Genre: Elizabethan Poetry

Published: 1609 - Read:

Shakespeare's Sonnets

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Pages: 489 (154 Sonnets)


The Marshals Theatre Company's production - A Banquet of the Bard - July 2022 - includes 3 of Shakespeare's sonnets. That was one incentive to purchase this book and get to know the Sonnets better. The main impetus, however, was this lecture by Ben McEvoy (which you can see here.) The lecture is 75 minutes, and provides a dense introduction. (More of this in the main comment.)

The word 'Sonnet' comes from the Italian word 'sonetto' (little song). By the 13th century it had come to refer to a poem of fourteen lines with a very strict rhyme scheme and structure... [continued]

Petrarch (1303 - 1374), a scholar and poet of early Renaissance Italy, did not invent the sonnet form, but it is his name which is associated with the form before Shakespeare adopted it and made it his own. The nature of the Italian language makes rhyming much eaier than in English. The sonnet was introduced in England by Thomas Wyatt (1503-1564). Henry Howard (1516-1547 executed for treason) is said to have given the sonnet its rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg) and its characteristic division into three quatrains with a concluding couplet.

Almost all of Shakespeare’s sonnets conform to this structure. the stylistic form of the English sonnet—the rhyme scheme, the 14 lines, and the metre. Shakespeare’s, however, subverts the genre: instead of "expressing worshipful love for an almost goddess-like yet unobtainable female love-object, as Petrarch, Dante, and Philip Sidney had done, Shakespeare introduces a young man. He also introduces the Dark Lady, who is no goddess. Shakespeare explores themes such as lust, homoeroticism, misogyny, infidelity, and acrimony in ways that may challenge, but which also open new terrain for the sonnet form". [Good old wikipedia puts it quite well.]

It would be a crime to give the Bard anything other!


Universally acclaimed. If they'd had prizes in those days...