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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

Petrarchan

Structure:

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.

Examples:

Here are sonnets by Petrarch in the original Italian next to the English translation: http://italian.about.com/library/weekly/aa021600a.htm

Here are a number of sonnets written in the Petrarchan form by Thomas Wyatt: http://www.sonnets.org/wyatt.htm#003

Shakespeare
Shakespeare | Source

Shakespearean

Structure:

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."

Examples:

Here are sonnets written by Shakespeare: http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/all.php

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    • Danielle Farrow profile image

      Danielle Farrow 4 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?

    • ccornblatt profile image
      Author

      Cassidy Cornblatt 4 years ago

      Thanks for the advice.

    • 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!

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