William Shakespeare: sonnet

The first major sonnet cycle in English literature is Astrophet and Stella (probably composed in the 1580s and printed in 1591) by Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586). Following the Petrarhan model in form and content, this sonnet sequence mainly deals with love, but also includes the poet's reflections on the art of poetic inspiration and the nature is the creative process. Many other collections followed and by the end of the 16th century the sonnet was finally established in England as the most fashionable poetic form of the period. Sonneteers, meaning, poets who mainly used this poetic form, became popular figures at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but it was until the appearance of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) on the English literary scene that the sonnet reached perfection. Over a period of several years he wrote 154 sonnets which were published as a collection entitled Shake-Spearses Sonnets in 1609. It was dedicated to a Mr W.H., whose identity has always remained a mystery. Except for a few variations Shakespeare's sonnets follow the standard English structure (three quatrains + a final rhymed couplet composed in iambic pentameters). The third quatrain is the kery-stanza of the sonnet as it usually introduces something unexpected, a sort of turning point called a "volta". The couplet may serve a double purpose as it either logically summarises the argument previously developed or presents a fresh new look at the theme. As far as the poetic form is concerned, it can be said tat Shakespeare generally followed the literary trend of his period. However, his sonnets are real masterpieces because of their amazing thematic variety and depth and the absolutely original treatment of love. In fact he subverted the conventional gender roles and dedicated a great number of his sonnets to a "fair youth" expressing his passionate love for him. In some of them the poet even talks about sex openly. In others, dedicated to a mysterious Dark Lady, the traditionally idealised beauty of the Donna is parodied and the sufferings of the rejected lover are ridiculed.

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