“Sonnet” means a little sound or song and it derives from “Sonetto”. The first poet who used the sonnet was Giacomo da Lentini but it established its importance with Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Petrarch describes his love for Laura using the typical features of courtly love. The poet suffers because of a beautiful but cruel lady too. He feels contrasting sensations according to the presence or absence of the lady or his different states of mind. The feelings of the lady are important only in so far as they concern the poet. The Italian sonnet had a rigid structural form: poets in fact had to write within fourteen lines. The Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two stanzas, one octave which introduces a problem or situation and one sestet which gives an answer or comments on the situation and express the poet’s feelings, usually rhyming ABBA ABBA CDE CDE. Sir Thomas Wyatt was the first who introduced the Italian sonnet in England. He simply translated the Italian poems into English but, to adapt the Italian pattern to the English language, he left the octave and he divided the sestet into a quatrain and a final couplet. The theme of love remained unchanged. The final couplet became completely separated from the quatrain only with the Earl of Surrey who divided the octave into two quatrains with different rhymes. The Elizabethan sonnet was made up of three quatrains and a couplet and its usual rhyme was ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. This structure allowed the poet to use the form according to his needs. The Elizabethan poets preferred to develop the same theme into the quatrains and give an answer or deny it in the couplet. The couplet was used to summarize or reverse the subject matter dealt in the quatrains. In Tottel’s Miscellany poems of many poets who wrote of love in the Petrarchan way are contained. Philip Sidney wrote Astrophel and Stella, a collection of sonnets which dealt with the conflictual love between the poet and Stella. Sidney followed Surrey’s pattern and introduced colloquialisms.
The Shakespearian life and sonnet
Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616 and he was born in Stratford upon Avon. He wrote 154 sonnet: from the 1st to the 124th they are dedicated to Fear Youth who is the Earl of Southenpton: he is one of Shakespeare’s best friend and he paid Shakespeare to write works. From the 125th sonnet to the 154th sonnet they are dedicated to Dark Lady. The poet was married and he had three children but he left the family because he decided to move to London to act. He dealt with love, revenge, friendship, beauty, death and poetry itself. He never talked about God. Shakespeare is the greatest English master of sonnet form. His sonnets are very important because of their rich texture, metaphorical density, rightness of phrase and classic perfection. Sometimes he uses the Petrarchan sonnet but more often he uses his three quatrains to develop the theme while his couplet either fixes his argument or reverses the trend of the first twelve lines. He was a dramatist who wrote his poems as he would write a speech in one of his plays. It’s always present the dramatic tones of speaking voice. The rhyming-scheme which he employs lends itself to his kind of vocal compositions. The sonnets are conceived as varied responses to given situations. These responses reveal the character of the speaker. The discussion of Shakespeare’s sonnets tend to centre less on their technical and artistic achievement than on their biographical implications. Wordsworth, a romantic poet and literary critic, said that Shakespeare in the sonnets unlocked his heart. A lot of commentators have been tempted search some information about Shakespearian life by reading in the sonnets the record of poet’s personal relationship, his conflicts and problems. We have the poet’s adoration of the young friend who, with the poet’s mistress, betrays him; the competition between the poet and maybe George Chapman, who was a writer, for the patronage or affection of the young friend, the poet’s farewell to Chapman; his reflection on old age, death, the joys and sorrow of love. Shakespeare’s favourite themes are decay, death, love, friendship or poetic immortality. This can accounted that Shakespeare and his contemporaries drew heavily both themes on the works of Ovid and Horace.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, I find no peace
Wyatt simply translated Petrarch’s sonnet CXXXIV into English. The sonnet is full of paradoxes and it is made up of fourteen verses. It’s an Elizabethan sonnet too: in fact it is composed by three quatrains and a final couplet. Its main theme is the torment of love of the poets who is turn by contrasting feelings: he loves Laura but he hates her too because he is refused by her. Its rhyme scheme is ABCD DCCD EFGE HH. The main archaisms are: naught, seize on, looseth, locketh holdeth, holdeth, letteth, devise, giveth, plain, eyen, displeaseth me and causer.
Philip Sidney, Sonnet XXXI
Sidney was a courtier and he was very refined. His sonnets were dedicated to Stella whom Sidney loves but she didn’t love him because she had already married. Then she is beautiful and proud too and she scorn him. He celebrated the ideal of courtly love. It’s an Elizabethan sonnet, the theme is unhappy love and the rhyme scheme is ABBA CDCD EE. The poet asks to the face of the moon if lovers on the moon fall in love at the same way as on earth. The main archaisms are: thou climb’st, thou feel’st, thy, hear’nly, doth.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXI
It is dedicated to fear youth and it is an Elizabethan sonnet. The first quatrain is a metaphor for death. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. There are a lot of alliterations and the most important is in the second verse (vile word with vilest worms). He addresses to a youth and he says him to forgot him when he will die instead of suffering because of his death. The main archaisms are: mourn, dead, I am fled, compounded, decay, moan and mock.