Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Discuss Elizabethan sonnet tradition with special reference to Sidney and Shakespeare. Please give more references to explain the question

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The original sonnet form is named for the man who perfected it with his skills, making it his own—namely, Petrarch. He introduced the Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet in Italy.

In general, all sonnets consist of 14 lines. The rhyme scheme and structure is what differentiates one form from others. The Italian sonnet has two parts: the octave (the first eight lines) and the sestet (the last six lines). A problem or main idea is introduced in the octave and the resolution or conclusion is presented in the sestet. While there may be variations of the rhyme scheme for this sonnet type, traditionally the last word of each lines rhymes as follows: abba abba cde cde. (This means that the first and fourth line rhyme with each other, and the second and third line rhyme, and so on.)

It is said that Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet form to England, but Shakespeare perfected the Shakespearean or Elizabethan (named for Elizabeth I) sonnet. This sonnet is made up of four quatrains (four four-line stanzas), which accounts for 12 lines, and ends with a rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. A problem or main idea is introduced in the first two quatrains. The tone shifts at the beginning of the third quatrain, and the poem is summarized in the rhyming couplet. These sonnets are written in iambic pentameter: ten syllables per lines, with a stress on every other syllable. Only three of the Bard's sonnets do not follow this form. Shakespeare wrote 156 sonnets in all.

The word "sonnet" comes from the Italian "sonnetto," which means "little song." And generally they are love poems. Shakespeare's sonnets are masterfully written to emphasize this theme.

In Sonnet 29, the speaker bemoans his terrible life: his lack of friends, luck and talent; his envy of others who have so much more. At the start of the third quatrain, his focus changes—almost hating himself..."Haply I think on thee..." In remembering his love, he is no longer woeful. The rhyme scheme concludes with this triumphant rhyming couplet...

For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.

Sir Philip Sidney was a poet and writer, as was Shakespeare. He was also a soldier and patriot.

By far the most important of Sidney’s literary creations was his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella, in which he chronicles his long, passionate, and ultimately unhappy relationship with Penelope Rich. 108 love sonnets. Sidney used the Elizabethan sonnet form, using allusions and metaphors of...

...military and political affairs, as was fitting for a courtier poet.

Sidney's sonnets influenced many other poets, including William Shakespeare.

The English sonnet...reached the height of its popularity in the 1590s, [with the celebrated]...posthumous publication of Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella...

From Sidney's collection comes Sonnet 39:

Come, Sleepe! O Sleepe, the certaine knot of peace,

The baiting-place of wit, the balme of woe,

The poor mans wealth, the prisoners release,

Th' indifferent iudge betweene the high and low!

Military allusion is seen with "darts" and "ciuil wars" in...

Of those fierce darts Despaire at me doth throw.

O make in me those ciuil wars to cease;

Shakespeare and Sidney are both remembered for their literary genius, in adeptly constructed, timeless poetry, using the sonnet form.


Adventures in English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers: Orlando, 1985.

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