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Sonnets: Petrarchan and Shakespearean Styles

Updated on June 19, 2013

A sonnet is a form of poetry consisting of fourteen lines with a fairly strict structure and rhyme scheme. It is often written in iambic pentameter, though there are a number written in iambic hexameter as well. Iambic pentameter is five feet of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

Iambic pentameter example:

He saw | below | the moon | a joy|ous sight.

(I have bolded the stressed syllables. Each foot is broken up by "|".)

Here I will be discussing two common types of sonnets: the Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearean sonnet.

Petrarch (Italian Poet)
Petrarch (Italian Poet) | Source



A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octet and a sestet. An octet is a group of eight lines, and in this case, it is often broken into two quatrains, groups of four lines. A sestet is a group of six lines, and it is commonly split into a quatrain and a couplet, a group of two rhyming lines.

Rhyme Scheme:

One of the most common rhyme schemes for a Petrarchan sonnet is as follows:

a b b a a b b a c d c d e e

The octet is "a b b a a b b a," and with this rhyme scheme, the quatrains are both "a b b a."

The sestet is "c d c d e e," with the quatrain being "c d c d" and the couplet as "e e." Frequently the sestet occurs with the couplet before the quatrain as well.


Here are sonnets by Petrarch in the original Italian next to the English translation:

Here are a number of sonnets written in the Petrarchan form by Thomas Wyatt:

Shakespeare | Source



A Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains and a couplet. A quatrain is a group of four lines, and a couplet is a group of two rhyming lines.

Rhyme Scheme:

A Shakespearean sonnet is often laid out as follows:

a b a b c d c d e f e f g g

The first quatrain is "a b a b," then the second quatrain is "c d c d," and the third quatrain is "e f e f."

The couplet is "g g."


Here are sonnets written by Shakespeare:


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    • Danielle Farrow profile image

      Danielle Farrow 4 years ago from Scotland, UK

      You're welcome - and sorry for the 'at least': was too tired at time to find right phrase, was really meaning that is what I would love to see, not that there is much lacking!

    • ccornblatt profile image

      Cassidy Cornblatt 5 years ago

      Thanks for the advice.

    • Danielle Farrow profile image

      Danielle Farrow 5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Interesting start - having performed work by both poets mentioned, I hope you will be adding more: examples from both writers, at least?