How many feet (metrical) are there in the first line of  Sonnet 116, Let Me Not to the Marriage..?

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favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The first line of this sonnet reads, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds" (line 1). As a general rule, English or Shakespearean sonnets are composed using iambic pentameter (five feet per line, two syllables per foot, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable); however, this does not mean that a line or two in the poem cannot have more (or fewer) than five feet. Sometimes authors will play with meter and rhythm for a particular reason (as Shakespeare actually does later in this sonnet).

One way to begin to figure out how many metrical feet are in the line is to look at polysyllabic words and figure out which syllables are stressed and then use what we know to help us ascertain the rest, and there's only one in this line: marriage. When we speak, we stress the first syllable of this word: MARriage. So, to exaggerate the sounds, we know at least one syllable that should be stressed: "Let me not to the MARriage of true minds." Working backward to the beginning of the line, stressing every other syllable (as an iambic meter would require), we would read, "Let ME not TO the MARriage." Then, carrying on to the end of the line, "OF true MINDS." The whole line would read, "Let ME not TO the MARriage OF true MINDS." How does this sound? Pretty good, right? The word "marriage" turns out to be the key to help us unlock the rest of the line's meter. There are five feet here, each one consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed: it is iambic pentameter.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Shakespeare is recognized as an accomplished playwright and poet. In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare explains "real" love as we have come to understand it rather than love as a form of duty which was very prevalent and expected in the 16th century.

Sonnet 116 is an English Sonnet of 14 lines. It has three quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet. The poem is written in iambic pentameter

the "da-DUM" rhythm, or rather, meter of a poem. (ie: let ME not TO the MAR-iage OF true MINDS)

Look at the pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, representing an iambic foot. Pentameter has five feet per line.