Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What are the similarities and differences in form and content between the Shakespearean Sonnet and the Petrarchan Sonnet?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Both the Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets consist of fourteen lines and are written in iambic pentameter.  This means that each line, generally speaking, will have five (penta-) feet, with each foot consisting of one unaccented syllable followed by one accented syllable: this means that each line will typically have ten syllables.  The foot name is an iamb (this is where we get the word iambic), and each iamb has two syllables: one unaccented followed by one accented syllable.  

The Petrarchan sonnet is divided into an eight line octave (rhyme scheme: abbaabba) followed by a six line sestet (with a rhyme scheme that is more open: cdcdcd, cdecde, cdeedc—really, any combination of "c"s and "d"s and maybe "e"s is acceptable).  Then, there is usually some division of content between the octave and sestet.  The octave might pose a question that the sestet answers.  The octave might present a problem that the sestet solves.  The octave could present an issue from one angle, and then the sestet takes a different angle on the issue.

The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into three four line groups called quatrains (rhyming ababcdcdefef), followed by a rhyming couplet.  Each quatrain might present an example, and the couplet could present whatever ties the examples together.  Each quatrain might ask a question with the couplet providing the one answer to them all.  Generally, the couplet contains some key information that we need in order to understand the importance of the quatrains.

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The Italian term sonetto simply means a short or little song. The fourteen-line sonnet form with which later became known as the "Italian" or "Petrarchan" sonnet appears to have first been...

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