How to Write a Sonnet Like Shakespeare | The Short and Simple Version

Source: Wikipedia Commons

By Josh Rueff on May 09, 2013
Less is not less but more, more is not more but is less – unless less becomes less by becoming more.

That being said, this is the formula for a sonnet:

The Shakespearean Sonnet

3 Quatrains + a Couplet = Sonnet.

Quick definition: A quatrain is a set of 4 lines. A couplet is a set of 2 lines.

It’s almost that simple. The sonnet is composed of nothing more, however, there are two more rules to follow while composing the sonnet:

Iambic Pentameter and Sonnet rhyming pattern.

Each line of the sonnet contains 5 sets of “iambs”.

The Iamb

Quick definition: One unstressed syllable, one stressed syllable.

Don’t get hung up on strange words – an iamb is simple – it sounds like this: baBOOM.

And looks like this: the CLOCK, or com PARE.

Iambic Pentameter

Quick definition: Iambic Pentameter is 5 sets of “iambs”.

Iambic Pentameter looks and sounds like this: baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM.

Example: When I / do COUNT / the CLOCK / that TELLS / the TIME

Sonnet rhyming pattern

Quick definition: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG.


First quatrain

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? A
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: B
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, A
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date: B

Second quatrain
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, C
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d; D
And every fair from fair sometime declines, C
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d: D

Third quatrain
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade E
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; F
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, E
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: F

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, G
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. G

So a sonnet consists of 3 quatrains and a couplet, following the sonnet rhyming pattern and iambic pentameter.