What Are The Two Types of Sonnets?
What is a Sonnet?
A sonnet is a specific type of poem. It has 14 lines, and is written in iambic pentameter. There are two types of sonnet: Italian (or Petrarchan), and English (or Shakespearean). The type of sonnet is determined by its rhyme scheme.
Each line of a sonnet is divided into 10 syllables and 5 iambs. In poetry, a pair of syllables is also called a foot. An iamb is a special pair of syllables, one unstressed and the other stressed.
The iambs give the sonnet a very recognizable rhythm when it's spoken aloud. To hear what iambic pentameter sounds like, say the first line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 101 out loud:
O truant Muse what shall be thy amends
This ebb and flow from stressed to unstressed syllables is iambic pentameter in action.
Besides using a very specific poetic meter, sonnets also have recognizable rhyme patterns. These patterns determine whether a sonnet is Petrarchan or Shakespearean.
Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnet
The Petrarchan (named after the 14th century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch), or Italian, sonnet has an octave (or octet) of eight lines followed by a sestet of 6 lines. The octet and the sestet have their own rhyme schemes. There are several possible rhyme patterns for an Italian sonnet. The most common patterns for the octet are: abbaabba and abbacddc. The sestet has a pattern of defdef or dedede. Taken together, the most basic rhyme patterns for a Petrarchan sonnet are: abbaabba defdef, and abbacddc dedede.
There are many variations of the rhyme scheme in a Petrarchan sonnet, which is one of the characteristics that makes it different from the Shakespearean sonnet form.
Shakespearean (English) Sonnet
The other main form of sonnet is the Shakespearean, or English, sonnet. As the name suggests, this form was used by William Shakespeare, though he did not create it. This type of sonnet differs from the Petrarchan sonnet in both its structure and its rhyme scheme.
Shakespearean sonnets are divided into three quatrains of four lines each followed by a couplet of two lines. And unlike the Petrarchan sonnet, Shakespearean sonnets have a rhyme pattern that never varies: abab, cdcd, efef, gg
Mastering the Basics
Of course, recognizing the poetic meter and the rhyme scheme of sonnets is just the beginning. Knowing the basics of this influential form of poetry is just a springboard to discovering its true and enduring beauty.