The Shakespearean or English Sonnet


Basic features & history of the verse form:
Number of lines 14
Structure / divisions Three quatrains followed by a couplet
Rhyme scheme Three quatrains followed by a couplet
Meter Usually iambic pentameter
Refrain line or lines No
Time / place of origin 16th-century England (modified from the Italian form by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey)
Medieval / Renaissance poets
  associated with this form
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey; William Shakespeare, Michael Drayton
Examples written in English
  by or before —
16th century (Surrey)


An example of a Shakespearean sonnet:

Sonnet LXIV
by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

      1  (a)  When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd
      2  (b)  The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
      3  (a)  When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras'd
      4  (b)  And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
      5  (c)  When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
      6  (d)  Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
      7  (c)  And the firm soil win of the wat'ry main,
      8  (d)  Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
      9  (e)  When I have seen such interchange of state,
    10  (f)   Or state itself confounded to decay;
    11  (e)  Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
    12  (f)  That Time will come and take my love away.
    13  (g)  This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
    14  (g)  But weep to have that which it fears to lose.


A Brief Guide to Some Medieval and Renaissance Verse Forms

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Table and its contents copyright 2002 by Jennifer M. Tom    ( Jennifer Monroe Franson )