Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 35 is in the English or Shakespearean sonnet form, as are all but three of the poems in Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence. This form consists of fourteen iambic pentameter lines arranged as three quatrains and a couplet, rhyming abab cdcd efef gg. Sonnet 35 is a very regular example. Its phrasing is rigorously maintained by end-of-line punctuation marking full caesuras; Shakespeare employs no enjambment or run-on lines. Each line is a whole syntactical unit, usually a dependent clause. The rhymes, too, are regular, although modern pronunciation turns “compare” and “sins are” of lines 6 and 8 and “Advocate” and “hate” of lines 10 and 12 into apparent sight rhymes rather than true rhyme. There is also some metrical inversion, beginning in line 2, with “Roses,” a trochee. Similar variations in meter occur in lines 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, and 14. Metrical inversion is common throughout Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence. It is often used to counterpoint the basic iambic scheme, which might otherwise become too monotonous.

The sonnet’s regularity complements its basic idea. The poem takes the form of logical discourse, of a legal argument, ostensibly rational rather than emotional. Although the poet admits to using what elsewhere he calls “false compare” (Sonnet 130), he starts out to justify his friend’s betrayal by arguing that nothing is perfect. In the manner of much Elizabethan verse, the lyric uses multiple examples from...

(The entire section is 558 words.)