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What Are the Best Tips for Sonnet Analysis?

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  • Written By: Laura Metz
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Many tips and techniques are available to help a reader analyze a sonnet. For a sonnet analysis, the reader must first have a basic understanding of the poem, its theme, and its form. The meter, rhymes, and figures of speech are also dissected. A comprehensive sonnet analysis will also include information on the poet’s background as well as the historical context of that specific poem.

The first step to understanding a poem is to paraphrase it. In addition, the speaker, point of view, subject, and setting should be determined. Since sonnets are relatively short poems, these questions may only receive vague answers. Many sonnets are love poems, where the speaker is a lover, and the subject, his or her beloved.

A sonnet analysis should determine the theme of the poem in question. The theme of many sonnets is love, whether unrequited love, separation from the beloved, or simply adoration of the beloved. Others concern death, change, or the process and value of writing. A few sonnets act almost as parodies of typical love sonnets.

Sonnets come in two forms, including the Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearean sonnet. Each sonnet analysis must determine which type of sonnet is being discussed. Petrarchan sonnets consist of both an octave and a sestet, with rhyme scheme written as ABBAABBA CDECDE. A Shakespearean sonnet, also known as an Elizabethan sonnet, is composed of three quatrains and a couplet, typically ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

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Rhymes are an essential part of sonnet analysis. Any change from the expected rhyme, such as a slant rhyme or an eye rhyme, should signal the analyzer to review that line. Enjambment increases the speed and makes the poem more casual, while end-stopped lines add extra emphasis.

Although sonnets are always written in iambic pentameter, writers often vary the meter for emphasis. Three stressed syllables in a row slow the poem down, accentuating all three. On the other hand, two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable speed up the reading, often giving the sonnet a lighter mood. Other variations can add different emphases.

In a sonnet analysis, readers should pay attention to all figures of speech used. Some, such as alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia help the poem to sound like what it means. Others, such as metaphors and similes, help the reader to see the subject in different ways. More effects are achieved by a variety of figures of speech, including metonymy, synecdoche, personification, and puns.

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