What is a sonnet?
A sonnet is a type of lyric poem that have 14 lines and follow a strict and intricate pattern of rhyming and structure. Most of the sonnets are written in iambic pentameter, a metrical pattern with ten syllables per line, alternating stressed and unstressed syllables.
The word “sonnet” comes from an Italian word, “sonetto,” which means a “little song.” It all began in the 13th century in a place called Palermo, which was under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
The origin of the sonnet is attributed to Giacomo da Lentini, a poet and notary from the 13th century.
During the Renaissance, sonnets became a popular way for people to express their romantic feelings. But over time, poets started using sonnets for all sorts of topics. They also began to change the rules of how sonnets could be written, so you’ll find different variations of sonnets today. Some don’t follow the old rules at all!
Types of Sonnets in English Language
Sonnets are classified into two types on the basis of their structure and rhyme scheme:
1. Petrarchan (aka Italian) Sonnet: It is a type of sonnet that follows a specific structure and rhyme scheme. This form of sonnet was popularized by the Italian poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca) in the 14th century. Petrarch was a prominent figure in the Italian Renaissance and is known for his love sonnets dedicated to an idealized and unattainable woman named Laura.
The Petrarchan sonnet typically consists of 14 lines divided into an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the final six lines). The rhyme scheme of the octave is usually ABBAABBA, while the sestet can have various rhyme schemes, often including variations such as CDCDCD or CDECDE. This division of the sonnet allows for a shift in tone or subject matter between the octave and sestet, making it a versatile form for expressing different ideas and emotions.
The popularity of the Petrarchan sonnet in English literature can be attributed to the work of Sir Thomas Wyatt who introduced the form to English poetry in the 16th century. He adapted Petrarchan themes and the structure of the sonnet to express his feelings, especially about love. The Petrarchan form was later adopted by poets like Milton, Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, D. G. Rossetti, and others. They often made slight adjustments to make it more suitable for the English language, which has fewer rhyming options compared to Italian. One common adaptation was introducing a new pair of rhymes in the second four lines of the octave.
2. Shakespearean (aka Elizabethan or English) Sonnet: A Shakespearean sonnet also consists of fourteen lines but differs from the Italian sonnet because it is divided into three stanzas of four lines, called quatrains, followed by a couplet of two lines. The rhyme scheme for this type is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. It is named after William Shakespeare because he became one of the most famous and skilled practitioners of this particular form of poetry. A major poet of the 16th century, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, is credited with developing the Shakespearean form of the sonnet.
Apart from the most popular Shakespearean Sonnet, Spenser introduced a distinctive variation known as the Spenserian sonnet, where he connected each quatrain to the next by maintaining a continuous rhyme pattern: ABAB BCBC CDCD EE. These inter-stanza rhyming lines are called concatenated lines.
If you are willing to prepare for UGC-NET, you may find this article useful.
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