We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Shakespearean Sonnet?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A Shakespearean sonnet is a variation of a sonnet poem popularized, but not invented, by William Shakespeare. The sonnet is a 14-line poem first translated into English by Thomas Wyatt in the early 16th century. By Shakespeare’s time, it came to have a distinct rhyming structure of three quatrains and a rhyming couplet for a finale. The Shakespearean sonnet, like many other types of sonnet, uses the iambic pentameter structure.

Petrarchan sonnets were the first to appear in English. The Shakespearean sonnet did away with the Petrarchan octave and sestet stanzas and melded the sonnet into one 14-line poem. The rhyming system also changed. The Petrarchan sonnet had a definite rhyming system as demonstrated like this: ‘bat-ten-men-hat, cat-hen-den-mat, hoop-fruit-reel, loop-chute-meal.” The Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, uses alternate rhyming and a rhyming couplet like this: hat-hen, bat-men, loop-chute, hoop-fruit, arm-rest, harm-lest, love-dove.”

There are 154 sonnets attributed to the poet and playwright William Shakespeare. The first 152 were first published in 1609 with a further two published in a separate publication. These appeared at a time when Shakespeare’s output appeared to be on the decline; four years later, in 1613, he would stop writing plays and poems.

The first 17 poems of the collection are known as the ‘procreation sonnets’ and are written to a young man urging him to marry and have children. The next 109 poems develop from this onto the theme of love. They conclude with 28 poems about a dark and treacherous lady including “Sonnet 130,” which demonstrates the Shakespearean sonnet in full:

“My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.”

After Shakespeare wrote sonnets such as “130,” their popularity began to fade. They were replaced for a time by metaphysical poetry. Their value was reappraised and brought back into vogue by poets of the 18th century such as William Wordsworth. The sonnet remains popular in the modern period and has been used by poets such as Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Oct 26, 2014

Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 sounds more like an anti-Petrarchan sonnet than a sonnet. Sonnets are usually about love, like unattainable love. I believe there was a short trend at some point where poets started to scold or rant about women instead of praising them. Sonnet 130 is not even scolding, it sounds like a strong dislike, all until the end when the poet says he loves her. It's surprising and strange. Isn't it?

By turquoise — On Oct 25, 2014

@stoneMason-- Shakespearean sonnet is a modification of the Petrarchan sonnet. Yes, it is based on it but they do not have the same structure as the article described.

You see, Petrarchan sonnet was founded by an Italian poet (Petrarch). And it soon began to be translated into English and written in English. But since the sonnet was more suitable for Italian, the English versions weren't as effective. In part, to resolve this issue, poets modified the Petrarchan sonnet into what came to be known as the Shakespearean sonnet.

It was modified and used before Shakespeare but it was really Shakespeare who popularized it.

By stoneMason — On Oct 24, 2014

So a Shakespearean sonnet is a type of Petrarchan sonnet? I thought that these were two different types of sonnets.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.