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The Differences between Italian, Spenserian, and English Sonnets



The Differences between Italian, Spenserian, and English Sonnets
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.91

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    abbaabba, cdcdcd, cdecde, sorrow-filled, unrequited, volta, sestet, following, octave, pentameter, stanza, couplet, scheme, sonnet, better, poet
     content words:    Italian Renaissance, Edmund Spenser, Fairie Queene, William Shakespeare, English Renaissance, Elizabeth Browning, Claude McKay


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The Differences between Italian, Spenserian, and English Sonnets
By Brenda B. Covert
  

1     A sonnet by any other name would sound as sweet. Perhaps structured is a better word for describing sonnets. Each form of sonnet has strict rules for length, rhythm, and rhyme. Each form employs iambic pentameter - that is, ten syllables in each line, with the even syllables being the stressed syllables. Each form also includes a volta - a turn or twist in the theme that invites the reader to look at the subject from a new angle. However, there are some slight differences that will help you to tell the following three sonnet forms apart.
 
2     The oldest form of sonnet was created in 1230. Italian poet Giacomo da Lentino - also a medieval lawyer - developed it. During the Italian Renaissance, a poet known as Petrarch (1304 - 1374) made sonnets popular with his many poems expressing unrequited love for a woman named Laura. This form of sonnet came to be known as the Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet. The Italian sonnet is made up of fourteen lines. The first eight are called an octave. Its rhyme scheme is: abbaabba. The group of six lines following the octave is called a sestet. The rhyme scheme for the sestet is a bit more flexible. The more common rhyme scheme choices are cdecde and cdcdcd. Strictly speaking, the sestet should never end with a couplet (two lines that rhyme). In the Italian sonnet, the volta occurs in line 9, which is the first line in the sestet.
 
3     The next form is called the Spenserian sonnet. It's named after Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599), the author of "The Fairie Queene." Instead of an octave and a sestet, Spenserian sonnets are composed of three quatrains (stanzas of four lines each) and one couplet (a stanza of two lines that rhyme). The rhyme scheme flows like this:
        abab
        bcbc
        cdcd
        ee

Paragraphs 4 to 7:
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