Professor Arindam Saha
Shakespearean Sonnets and the Tradition of Sonnet Writing
In order to understand sonnets, we need to understand the basic meaning of a traditional sonnet. A traditional sonnet, has resemblances with doing a crossword. It is a puzzle to make the parts fit; there is some logical tease, and you can consider going over individual lines, like crossword clues, as you continue daily life. There is also a knock-on effect. If you change a line, other lines then may need to change, just as changing the answer to 7 across in a crossword may mean you have to rethink 4 down. It is fascinating as a method of poetry in which, at least in traditional form, structure and meaning are very complexly bound together and writing sees an ever fluctuating balance among the two as the poem works out what it is to be. (Traditional Sonnets). A sonnet consists of various rich fixtures, and some of the important ones are scheme, imagery, and theme.
There are three main basic sonnet forms: the Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet, the Spenserian sonnet, and the English (Shakespearean) sonnet. In a sonnet, you show two related but differing things to the reader in order to communicate something about them. Each of the three major types of sonnets accomplishes this in a different way. There are, of course, other types of sonnets as well. In class, we have focused mostly on the English or Shakespearean form which will be mentioned in the following paragraphs.
In shakespearean sonnets, the scheme is very important and gives the sonnets rhyme and rhythm. According to Fischer, “scheme is a large-scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining a poem, or putting a particular idea into effect.” This basically means that, it is an important layout for the poem and it helps the reader understand the words better. The following is the kind of schema in Shakespeare’s work and others.
The Earl Surrey recognized the arrangement of the Shakespearean scheme (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG), but the quality and possibly also quantity of Shakespeare's sonnets has caused his name to bear the achievements for this pattern. In English the Shakespearean form is the most widely copied of traditional forms, probably because it does not have as much rhyme compared to the number of rhyming words Italian has for example. Italian sonnets tend to have 11 syllables in each line, while English sonnets tend to have 10 syllables per line. (Traditional Sonnets)
If you're writing the most familiar kind of Shakespearean sonnet, every A rhymes with every A, every B rhymes with every B, and so on. This type of sonnet consists of 14 lines total. Four stanzas; each stanza consists of 4 lines but the last stanza is only a couplet which makes up the division. (Pilarchik) Not only is the structure of the sonnet important, but also the meaning of the words and what it is trying to tell the audience is important too. It is almost considered like an argument and builds up from one line to the next. It is made up of different metaphors which allow us to think through the meaning.
In a Shakespearean sonnet, the argument accumulates starting with the first stanza (ABAB) which is consisted of an exposition of the main theme and the main metaphor. The second stanza (CDCD) is comprised of a more complicated theme and metaphor, also some imaginative example is given. In the third stanza (EFEF), a conflict is usually presented and started with a “but”. Finally the last couplet (GG) ends off with a summarization and leaves the reader with a concluding appearance. (Shakespeare’s Sonnets)
In contrast, the Wellek and Warren position argue in their Theory of Literature that in order to account for poetic rhythm, one must assume the existence of not one, but three metrical dimensions: prose rhythm, metric pattern, and performance. (Tsur)
Theme is another rich fixture which is important for Shakespearean poetry. According to Kambaskoviñ-Sawyers, she says “theme…