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A sonnet is a literary form originally developed in Italy. The term, meaning song, orginally referred to a short poem. Under the influence of Petrarch, it can to mean a fourteen-line poem consisting of an octave and a sestest. This Italian or Petrarchan form is rhymed abbaabba cdcdcd. I typical example in English is John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;...

The English, or Shakespearian form, is written in iambic pentameter and consists of three quyatrains and a couplet, yielding the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. A typical example of a Shakesperian sonnet is Sonnet 29, beginning:

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state, ...

Other English sonnet forms include the terza rima sonnet and the curtail sonnet.

Read the study guide:
Shakespeare's Sonnets

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