Characteristics of a Shakespearean sonnet:

  • three quatrains: a stanza of four lines.
  • one couplet: two lines
  • abab, cdcd, efef, gg pattern

Shakespearean sonnet defined: The Shakespearean sonnet is a fourteen line lyric poem in Iambic Pentameter.

Iambic Pentameter defined: A poetic line of five iambic feet. To demonstrate iambic pentameter, I must improvise. My keyboard cannot make the symbols for accented and unaccented . Therefore, accented syllables will be in bold print and unaccented will be underlined.

We will begin with one line of a Shakespearean sonnet. Here’s an example of iambic pentameter.

Notice that there are ten syllables in each line of the sonnet. The stressed syllables are the ones that receive the most vocal force: stressed, unstressed....

Read the following sonnet. It should be easy to decipher the rhythm. I will demonstrate the rhythmic pattern by placing the A, B, C, D, E, F, and Gs to the left of each line. Here goes.....Quatrain One

  • A When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
  • B I summon up remembrance of things past,
  • A I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
  • B And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

A’s last words thought and sought rhyme as do B’s past and waste. Okay, so B’s lines aren’t perfect...moving right along. Quatrain Two

  • C Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
  • D For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
  • C And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
  • D And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight.

Now we will finish with the EFEF pattern and the couplet. Quatrain Three

  • E Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
  • F And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
  • E The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan
  • F Which I new pay as if not paid before.

Last but not least, the couplet. GG pattern.

  • G But if the while, I think on thee, dear friend,
  • G All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

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