Students often have to analyze different forms of poetry for their literature and English composition class. It is not that easy, and sonnets are among the most common objects of analysis.
Though William Shakespeare is not an inventor of a sonnet (Giacomo de Lentini was the one, according to historical sources), he remains the most known representative of this genre. In this post, you’ll find out how to analyze sonnets in general, with a focus on the sonnets of Shakespeare.
1. Split up the Quatrains
Sonnets by such a famous author as Shakespeare were created following a precise form of poetry. This makes them relatively simple to analyze and interpret. Every quatrain of this form of poetry has a specific goal. A quatrain is a section of a sonnet. The sonnets written by the distinguished writer contain fourteen lines. (Find out more about how to write your own Shakespearean sonnet)
2. Define the Main Idea (Message)
Every sonnet has a theme. You can call it the main topic. That is actually the reason for the writer to compose the piece of poetry. In most cases, sonnets, especially those written by Shakespeare, describe something related to the feeling of love.
You should think about the messages or lessons that the author tries to deliver in their sonnet. The best clues to this are found in the first and concluding quatrains. The first one must offer the theme for discussion. The fourth quatrain has to provide a conclusion and set up an essential question related to that theme. Through comparing and contrasting these sections, it’s possible to decide on the theme of a sonnet.
3. Determine the Point
Once you know the subject matter, you have to understand how the writer feels about it and why. How can you find the answer? Pay particular attention to the third quatrain. That is the place where a writer could possibly add a tricky twist. What is complicated in what he or she says? Use quatrain four to compare it to the third one. Then, you’ll get the point.
4. What’s the Imagery?
The usage of imagery is what makes sonnets stand out from other types of literature. An author only has 14 lines to express their ideas and deliver the message. Without an enduring image, the reader will barely understand the subject of matter. Thus, when analyzing the sonnet, one should:
- Check out the entire literary piece very carefully, highlighting the images that are present. Think about the relation between them. How do they relate to the main subject?
- Pay attention to the second section. Quatrain two is the right place to look for the topic extension with the help of imagery or other literary devices (e.g., metaphor, simile, or allegory).
5. How About the Meter?
Each line of a Shakespearean sonnet has ten syllables. This approach is known as iambic pentameter. While reading the poetry carefully, highlight every stressed beat. In case the stress pattern changes in one of the feet, pay attention to it. What does the author try to say by changing the rhythm?
6. Specify What the Muse Is
All poets need a muse. One of your goals when analyzing a sonnet should be to identify the muse. The Renaissance epoch is called the most romantic of all times, so it’s no surprise that muses were predominantly women. However, there could be other sources of inspiration, like a mentor, child, or patron.
Check out the sonnet again. Use the info that you’ve collected to find out what could be the poet’s muse and why. Perhaps, you might need to do some research and dig a bit deeper into the history or the writer or sonnet to understand why the particular person was chosen to serve as a muse.
Most Important Things to Know about the Sonnets of Shakespeare
If it still seems complicated for you to analyze a sonnet, turn to an essay writing service or look for some good examples online. Though love and relationships are the dominant topics of the sonnets written by William Shakespeare and his followers, we can underline three particular subjects:
- The brevity of life
- The trapping of a wish
- The transience of beauty
The first two themes are basically covered in the early works of an author. They refer to the young male. Shakespeare reveals how to conquer the ravages of time. Then, he makes an attempt to immortalize his hero. What is the solution to morality? The poet believes that it is pure love, so he offers a philosophical yet romantic discussion of the concept of pure love (and if it even exists).
In one of the sonnet examples, the author focuses on the sexual aspect of the relations between a man and a woman. He calls his heroine a dark lady, adding some kind of a romance to this character. He describes the intense sexual affair with this person. The author considers that love can be an obsession and nothing more but a disease.
With these insights into Shakespeare’s sonnets, and the six tips to help improve any analysis of a particular sonnet, we hope we’ve provided some food for thought. Have any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
Common questions about Shakespeare’s sonnets
What is a Shakespearean sonnet?
All sonnets have 14 lines and are written in iambic pentameter. The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into three four-line sections (called quatrains), followed by a two-line section (called a couplet). Each of Shakespeare’s sonnets expresses a single idea, but the division into three quatrains and one couplet allows the poet to switch the focus, dealing with a different aspect of the idea in each section.
How many sonnets did Shakespeare write?
Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets published in his ‘quarto’ in 1609, covering themes such as the passage of time, mortality, love, beauty, infidelity, and jealousy.
Who did Shakespeare dedicate his sonnets to?
The first 126 of Shakespeare’s sonnets are addressed to a young man, and the last 28 addressed to a woman – a mysterious ‘dark lady’.
What is Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet?
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, which starts “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is possibly the most famous sonnet ever, and certainly one that has entered deeply into the consciousness of our culture.
Why is Sonnet 18 so famous?
Sonnet 18 is so famous for 2 reasons: Firstly it generally considered to be the perfection of the sonnet form, with its use of eloquent use of language. Secondly, it deals with a universal human fear – that one day we will die and be forgotten.
What is the most important theme in Shakespeare’s sonnets?
Through his 154 sonnets Shakespeare covers themes as diverse as the passage of time, mortality, love, beauty, infidelity, and jealousy.
What is iambic pentameter?
Iambic pentameter is a line of writing that consists of ten syllables in a specific pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, or a short syllable followed by a long syllable.