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Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Meta-Oxymoron /
I’ll illustrate a Shakespeare sonnet with an early example: #17, the last of a series with procreation as the common thread.
Who will believe my verse in time to come
So should my papers, yellowed with their age,
heroic couplet: gg
Fourteen lines, iambic pentameter throughout, two rhymes alternating for each quatrain, capped by an indented heroic couplet.
If you write fourteen lines of iambic pentameter in three quatrains of alternating rhymes, bring the first two quatrains to a period, and end with an heroic couplet, you’ve written a Shakespearean sonnet. If you weave the rhymes abba, bccb; def (twice), you’ve written a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet.
Try it. Everyone should write at least one. Maybe warm up with a limerick first.
I chose this sonnet as an illustration for several reasons, each relating to something to be developed in the modules. I’ll discuss the sonnets as a “sonnet sequence.” This poem caps the clearly sequential section. Also, the poem compares experience with expectations. In this case, the experience is said to outstrip the expectations. It is the precise reverse of the point I’m making about the sonnets as a whole. Here ordinary “ideals” fall short of the experienced “reality.” It also touches directly on epistemology (problems of belief, ll. 1, 7, 11 …); appeals to a standard higher authority (“heaven knows”); introduces problems of literature’s relationship to truth; and develops themes common to many of the sonnets: time, mortality, mutability … I’ve already mentioned the theme of procreation, a form of immortality (or at least endurance): Sonnet 17 is also one of a number which makes an analogy with literature as of form of immortality.
Notice also: typically of almost all Shakespeare, though “heaven” is mentioned, the appeals to immortality are not the usual Christian ones.