Happy National Poetry Month! In 1996, the Academy of American Poet designated April as the month to officially celebrate poetry. Here at ARB, we celebrate poetry all year round, but figured we would take this opportunity to talk some about Shakespearean sonnets.
First off, what is a sonnet? A sonnet is a poem that is comprised of 14 lines. It can be either a Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets are broken up into an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (six lines). The octave’s rhyme scheme is A B B A A B B A and the sestet’s is C D E C D E, or C D C D C D. Shakespearean sonnets contain four quatrains (4 lines) and one couplet (2 lines). The rhyme scheme is A B A B C D C D E F E F G G. Another distinguishing factor of Shakespearean sonnets is that they are written in iambic pentameter, meaning each line has ten syllables, broke into five “feet.” Feet are pairings of syllables. In iambic pentameter, each foot consists of one stressed (long) syllable and one unstressed (short) syllable. Shakespeare was the master of iambic pentameter, as he used it in a majority of his works.
In total, Shakespeare has 154 published sonnets. None of them are named, but are referred to chronologically. Shakespeare’s sonnets speak of love, lust, and beauty—which is one reason why sonnets today are seen as one of the more romantic forms of poetry. Some of Shakespeare’s most well-known sonnets are probably Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayest in me behold.”), and Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds…”).
ARB has multiple volumes of Shakespeare’s poetry. Some are even illustrated. The images throughout this blog were selected from William Shakespeare Sonnets, illustrated by Mary Jane Gorton, and Shakespeare’s Songs and Sonnets, illustrated by Sir John Gilbert. If you would like to see more from these books, or others like it, give us a call at 513.556.1959 or email us at email@example.com. We’re on the 8th floor of Blegen library from 8a-5p Monday through Friday. Please also follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ArchivesRareBooksLibraryUniversityOfCincinnati/.