shakespearean) sonnet, on the other hand, is so different from the Italian
(though it grew from that form) as to permit a separate classification. Instead of the
octave and sestet divisions, this sonnet characteristically embodies four divisions: three
quatrains (each with a rhyme scheme of its own) and a rhymed couplet. Thus the typical
rhyme scheme for the English sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg.

The couplet at the end is usually a commentary on the lines that came before, an
epigrammatic close. The Spenserian sonnet combines the Italian and the Shakespearean
forms, using three quatrains and a couplet but employing linking rhymes between the
quatrains, thus abab bcbc cdcd ee.

Meter: a recurring pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry.

Sonnets are written in Iambic Pentameter:
    An iamb is a rhythmical pattern that sounds like da DUM da DUM da DUM –
       the accent (or stress) is on the SECOND syllable.
    Pentameter means there are 5 iambs (or da DUMS) per line.

For Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare appears to have invented a six-line stanza rhyming
ababcc that is roughly equivalent to the third and fourth “divisions” in a Shakespearean
Notes on Shakespeare’s Sonnets (cont.):

The most agreed-upon groupings:

               1. Two major divisions: 1-126 (addressed to “fair youth”) and 127-154
                  (addressed to so-called “dark lady”)
               2. Other “subsets” of sonnets:
                     a. Sonnets 1-17: poems in which poet urges youth to marry and
                         procreate (hereafter sonnets become more personal and
                     b. Sonnets 40-42: subplot, youth has stolen poet‟s (female) lover
                     c. Sonnets 78-86: fears rival poet has taken his place in youth‟s
                         affections (possible issue of patronage?)
                     d. Sonnets 97-99: treating the poet‟s separation from youth;
                         Sonnet 99 is only 15-line sonnet
                     e. Sonnets 110-111: poet‟s self-doubts (on being an actor?)
                     f. Sonnet 126: appears to come full circle in term‟s of youth‟s
                         beauty and mortality (only12-line, 6-couplet poem in group)
                     g. Sonnets 133-134: appear to reference 40-42 from new angle
                     h. Sonnets 135-136: both sonnets pun on “will” (in the sense of
                     i. Sonnet 145: octosyllabic lines; may pun on Anne Hathaway‟s
                         name (“„hate‟ away”)
                     j. Sonnets 153-154: “Cupid” (envoi) sonnets

For a more comprehensive breakdown of the sequence, visit Bruce MacEvoy‟s website at

Themes in the sonnets:
        May/December romance
        Illicit love
        Immortality of verse
        Ravages of time
        Consequences of fame
        Public vs. private life
        Good vs. bad angel (dark and light imagery)
        Parody of Petrarchan conventions of beauty

The sonnets are followed, in the 1609 Quarto edition, by a 329-line poem, written in
rhyme royal (ababbcc, the verse form of Lucrece), entitled A Lover’s Complaint.
Shakespeare‟s authorship of this poem is disputed; it has been attributed, variously, to
George Chapman and John Davies of Hereford.

The amazing web of Shakespeare‟s sonnets:


1. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
2. Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
3. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
4. And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
5. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
6. And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
7. And every fair from fair sometime declines,
8. By chance, or nature's changing course
9. But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
10. Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
11. Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
12. When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
13. So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
14. So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 130

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

Meter: Iambic Pentameter
Rhyme Scheme: abab cdcd efef gg (Shakespearean)

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