Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The sonnet is a highly concentrated work of art in which the poet must develop and resolve his theme within the strict confines of the sonnet form. Sonnet 19, like all Shakespeare’s sonnets, follows a standard pattern. It consists of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, and it follows the rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

The meaning of the sonnet is reinforced by the variations Shakespeare makes in the meter. This takes the form of a subtle counterpoint between the regular metrical base, which is iambic pentameter, and the spoken rhythm—what one actually hears when the sonnet is read. For example, in the first quatrain, the theme of the destructiveness of time is brought out more forcefully by a series of metrical inversions.

In the third foot in the first line (“blunt thou”), a trochee is substituted for an iamb, resulting in a strong stress falling on the first syllable. This gives “blunt” a much stronger impact than it would otherwise have, especially as the rest of the line follows a regular iambic rhythm. In line two, the last foot is a spondee rather than an iamb, resulting in two heavy stresses on “sweet brood.” The emphasis on the “sweetness of what time destroys” makes the work of time seem even more harsh. Line 3 is a very irregular line, echoing the turbulence of the sense. There is a metrical inversion in the first foot (it is trochaic, not iambic) that serves to highlight the word “Pluck.”...

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Historical Context

(Shakespeare for Students)

As a literary genre, the sonnet originated in Italy and is associated with the name of Francis Petrarch (1304–1374). Petrarch was inspired...

(The entire section is 843 words.)

Literary Style

(Shakespeare for Students)

A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem that follows certain well-established conventions in its rhyme scheme. The Shakespearean sonnet is composed...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Shakespeare for Students)

  • 1590s: Writers who were not courtiers or nobles had to find a wealthy patron to support them financially....

(The entire section is 325 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Shakespeare for Students)

  • On the World Wide Web, go to html, a site which sends out e-greetings cards made up of...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Shakespeare for Students)

  • The sonnets have been recorded on audiotape and there are a number of different versions available. Sonnets by William...

(The entire section is 103 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Shakespeare for Students)

  • Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, were both written at about the same time as the sonnets, and they both deal with the many different aspects, both positive and negative, of romantic love. Romeo and Juliet begins with a sonnet (“Two households, both alike in dignity”) and when the lovers meet their first dialogue forms a sonnet (“If I profane with my unworthiest hand”).
  • Later writers have used the sonnet form to explore subjects other than love. Some of the most notable examples are John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” which are expressions of religious faith; sonnets by William...

(The entire section is 397 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Shakespeare for Students)

Booth, Stephen. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Yale University Press, 1977.

Hardin, Craig, ed....

(The entire section is 458 words.)