Writing the Shakespearean Sonnet | John Davis Jr. | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Writing the Shakespearean Sonnet

teacher avatar John Davis Jr., Florida Poet and Educator

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

4 Lessons (30m)
    • 1. Intro to the Sonnet

    • 2. Understanding the Sonnet

    • 3. How have others written it?

    • 4. Writing your own sonnet

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

In this class, poetry students will learn how to write a Shakespearean Sonnet of their own. This formal poem may be written for pleasure, for mental exercise, or for other, more "literary" purposes.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

John Davis Jr.

Florida Poet and Educator


Hi! I'm a seventh-generation Floridian with deep roots here in the Sunshine State. I write poetry predominantly, and I've received quite a few awards over the years. My four books are Middle Class American Proverb (Negative Capability Press, 2014), Hard Inheritance (Five Oaks Press, 2016), The Boys of Men (chapbook by Kelsay Books, 2014), and Growing Moon, Growing Soil: Poems of my Native Land (self-published). I currently teach English, Creative Writing, and Literature at the university level, but I teach what I most love here on SkillShare: Poetry! I hope you join me on this journey. 

See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Intro to the Sonnet: greeting students and welcome to the introduction to writing the Shakespearean sonnet. Why should you want to write the she experience on it? You might ask. Well, it's a fine tradition. Number one to begin with, Lots of aspiring poets have written that she experience on it, as they have learned more about formal poetry as they have learned more about writing within the structures of various poetry types from across the ages. Secondly, the experience on it was invented by perhaps what we might consider the master of all poetry, William Shakespeare. And then finally, also writing the Shakespearean sonnet can be a good head clearing exercise. It can actually help you to focus yourself and your craft and your efforts in a way that allows you to leave behind certain other stresses. So as we begin to study this form and as we began to engage in a writing Hey pone that is in this form itself, I hope that you find enjoyment. I hope that you find a certain degree of relax ation, and I also hope that you find inspiration as we move through this process together, thank you very much and enjoy 2. Understanding the Sonnet: So before we begin writing a Shakespearean sonnet, it is imperative that we know what a she experience on it is. And so to get us started, we're going to take a look at Sun at 29 which is known by its first line here. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, What do we need to know about this on it? First and foremost, the basics. It is 14 lines. It is written in iambic pentameter, and we'll explain that momentarily. And in addition to these features, qualities and characteristics, it has an alternating rhyme scheme and also explain what that is. Momentarily, you may already know, and if so, you're one step ahead of us. Congratulations. You get to be our class expert. So first things 1st 14 lines. Obviously we know how to count. But let's talk about iambic pentameter. Shall we noticed this first line when in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone the weep, my outcast state. Do you hear how I am reading that notice that we have un accented, followed by accented on accented, followed by accented un accented, followed by accented and so forth and so on each of these sets OK of an un accented syllable, followed by an accented syllable, composes one. I am all right. So in essence, what you have in and I am is one thing that is un accented, one syllable that is unaccented and then another one. That is, in fact, accent it. Now this is sort of the unofficial version of meter measurement, But the thing is, when we start thinking about iambic pentameter, if one I am is made up of two syllables, one that is un accented and one that is accented, then we have a five of those in the line of iambic pentameter. Now, if you know your roots and your Suffolk's is in your prefixes, you recognize that Penta means five and meter means measure. So literally a measure of five I am, that's all in the world, Iambic pentameter is let's talk for just a second, if we can, about why Shakespeare would have chosen this. Scholars will tell us there are two fundamental reasons. One is that I am big contaminate. ER most closely mimics conversational speech of the time Shakespeare wanted the people who read his work, whether they were highly educated or whether they were groundlings to be able to understand it, and he wanted them to get something out of it. So when he wrote us on it, he wrote it in iambic pentameter, one because it flowed like natural conversation. The second reason, and this is also from various scholars and literary critics, is because I am big pentameter, mimics something that is very universal throughout humanity, when in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone be weep my outcast state. What does that sound like? What organ does that sound like? If you said the heart? Congratulations. You're correct. You get a gold store, Um, I am the contaminated sounds like the beat of the human heart, which is another reason why Shakespeare chose it, according to scholars and critics and folks who are academically inclined toward Shakespeare and his literature. So that's what iambic pentameter is, and he does this in every line, and sometimes he deviates from that strict iambic pentameter. Just a little bit. He'll throw in a true key red Actel or, you know, some other piece of meter that is not quite precise, which is good because excuse me, that gives us permission to deviate from his model A to least a little bit. Now let's talk about this alternating rhyme scheme. Notice. We have eyes rhyming with cries. We have state rhyming with fate. We have hope rhyming with scoop. We have possessed rhyming approximately with least we have despising rhyming with arising we have state rhyming with gate and then at the very end we have arrived couple it brings and kings. So our rhyme scheme for this poem and for Shakespearean sonnets at large is a b a B C D c d e f e f g. What does this sound like? Well, if we read this aloud, you can hear it when in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone but weep my outcast state and troubled death heaven with my bootless cries and look upon myself and curse my fate, wishing me like to one more rich in hope featured like him like him with friends possessed , desiring this man's art and that man's scope with what I most enjoy contented least yet in these thoughts myself, almost despising happily, I think, on thee and then my state like to the lark it Break of day arising from sullen Earth, sings hymns at Heaven's Gate for thy sweet love. Remember, to such wealth brings that then I scorn to change my state with kings. So the big message here is even when I'm depressed, even when I'm down. Even when I'm sad, I can think about you. And then everything's OK. Everything is all right. It makes me happy to think of you when everything else seems to be going wrong. And, of course, this is a fairly universal thing. It's a theme that has been explored throughout history in various forms of literature list . Let's take a look at another. She experience on it and see if we detect similarities. This is son of 18 a very famous she experience on it. Known by its first line. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day and again we see. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day so we recognize heart. 10 syllable iambic pentameter. Down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, Up Right, thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer's lease hath all too short a date And so we continue to hear that iambic pentameter throughout this poem as well. On also we see the alternating rhyme scheme frankly have day may temperate date shines Declines dimmed, untrimmed and so forth of saw. And we could do the same thing with this one that we did with the last one and identify that rhymes game as in fact and alternating rhyme scheme. All right, so here again we see the she experience on it, playing by its rules 14 lines alternating rhyme scheme. I am big pentameter. All of the classifying elements are here. All of them are in fact in place. And this one his a love sonnet is a sonnet that is written in a fashion so as to celebrate the recipient of the poem itself. And in fact, Shakespeare speaks in direct address to the recipient to the audience of this poll. So now that we have seen, what is she experience on? It looks like now that we know about, I am contaminate. Er, we know about alternating rhyme scheme. We know about the various facets, the very bare bones kind of the skeleton of a Shakespearean sonnet. We'll move on and We will take a look at how we can begin to use some of the devices and some of the tricks and techniques that Shakespeare used in our own poetry more on that momentarily. 3. How have others written it?: before we begin writings on its of our own. One helpful thing might be to look at how other successful poets have used the form of this on it and modified it and made it their own. Now this poem is High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr. As you can see at the top, this was one of the very first poems I was ever exposed to because my grandfather was a bomber pilot in World War Two and hanging on his wall at his home, where I grew up was this bone. It was given to him, along with his medals and the other paraphernalia of that time frame. And this is really one of the first poems that got me thinking about poetry in general. And interestingly enough, as I look at it today, of course, I have a greater understanding of it. But then, in addition, we can use this as a very positive example of how the sonnet form can be modified and used in a more contemporary context. So let's take a look at this notice that he sticks to the iambic pentameter. Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings Stop there. Okay, We here already that iambic pentameter Down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up Or if we were to be more thorough un accented syllable followed by accented syllable Five times giving us iambic pentameter. Now let's look at the rhyme scheme We have Earth wings, mirth Things swung their flung air blue Greece flu trod space God! So let's take a look at what this rhyme scheme is At first he sticks to the Shakespearean sonnet rhymes Game of alternating rhyme scheme Earth Wings, mirth things. All right, then we have swung there, flung here so immediately we have a b a B c D c d. Then we have blue grace flu. Okay, so e if e and we have trod space God now space Excuse me rhymes with grace. So here's an f right. But these to trot and God, we haven't seen them before, which means this is a G and this is a G. And as you can see, he has taken the rhyme scheme of the she experience on it and modified it for whose purpose is he still has iambic pentameter. He still has, to a certain degree the alternating rhyme scheme. But he has modified that here toward the end for the purposes of the poem, and that is a perfectly okay thing to do. You may find that following a strict alternating rhyme scheme for 12 lines and then doing a rhyming couplet at the end has Shakespeare did is not exactly what your poll needs. And if you find that to be the case, then certainly will need to modify things, just as McGee did here. As you can tell, this is a poem about the experience of flying specifically flying airplanes. Um, if you do a little homework on this author, you will find out that he is not American, but rather he was a member of the Royal Air Force, and he wrote about his experience in flight. And it has ever since been used as an inspirational poem for any military that has an Air Force, including ours. So a little bit of interesting history behind this poem, in addition to an analysis of its form, gives us some ideas about the sorts of things we can, including our own sun. It's Sonics could be about just about anything. They could be about nature or love or the experience of flight. They don't have to be limited necessarily to what we might consider proper poetic topics. Sometimes people limit their understanding of potential four poems because they think, well, poetry is only supposed to be about these set topics, and that is not really the case. Poetry can quite literally be about anything, and a good view of modern literary magazines will prove that statement to be true as well. And our next segment, What we're going to be doing is we're going to be starting our attempt at a sonnet, and we're going to study various methods we can use to adapt Shakespeare's method to our own uses more on that soon. 4. Writing your own sonnet: allow me to begin by saying this is not the be all and end all sonnet. In fact, this on it is probably not one of my better poems. And the reason why is because it was written while walking. This was written while I was literally on the beach and it was more of a mental exercise. Then it was a poetic attempt. This is an O bod, which, for the unfamiliar, is a poem written at dawn celebrating the dawn were documenting it as the case may be. And as you can see, this is ST Pete Beach. Oh, bod. Now a quick story behind this one. The beach depresses me. Some of you are thinking you must be crazy and I don't blame you. But here's the thing. I live in Florida. I am surrounded by beaches. And when I go to the beach, I think that the enormity of the ocean or the gulf makes me realize my own very small and minute nature. You look out at the ocean and you think, Wow, I am no bigger than one of these grains of sand here on the beach. And maybe that's the cause. I don't know, I've just always had kind of a melancholy response to the beach. And certainly this attempted a sonnet documents that I had my notebook with me. It was a small notebook about the size of this one. Not quite a pocket notebook, but little larger but not 8.5 by 11. And as I was walking the beach, I began noticing that the waves themselves looked like hands. The foam on the waves looked like hands that were reaching up the shoreline. And a lion came into my head, which you see here the surf this morning reaches out for land. And as I thought of that, I thought, Huh, That's actually iambic pentameter. So I wrote it down in my small notebook. And as I was walking, I just kind of kept adding to it to see what would happen. And this was the finished product. Obviously, this copy. I have done this for my printer for the sake of legibility, but this is what came out of that experience. The surf this morning reaches out for land. It's green and white capped waves claw at the shore like some sad, bigger climbing up the sand extending crooked hands toe. Ask for more. Meanwhile, the seagulls peck at empty shells. They're lost grey hooded eyes, a vacant black, indifferent infinity that tells of nature's destitution, dearth and lech. How happy of any real provision. Save for space that always comes from loneliness like this. Ah, hello Here, the ocean kind of place where one forgets the gulf is in this. My fading footprints fail to leave their mark. They dissipate like nights for gotten dark. All right, so you can see that this follows fairly strictly the Shakespearean sonnet form we have alternating rhyme scheme we have I am big pentameter with mild variation here and there. We also have an O Bade a poem about the coming of dawn. Eso, even though the Obata is not a requirement for a sonnet off, sort of brought those elements together here. This is certainly not one of my best pieces. Problems with this piece include trite rhymes, things like Land, Sand Shore Mawr, Shells tells this is not new, the the rhyming that has been done here. It's fine. It's a nice little project for having gone for a walk on the beach, but it is certainly not something that I would be sending out to literary magazines for serious consideration. This brings me to another point. Sometimes we writes on its simply as a mental exercise. This is a good way to clear your head. This is a good way to do something that allows you to think other thoughts than the ones that perhaps you're preoccupied by. So the sonic conserve that role to conserve almost a meditative function, which is good, especially in this day and age, where we have a lot of worries and a lot of concerns. If you're busy thinking about things like rhymes, game and meter and imagery and so forth, you can't really contemplate things, likes a pandemics or viruses or wars or whatever else may be troubling you at the time. So here is Ah, my example. And I think also the reason I wanted to begin concluding with this piece is to assure you that if you're running into difficulty with the she experience on it and you find yourself really at a loss, you're not alone. You are not by yourself in that professional poets struggle with this form, and the reason they struggle with this form is because Shakespeare was a master, Shakespeare was a genius. And because we're trying to imitate what he mastered, that in and of itself becomes problematic to be very blood. So here is what you can do, right. Get yourself a small notebook like this one doesn't have to be the same size. They could be a pocket notebook. But get a notebook of some sort that you carry with you. And when you have a first line epiphany, right? Kind of like what I have discussed here. You can write those down in your notebook or in the journal of your keeping, and then use that first line epiphany to begin to generate other lines. Oftentimes, sonnets come to us as a result of a first line epiphany. That is a sudden realization or revelation of a first line has I said before this first line came to me as I was walking the beach, and this is certainly not a happy poem. This isn't oh, I went to the beach and had such a good time and, well, the beach bowl and the shells and the sea life and so forth and so on. This is actually kind of dark. I mean, it even ends with the word dark. And frankly, that's kind of my response to the beach. Take it or leave it. I know a lot of people who were very inspired and very relaxed and very motivated by the beach. And certainly that's a common a human response. My response, as you can see, is somewhat different. And for whatever reason, for whatever psychological or physical reason, this is how I respond to a visit to the beach. It almost always makes me sad, which is why I tend to avoid the beach. I mean, I kind of have to go there at least once a year just for the sake of saying, Hey, I went to the beach. But inevitably, this sort of thing comes out of that when I visit the beach. These are the kinds of poems I generate. They're usually pretty dark and pretty sad. They deal with things like death. And that's unusual. I guess maybe some of you out there will say, Oh, yeah, me too. Andi, that'll be a first. But here you have it. OK, so creating your own sonnet we've discussed before carrying your own notebook, writing down first lines and then allowing this first lines to develop into something longer. If you try to force a sonnet, if you try to sit down and say today I will write us on it and you simply try to fit words into this form, you will wind up with a poem that reveals the fact you were attempting to force creativity . What does that look like? Well, in some instances, even in this poll, you can see that I, as the poet, was reaching for a rhyme rather than allowing the language to flow naturally. And that becomes problematic. It takes the reader out of the poem, and you don't want that to happen. So my best advice to you, as far as creating this on it is concerned, is allow it to happen. Allow it to occur. It may be that you were lying in your hammock when suddenly, ah, line of iambic pentameter comes to mind. You know, again, the flannel weather coach, the land in blander, flatter shades of Southern cold, right? Those kinds of lines may just fall into your head out of a moment of inspiration. Likewise, you might never have a line of iambic pentameter occur to you, and you have to sit down and hammer out a sonnet that can get tricky. It can get to be difficult to say the least, but if this is something that you were using in a therapeutic way, if you are writing a sonnet simply to do something different, if you were writing us on it simply to express yourself in a new way or attempt to express yourself in a new way, that, of course quality is not really your primary Tory. It, um, you're going to have other considerations. You were going to definitely be thinking about other things. Besides, well, will this get published in The New Yorker? Um, because you're using this as a tool for processing you may be using. This is kind of a meta cognitive tool thinking about your thinking, and that's okay, too. But however you choose to write this on it, however, you choose to begin it and then continue working on it. Certainly this should always be a very personal process. It should be one that you make the rules for, because you already have enough rules within the sonnet itself and you can take those. Relieve those here again as the poet. If you find that this isn't working for you, then by all means feel free to modify. Feel free to change the rules on whatever respect to you deem necessary. So here we have it. We have this on it. We have plans to generate a sonnet in the form of taking a walk with our notebook and just allowing the lines to come to us. And certainly, travel travel is a good component to generate any kind of literature, but especially if you were trying to generate poetry, travel will allow you to encounter different sensations. And that does a great deal for our brains. Psychologists and neurologists would tell us that a change in perspective is good for our creativity. It's good for our right brain, and that remains true. So get out of your study and get out of your bedroom or your laundry room or your closet, or wherever it is that you write. Get out there into the world and allow lines to make an appearance in your brain. That is one way to generate epiphanies. I discuss other ways to generate epiphanies in a skill share class that I have taught previously. You can go back into my other classes and look for that. Also, I have a podcast about various types of epiphanies and that is entitled the Meta Creative Podcast available on iTunes as well as other podcast providing services. It can also be found at automatic. So there we have it. I hope this has been productive for you. I hope this has been, um, somewhat different. I hope this has allowed you to think about the sonnet in a way that perhaps you did not previously think about it. If this has been productive for you, please let me know. And then also, of course, this leads us to our project. For this lesson. You're going to attempt to create your own sonnet, and it does not have to be beautiful. It does not have to be wonderful. Clearly, this is not a beautiful and wonderful sonnet that you see here in front of you. It is an attempt, and that's the basic idea. You're going to attempt a sonnet, and then if you can turn it into something more if you could turn it into something beautiful and wonderful and lovely, then more power to you. However, for right now, let's just worry about getting words on the page. Go for a walk, take your journal with you and see what comes about as a result of that. And if you have good luck, of course, you can post your final copy of your sonnet here. It skills here. And in addition to that, you may also take a look at those other sites that I mentioned. My podcast for one, the meta creative podcast, which contains ideas for creative generation and then also my blawg at poet John Davis Jr dot com. Poet John Davis Jr dot com. More ideas and more creative generation prompts, and that sort of thing could be found there as well. Thank you very much for tuning in, and I will see you next time