What Are Five Characteristics of a Sonnet?

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A sonnet is a type of poem that became popular during the Renaissance period in Europe. There are three main types of sonnets: Shakespearean, Spenserian and Petrarchan. All sonnets are highly structured with strict rules about meter, rhyme, length and other features.

Characteristics of All Sonnets

  • All sonnets have the following three features in common: They are 14 lines long, have a regular rhyme scheme and a strict metrical construction, usually iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter means that each line has 10 syllables in five pairs, and that each pair has stress on the second syllable.

Shakespearean Sonnets

  • Shakespearean sonnets, named after William Shakespeare, have the following rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg. It is divided into three quatrains, or four lines -- the first of which is abab -- and one concluding couplet -- gg. The first line in the first quatrain rhymes with the third line; both are "a"; the second line rhymes with the fourth, which are both "b."

Spenserian Sonnets

  • Spenserian sonnets, named after Edmund Spenser, like Shakespearean sonnets, are divided into three quatrains and a couplet. But the rhyme scheme is different; it is abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee.

Petrarchan Sonnets

  • Petrarch sonnets, named after Francesco Petrarcas, have two quatrains and two tercets, which are three-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme is usually abba, abba, cde, cde.

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