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Sonnet Notes - Handout for Students with Practice Exercise Included
Excerpt From this Document
- Sonnet: a lyric poem of fourteen lines, following one or another of several set rhyme schemes. The sonnet as a form developed in Italy probably in the thirteenth century. Petrarch, in the fourteenth century, raised the sonnet to its greatest Italian perfection and so gave it, for English readers, his own name.
- The form was introduced into England by Thomas Wyatt, who translated Petrarchan sonnets and left over thirty examples of his own in English. Surrey, an associate, shares with Wyatt the credit for introducing the form to England and is important as an early modifier of the Italian form. Gradually the Italian sonnet pattern was changed, and since Shakespeare attained fame for the greatest poems of this modified type, his name has often been given to the English form.
- The two characteristic sonnet types are the Italian (Petrarchan) and the English (Shakespearean). The first, the Italian/Petrarchan form, is distinguished by its bipartite division into the octave and the sestet: the octave consisting of a first division of eight lines rhyming abbaabba and the sestet, or second division, consisting of six lines rhyming cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce. It might be said that the octave presents the narrative, states the proposition, or raises a question; the sestet drives home the narrative by making an abstract comment, applying the proposition, or solving theproblem.
- The English (Shakespearean) sonnet, on the other hand, is so different from the Italian (though it grew from that form) as to permit a separate classification. Instead of the octave and sestet divisions, thissonnet characteristically embodies four divisions: three quatrains (each with a rhyme scheme of its own) and a rhymed couplet. Thus the typical rhyme scheme for the English sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg.
- The couplet at the end is usually a commentary on the lines that came before, an epigrammatic close. The Spenserian sonnet combines the Italian and the Shakespearean forms, using three quatrains and a couplet but employing linking rhymes between the quatrains, thus abab bcbc cdcd ee.
- Another form of poetry from the time is a style called the villanelle, which has a total of nineteen lines composed of six stanzas. Five stanzas have three lines each, and the last, sixth stanza has four lines.
Characteristics of a villanelle:
- 1st line of the 1st stanza is repeated as the last line of the 2nd and 4th stanzas
- 3rd line of the 1st stanza is repeated as the last line of the 3rd and 5th stanzas
- 1st line is also repeated as line 18
- 3rd line is repeated as the last line of the poem.
Refrain – lines repeated
Stanza – sections of poetry separated from others (paragraphs in prose)
Blank Verse – Poetry without a rhyme scheme; but has a distinct meter
About this Document
I use this handout to introduce sonnets. I make copies for each student to keep as reference. The handout explains the English sonnets (both Shakespearean and Spenserian) and the Italian/Petrarchian sonnet style. The second page is an enlarged copy of Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare, and I have a transparency of this page I put up on the overhead. We read through it a few times and I have them help me explain what the sonnet is talking about. We then use our textbook to review meter, feet, etc., and I go through the first few lines on the overhead showing them how to find and denote stressed and unstressed syllables, break a line up into feet, decide what the meter is, etc. I then make them walk me through a few lines, telling me what to do with minimal prompting. Afterwards, I have volunteers come up and do a line each, and the class corrects them as necessary (either verbally while the student is working if it's a class that can handle that or after the student has completed a line, I'll ask if anyone sees any mistakes and then let that person correct them). Students follow along and mark their own copies while this is going on so that they've got an example to keep. This would work with any sonnet unit, not just Shakespeare's sonnets. I believe that it applies to any grade level, too. *Look for the Sonnet Test I created to go with this unit under "Levi Sonnet Test". It's a test that has them go through and identify all of the parts of the sonnets and then tell me which style it is, identify the rhyme scheme, mark the stressed/unstressed syllables, etc. I created the test for seniors, so you may want to edit as appropriate for lower grades.