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In an examination of the following sonnets, 'Shall I Compare Thee' and 'Let Me Not' by William Shakespeare and 'On His Blindness' by John Milton, establish the main style into which each falls and its themes.

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  • Essay length: 1772 words
  • Submitted: 04/09/2003
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GCSE Shakespeare's Sonnets

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In an examination of the following sonnets, 'Shall I Compare Thee' and 'Let Me Not' by William Shakespeare and 'On His Blindness' by John Milton, establish the main style into which each falls and its themes.

Sonnets are fourteen-line poems. They originated in 15th century Italy and first became popular in England in the 16th century. Many English poets, including Milton, Keats, Wordsworth, Hopkins and Wilfred Owen, have used the form since the early Elizabethan period. Sonnets are so popular purely because the briefness of them means that their message has to be put across in a compact way. This makes the impact of the message so much more powerful. A sonnet can take one of two forms.

One is Petrarchan, named after Petrarch, one of the Italian originators of the form in the late medieval period. Its fourteen-line structure, called an iambic pentameter, is split into two unequal sections. The first section, the octave, consists of eight lines and the second section, the sestet, consists of six. Sometimes, when printed, there is a break between the octet and the sestet. This is called the volta. Petrarchan sonnets often follow the rhyme scheme of ABBA, ABBA:

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