Notes on Sonnets
Definition – 14 line lyric poem with a single theme. The theme could be love or
anger or loss or humiliation or ecstasy. They don’t tell a story, but rather explore
an idea using pieces of a story. Sonnets are usually written in Iambic Pentameter.
They usually follow a specific form or rhyme scheme (pattern)
A lyric poem is from a single speaker’s point of view but does not tell a story.
iamb = unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, ex: the word ‘again’……a
is soft and unstressed, gain is said more forcefully with stress.
Pentameter = 5 meters. 5 repetitions of the meter. 5 iambs, which equals exactly
10 syllables per line.
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,”
We say the syllables
My, -tress’, are, -ing, the
We say the syllables mis-, eyes, noth-, like, sun
from “Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare
softly and unstressed.
more forcefully and stressed.
The 14 lines of a sonnet then follow a chosen rhyming pattern or rhyme scheme.
A Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet is divided into an 8-line octave and a 6-line sestet.
The octave rhymes abba abba and the sestet rhymes cde cde. The octave raises
a question and the sestet anwers. Lines 1,4,5,8 rhyme, lines 2,3,5,6 rhyme, lines
9,12 rhyme, 10,13 rhyme, 11,14 rhyme.
The Spenserian sonnet follows the rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee.
The Shakespearean (also called Elizabethan or English) sonnet follows the rhyme
scheme abab cdcd efef gg. Shakespeare defined the problem in the first 3
quatrains (12 lines) and emphasized it in the couplet (lines 13 and 14).
To see examples of sonnets, you may find them in the textbook on pages 209-223.
You will be required to write your own Sonnet for publication in the school.

Notes on Renaissance era Sonnets