Sonnet Evolution

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Juanita James
16th Century British Literature
Final Paper
Sonnet Evolution
When readers hear the word sonnet, they usually think of Shakespeare; however, he is not the first sonneteer, nor the last, of course. The sonnet got its beginnings centuries ago and has endured. One might ask why it has endured over such a lengthy period of time, and the answer is a simple one: EVOLUTION. Just as humans have had to evolve over time, the sonnet has had to do so as well. The two main forms of the sonnet are the Italian sonnet (also referred to as the Petrarchan sonnet) and the English sonnet (also referred to as the Shakespearean sonnet). In an attempt to show the evolutionary road the sonnet has traveled, these two sonnet forms will be thoroughly examined. Credited for the creation of the sonnet is Giacomo da Lentini. Also know as Jacopo, Lentini created the sonnet sometime in the thirteenth century and are the earliest known. “He adapted the themes, style, and language of Provencal poetry to Italian, infusing it with his own aristocratic and exclusive tastes (Giacomo).” All known poetry credited to Giacomo concerns various ideals of love, not necessarily in the same sense that love is seen today, rather, it is seen in terms such as “the service of the lover to his lady (Giacomo).” Although Giacomo is the inventor, Petrarch is the sonneteer that is remembered and talked about concerning the art. Petrarch came along some years later to popularize the sonnet with his love sonnets about Laura and his unrequited love for her. He is thought to have met her in church, although “met” might be a little presumptuous. Petrarch was fixated on her, and created some of the most beautiful poetry, that we, otherwise, would never have seen. For a woman he would never know, for a woman he could never have, he should change the world forever; for that’s precisely what Petrarch did when he gave us the perfected sonnet. He provided the start to what would become generations of love poetry. As well as a love of literature, Petrarch also had during his early youth a deep religious faith, a love of virtue, and an unusually deep perception of the transitory nature of human affairs. There now followed the reaction which also coincided with the beginning of his famous chaste love for a woman known now only as Laura. Vain attempts have been made to identify her, but Petrarch himself kept silent about everything that had to do with her personal life, or her social standing in the community. He was probably trying to protect her from criticism or just didn’t consider it important to mention while he was writing about his love for her. He first saw her in the Church of St. Clare at Avignon on April 6, 1327, and loved her, although she was outside his reach. From this love there springs the work for which he is most celebrated, the Italian poems (Rime), which he thought of as mere trifles but which he collected and revised throughout his life (Petrarch). The sonnet, despite its rigor, is no exception to evolution, and over the years it has adopted a number of different rhyming patterns. The Petrarchan sonnet generally follows a set rhyme scheme, which runs as follows: abba abba cdc dcd. The first eight lines, or octave, do not often deviate from the abba abba pattern, but the last six lines, or sestet, frequently follow a different pattern, such as cde cde, cde ced, or cdc dee. Each line also has the same number of syllables, usually eleven or seven by Petrarch. In time, other variants on this rhyming scheme were introduced. The octave and sestet have special functions in a Petrarchan sonnet. The octave's purpose is to introduce a problem, express a desire, reflect on reality, or otherwise present a situation that causes doubt or conflict within the speaker. It usually does this by introducing the problem within its first quatrain (unified four-line section) and developing it in the second. Typically, the ninth line (between the...
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