William Shakespeare first made his mark on the literary globe in the competitive
theatre business in 1587 in the city of London.
He wrote dramatic comedies influenced by the Queen Elizabeth I followed by
fantastical tragedies that gained support from King James I.
Around the year 1598, there was an enforced absence from theatre in England,
which allowed for Shakespeare to focus more on poetry as opposed to playwrights.
This is the assumed time in which Shakespeare wrote his 154 sonnets that are
known and read today.
What is a Sonnet?
A typical sonnet is a poem consisting of fourteen lines with some sort of rhyme scheme.
Although there are some unconventional sonnets, the three known sonnet forms include:
Italian sonnets are broken into two sections based on how the lines rhyme, the first half being
known as the octave and the remaining half being known as the sestet.
Spenserian sonnets have an identifiable rhyming scheme in the first twelve lines and conclude
with a separate rhyming scheme in the final two lines.
What does the Shakespearean sonnet look like?
Shakespeare’s first twelve lines of his sonnet contain three alternating rhyming
quatrains. To end the sonnet, Shakespeare completes the last two lines with a rhyming
The rhyming scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is:
A B A B
C D C D
E F E F
*A sonnet is a fourteen-
line poem in iambic
*When you see this bullet,
please fill out your notes.
Oh dear, this is
going to be a
• Iambic Pentameter is the rhythm and meter in which poets and playwrights
wrote in Elizabethan England. (Queen Elizabeth was the ruler of England
during most of Shakespeare’s adult life.) It is a meter that Shakespeare uses
Quite simply, it sounds like this: dee
DUM, dee DUM, dee DUM, dee
DUM, dee DUM. *Iambic
pentameter is a line of poetry with
five iambic feet-- Ten syllables
with five unstressed and five
stressed syllables.* It is the first and
last sound we ever hear, it is the
rhythm of the human heart beat.
• *An ‘iamb’ is „dee Dum‟ (or two syllables) – it
is the heart beat.
• Penta is from the Greek for five.
• Meter is really the pattern
• *So, there are five iambs per line! Ten syllables
• (Iambic penta meter )
• It is percussive and attractive to the ear and has an effect on the listener's
central nervous system. An Example of Pentameter from Shakespeare: but
SOFT what LIGHT through YONder WINdow BREAKS
Syllables, in case you‟ve forgotten
• What is a syllable?
• Well, there are three syllables (separate sounds) in the word
• “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks.”
• How many syllables are there in that quotation?
• *The Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains (or
stanzas that contain four lines) followed by a couplet.
The rhyme scheme is: abab cdcd efef gg.
• *Quatrains are four line stanzas of any kind
• *A couplet is a pair of rhyming lines In sonnets they are found at the
end of the poem.
• I have divided the following sonnet into the three quatrains.
• You will also see the rhyming pattern
• marked out for you.
Shall I/ compare/ thee to /a sum/mer's day? (a)
Thou art/ more love/ly and more/ temperate: (b)
Rough winds /do shake/ the dar/ling buds /of May, (a)
And sum/mer's lease/ hath all/ too short/ a date: (b)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, (c)
And often is his gold complexion dimmed, (d)
And every fair from fair sometime declines, (c)
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed: (d)
But thy eternal summer shall not fade, (e)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st, (f)
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade, (e)
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st, (f)
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, (g)
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (g)
• William Shakespeare's sonnets are stories about a handsome boy, or rival poet, and
the mysterious and aloof "dark" lady they both love.
• The sonnets fall into three clear groupings: Sonnets 1 to 126 are addressed to, or
concern, a young man; Sonnets 127-152 are addressed to, or concern, a dark lady
(dark in the sense of her hair, her facial features, and her character), and Sonnets
153-154 are fairly free adaptations of two classical Greek poems.
• The most popular of the William Shakespeare Sonnets are Sonnets 018, 029, 116, 126