Crafting a Shakespearean Sonnet

Dec 31, 1969
Image for issue at Youth Voices

Frank Dicksee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Will you: 

Try your hand at sonnet writing. You do not need to be Shakespeare; you just need to try. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. It takes contemplation and a focus on diction. Most sonnets focus on love and fate as their topics. You may choose either topic to write about or try another topic of your choice.

  • It must consist of 14 lines
  • Try to write your piece in iambic pentameter (10 beats per line)
  • It should follow Shakespeare’s rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg)

Step One: Read and annotate sonnets by Shakespeare

  • Read a dozen or more of these Sonnets (1609) by William Shakespeare, until you find three to five that seem to be similar in form or in themes.
  • Take your time, re-read the sonnets you've chosen for this mission. Read them with your peers and have others read them to you. Then annotate them in detail on Genius.
  • Study these sonnets inside and out, theme and craft, until you are ready to write a similar one yourself. The sonnets you choose are your mentor texts, your guidelines for crafting a Shakespearean sonnet.

Step Two of Four: Write a Shakespearean sonnet about a Shakespearean theme that you also think is important

What makes a sonnet a sonnet?

  • All sonnets have 14 lines of rhymed iambic pentameter.
  • The sonnet form is used to create a juxtaposition between two related but contrasting ideas, events, feelings, etc. (Sometimes this juxtaposition creates a tension that is resolved by the end of the sonnet, but not always).
  • Each sonnet contains a volta or “turn” where the second idea is introduced

Shakespearian Sonnet Format

  • 3 quatrains (rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef) and a couplet (gg)
  • Generally, each quatrain develops a new but closely related idea, until the volta, which introduces an obvious change
  • The volta may be at line 9 or 12

Step Three of Four: Read this sonnet, along with the poet's annotations and his essay, then make your own.

Step Four of Four: Make comments on other students' sonnets

Use the guide Shakespearean Sonnet Response / Respuesta soneto de Shakespeare to write comments to other sonnet writers in which you compare each of their poems to specific sonnets by Shakespeare, including references to both poetic devices and themes. Reply when others comment on your sonnet as well.