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Poetry Competitions UK
14 Jun 2011

How to Write a Shakespearean Sonnet

More sophisticated than your average rhyming poetry, the sonnet is sometimes considered to be the most accessible of classic forms.

In its basic definition, a sonnet is a rhyming poem of fourteen lines with ten syllables per line, generally written in iambic pentameter meaning there is the rhythm ti-tum; ti-tum; ti-tum. Although there are many different varieties, the two most common variations of sonnets are; the English sonnet - popularised by William Shakespeare, and the Italian sonnet - or the Petrarchan sonnet as it's commonly known as due to the first major practitioner Francesco Petrarch. In this workshop we focus on the Shakespearean sonnet (we've featured the Petrarchan Sonnet in a separate workshop).

Below is an example of an English sonnet, also known as the Shakespearean sonnet,  written by Shakespeare:

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

As can be plotted in this example, a sonnet follows a traditional structure:

  • A proposition is set out
  • The proposition is then developed
  • Either a conclusion is reached, or there is a thought-provoking finale.

If you've enjoyed this poetry writing workshop on odes, do have a look at the Petrarchan Sonnet workshop we also have in our poetry writing workshop section.

Why not submit your poem to us - Forward Poetry, Remus House, Coltsfoot Drive, Peterborough, PE2 9BF. Alternatively, poetry competition upload or email your submission to us at inbox@forwardpoetry.co.uk.

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