Sonnet History
The Sonnets-A Brief Overview

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Present-day poetry reflects the art of the individual and has become written for a communal audience. However, this is not so in the Renaissance. Voices are assumed in the poetry relating the ideas and actions of a person not the poet. Poems in Elizabethan times were of scribal publication, one copy passing through the hands, and minds, of several readers, and would be given as gifts if it were pleasing to the reader. This form of publication was pupular well into the romantic era with books of poetry from Wordsworth and Byron much more elaborate than their present-day counterparts. Those sonnets written in the early 16th century usually contained 14 lines in iambic pentameter with an interlocking rhyme scheme to provide coherence, although a few of Shakespeare's have 15 lines. This is not always the case as seen in Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, which had a variety of forms and rhyme schemes of sonnets.

The sonnet was developed in Italy, most evidence indicating Francesco Petrarca as the pioneer of the sonneteers. (A sonnet by Petrarca is included at the bottom of this page). Shakespeare remained concrete in his style of 3 quatrains and a couplet, with the octave and the sestet, eight lines and six lines, respectively, seen in several of the sonnets. Both of these style sets up the situation and usually has a turnaround either in the sestet or the couplet. There seems to be a sequence in Shakespeare's sonnets with 1-17 being the procreation sonnets, 18-126 being the young man sonnets, 79-86 being addressed to the rival poet, 73-99 as the season sequence, and the dark lady sonnets in 127-152. Whichever the sequence, the sonnets house several recurring images like beating death through verse, living in song as a hero, religion, love (eternally) outlasting our lives and, from the act of love, children.

I have selected a few sonnets that I find most interesting and have done my best to convey an accurate interpretation and analysis of them, some of them simply for the context and others for connections to other works. For example, Sonnets 64 and 65 correlate to Spencer's Ruines of Rome: by Bellay. After reading Spencer's translation of Bellay's sonnet sequence, I found several parallel between the two texts and will further discuss them. My intent in this site is to aid the reader in having a clearer understanding and idea of Shakespeare and his literature. The selcted Sonnets are those that I have decided are of either great poetical merit or relevant themes and ideas with which we all can relate. The paraphrasing is not the only way it should be read--these are only my interpretation of the Sonnets. On the main page of this website is a list the Sonnets and related links either devoted to Shakespeare or specifically to his Sonnets.

I highly recommend Shakespeares Sonnets, edited by W.G. Ingram and Theodore Redpath, the which being used by me to better my understanding of Shakepseare's thoughts and ideas. Another useful reading is an article in the PMLA entitled The Genesis of Shakespeare's Sonnets: Spenser's Ruines of Rome: by Bellay, by A. Kent Hieatt.

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