Shakespeare's sonnets

Definition of Shakespeare’s sonnets

William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets (love poems), which were published in one collection in 1609. 

Shakespeare also used the sonnet form in a few of his plays. For instance, Romeo and Juliet speak in a sonnet when they first meet at a ball. Here, however, we focus on the sonnets from the collection.

The sonnet form

The sonnet was invented in Italy in the 13th century where it was used for love poetry. In the 16th century, an English version of the sonnet form was developed. This was what Shakespeare used, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the Shakespearean sonnet.

The English sonnet consists of fourteen lines, which can be divided into three four-line stanzas followed by a two-line stanza (a couplet). The function of the couplet is to sum up the thoughts presented in the previous stanzas. Thus, it often serves as a conclusion on the theme of the sonnet.

The sonnet has end rhymes which always follow the rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Furthermore, the sonnet is written in the type of meter called iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a line of verse written with a five-beat rhythm where an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. This means that each line in the sonnet consists of ten syllables in a ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum rhythm. (Try reading aloud a line from a sonnet and see if you can make it fit).

The love triangle in Shakespeare’s sonnets

Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets are often read as a sequence which features three persons: the fair youth, the poet, and the dark lady. They end up in a love triangle.

The first 126 sonnets seem to be addressed to an attractive young nobleman, who has been dubbed the “fair youth”. The poet (who may or may not represent Shak...

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