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Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Literary Focus: Shakespearean Sonnet. A sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem , usually about love. The English, or Shakespearean, sonnet consists of three quatrains (rhyming four-line units) followed by a couplet (a pair of rhyming lines) at the end.

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Literary Focus: Shakespearean Sonnet

A sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem, usually about love.

The English,or Shakespearean, sonnet consists of three quatrains (rhyming four-line units) followed by a couplet (a pair of rhyming lines) at the end.

  • The three quatrains often express related ideas.
  • The couplet sums up the poet’s message.
literary focus shakespearean sonnet






From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate

—Sonnet 29, line 12


= stressed syllable

= unstressed syllable

Literary Focus: Shakespearean Sonnet

Like most sonnets, the Shakespearean sonnet is written in a particular meter, or rhythmic pattern, called iambic pentameter:

Each line consists of five unstressed syllables alternating with five stressed syllables.

literary focus shakespearean sonnet1

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,And look upon myself and curse my fate

—Sonnet 29, lines 1–4

Literary Focus: Shakespearean Sonnet

The typical rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg.

First quatrain





literary focus shakespearean sonnet2
Literary Focus: Shakespearean Sonnet

Shakespearean sonnets, like most all sonnets, will contain a turn or volta.

The turn (volta) indicates a shift in thought or focus of the poem.

Some turns are very pronounced others are more subtle.

As you read the sonnets, try to locate the turn in each one.

sonnet 29 by william shakespeare
Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare

At the beginning of Sonnet 29, the speaker describes some volatile emotions: envy, self-pity, and self-hatred.

  • Consider what you know about Shakespeare and about poetry.
  • Do you think the entire poem will be about envy and self-pity? If not, what do you think it will end up being about?

Sonnet 29Literary Focus: Shakespearean Sonnet

As you read Sonnet 29, notice

  • where each quatrain begins and ends
  • which words rhyme in the quatrains
  • how the couplet is used to sum up the message

[End of Section]