William Shakespeare (1564-1616) didn’t only write plays and historical dramas. He was also deeply engaged in the poetry of his time. The art of writing a good poem had rules and regulations as many tried to imitate the Italian verse after Petrarch. Shakespeare managed to develop his own poetic style and the Shakespeare Sonnet differs in style and rhythm from the Petrarchan. William Shakespeare’s Sonnets was published for the very first time in 1609. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man; the last 28 to a woman. A lot of time and energy has been put in to analyze and interpret themes and characters. Are they autobiographical in nature? Who was the mysterious dark Lady? And who was the anonymous young man? It’s now thought he wrote 154 Sonnets between 1592-1598.
The Themes of the Shakespeare Sonnets
One interpretation is that Shakespeare’s sonnets are a pastiche or parody of the 300-year-old tradition of Petrarchan love sonnets; Shakespeare consciously inverts conventional gender roles as delineated in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex depiction of human love.
The Structure of the Shakespeare Sonnet
Let’s take a look on how structure, rhythm and metrics work in the Shakespeare sonnet. But first, what is a Sonnet? A sonnet is in verse form and has fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. The Petarch’s sonnet has this particular scheme: abba abba cdecde. The Shakespeare Sonnet follows a different pattern: a-b-a-b c-d-c-d e-f-e-f g-g. In Shakespeare’s sonnet the iambic pentameters are finished by a couplet [g-g].
[a] Let me not to the marriage of true minds
[b] Admit impediments. Love is not love
[a] Which alters when it alteration finds,
[b] Or bends with the remover to remove:
[c] O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
[d] That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
[c] It is the star to every wandering bark,
[d] Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
[e] Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
[f] Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
[e] Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
[f] But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
[g] If this be error and upon me proved,
[g] I never writ, nor no man ever loved.