Sonnet its nature development characteristics

Sonnet its Nature Development Characteristics

What is Sonnet nature development

In general, sonnet is fourteen lines short poems formed with special arrangement of rhymes. In this article we will learn - 

What is Sonnet and its characteristics and how sonnet develops:

The Meaning of the Sonnet and its Origin:
The term Sonnet has come from the Italian Sonnetto ('suono', a sound, a song). It originated in Italy, and was possibly written first in about 1230 or 1240 by Giacomo de Lenitino, a Sicillian lawyer at the court of Frederick II. In the following century, it grew prominent to become an established poetical form in particular. In the master hands of Petrarch, Cavalcanti and Dante, it attained there the pinnacle of perfection. 

The sonnet in a general sense, means a short poem. It is a poem of fourteen lines with a special arrangement of rhymes. This treats generally one thought or emotion, formerly of intense love for an unresponsive, though honourable lady, but now of any possible subject of a genuine subjectivity. 

Types of Sonnet and Characteristics of Sonnet:

There are two types of sonnets in English: the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet and the English or Shakespearean sonnet. 

Italian Sonnet:

The Italian sonnet as Dante and Petrarch used is a short poem of fourteen eleven syllabled lines. It is divided into two parts. The first eight lines form the octave (or piedi) with the rhyme-scheme 'abba', 'abba'. The last six lines are called the sestet (or volta) and they rhyme variously, as 'cde cde', 'cd cd ee', 'cde dec' and so on. In fact, the variants in the rhyme-scheme in the sestet are so much as to make any order permissible here, as well evident both in the Italian sonnet and in the English. The sonnet deals usually with one theme or emotion. The theme or emotion in the Italian sonnet, in most cases, is love and its varied moods. A thoroughly dedicated lover is shown usually as expressing passionately his amorous attachment to a young lovely, no doubt virtuous, but rather unresponsive beloved. 

Shakespearean Sonnet:

The form, used in Shakespearean sonnets, was invented by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The fourteen lines of the Shakespearean sonnets are divided into three quatrains and a concluding couplet. The quatrains say the subject and the couplet sums it up. Thus, in the sonnets, like Remembrance, Revolutions, That Time of Year the quatrains state the argument of the poet and the couplets sum up his themes. There is, again, a pause after each quatrain to keep the symmetry of the progress of the argument. There are altogether seven rhymes (a, b, c, d, e, f, g) as opposed to the five of the conventional Petrarchan sonnet and these are arranged as abab, cdcd, efef, gg. 

Difference between Italian Sonnets and Shakespearean Sonnets:

 Both the Italian and Shakespearean sonnets are fourteen lines. But Italian sonnet is divided into two parts - the first eight lines are called octave and the last six lines are sestet. 

The fourteen lines of Shakespearean sonnets are divided into three quatrains and a concluding couplet 

The rhyme-scheme of the Italian or Petrarchan sonnets are - abba, abba, cde, cde or cd cd ee or cde dec.

The rhyme-scheme of Shakespeare's sonnets are as follows - abab, cdcd, efef, gg

The theme or emotion in Italian sonnets in most of cases is love and its varied moods thoroughly dedicated to lovely young lover.

But in Shakespeare's sonnets, the theme is not merely of love but of friendship addressed to a young man of uncertain identity. 

 How was Sonnet Developed:

The sonnet originated in Italy through the great works of Dante, after the initial venture by a Sicilian courtier. But Petrarch was, perhaps, a more renowned name in the Italian sonnets. His influence on the poets who used the sonnet form after him, both in his own country and outside, was greater than Dante's. And the early English sonneteers were distinctly indebted to him. 

It is, indeed, really surprising that sonnet-writing, so immensely popular and successful in English literature, had no native origin. With the intense subjectivity in theme and sophisticated artistry in technique, this old and useful literary form could not appear in England before the sixteenth century and only under the impact of the Renaissance. 

Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was the innovator of the English sonnet, followed Petrarch. He made laborious efforts to copy and command the Petrarchan variety of sonnets. Wyatt's efforts were commendable, but his laborious process to imitate the Italian model affected the spontaneity of his verses. Of course, Wyatt was not all imitative, but attempted, not certainly with much success, to reshape the form of the sonnet, suitable to English verses. 

Wyatt was successfully followed by his contemporary and follower, Earl of Surrey. Surrey, who was more original than Wyatt in his approach, did not attempt to imitate Petrarch blindly. He made variations in the rhyme-scheme to suit the purpose of English poetry. The new form, introduced by Surrey, soon won popularity and came to be known subsequently as the Shakespearean form. It comprised three quatrains and a final couplet. Surrey's freedom from the imitative tendency gave his sonnets a greater force and more liveliness than Wyatt's. 

The next remarkable English sonneteer was Philip Sidney. His Astrophel and Stella contains a series of 108 sonnets about his own frustrated love for the daughter of the Earl of Essex. With Sidney, the sonnet is found to have developed as a mature form of literary art and become rich in artistic excellence. In fact, published in the spring of 1591,after the death of Sidney, the entire sonnet series shows the poet's intensely personal mood and impulse. Subjectivity, an essential part of lyrical poetry, is well marked in Sidney's sonnets which are thoroughly sincere in feeling and expression. 

Edmund Spenser, great name in Elizabethan poetry, also attempted sonnets. His sonnet series Amoretti, which appeared in 1595, tried to introduce further innovation in the rhyme-scheme. His sonnets are exquisitely musical and lofty in feeling and thought. But they lack the depth and potency of great sonnets, have not the personal and sincere notes of Sir Philip Sidney's. In fact, Spenser's sonnets appear artificial beside Sidney's, but in colourful imagery and sonorous melody, their superiority is unquestionable. What is more, as a part of Spenser's innovation is that the last line of each quatrain rhymes with the first line of the next quatrain. His five rhymes are found arranged in the following way - ab ab bc bc cd cd ee. 

But the greatest name in English sonnets is the greatest name in the English theatre - William Shakespeare. One hundred and fifty four sonnets from Shakespeare stand out as the grand specimen of his unparalleled art. Indeed, these sonnets are unsurpassable for their loftiness, profundity, picturesqueness and melody. One hundred and twenty six sonnets are addressed to a young man of a rather uncertain identity. Two sonnets are about Cupid, the God of love and the remaining twenty six are addressed to an unknown dark lady. 

Shakespeare's sonnets are somewhat different from the conventional sonnets of the Elizabethan period. These are not merely about love but of friendship also. They are more realistic and have not the sentimental adoration of the lady-love. The lady in Shakespeare's sonnets is dark, not beautiful, frail and not constant and kind, as in the Petrarchan sonnet. 

The form, used in the Shakespearean sonnets found inherited from Surrey. Instead of the conventional Petrarchan division of the sonnet into two unequal parts, this has four parts - three quatrains and a concluding couplet. The rhyme-scheme is as follows - abab, cdcd, efef, gg

The greatest name in the English sonnet, after Shakespeare, is Milton. Milton is also not a conventional sonneteer. Even, as a sonneteer, he stands on a plane quite different from Shakespeare's. The theme of his sonnets is neither Petrarchan love nor Shakespearean masculine devotion. It is more idealistic and sublime and deals with the nobler ideals of life, like patriotism and so on. His form is purely Italian. 

The names of greatest sonneteers
• Shakespeare 
• Spenser
• Sidney 
• Milton 
• Donne 
• Wordsworth 

Though the sonnet form did not originally belong to English literature, its progress is quite formidable. The history of the English sonnet is colourful enough and contains rich specimens, dealing with love as well as religion. In fact, the excellence of English lyricism is manifested no less in the great English sonnets, written by Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, Milton, Donne, Wordsworth and many more, old and new. 

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