which became very popular during the Elizabethan age - is a group of sonnets, arranged to address a particular person or theme, and designed to be read both as a collection of fully realized individual poems as well as a single poetic work comprising all the individual sonnets. The theme could be anything, but unrequited love is the most common.
The arrangement of the sonnets generally reflects thematic concerns, with chronological arrangements (whether linear, like a progression, or cyclical, like the seasons) being the most common. A sonnet cycle may also have allegorical or argumentative structures which replace or complement chronology. While the thematic arrangement may reflect the unfolding of real or fictional events, the sonnet cycle is very rarely narrative; the narrative elements may be inferred, but provide background structure, and are never the primary concern of the poet's art.
It was for Sidney to revitalize this form by composing one hundred and eight sonnets, all put in Astrophel and Stella, commemorating his futile love for Penelope Devereux, the daughter of his patron, the Earl of Essex. As a sonneteer Sidney is placed next only to Shakespeare and Spenser. His sonnets are mostly written in mixed Italian and English form.
The next most notable, Edmund Spenser, wrote Amoretti, a sequence of eighty eight sonnets addressed to Elizabeth Boyle whom he married in 1594. In them the poet gives expression to the feelings of his heart in a sincere and unaffected manner without any recourse to allegory. Here is not the unquiet of Sidney’s love for Lord Rich’s wife, nor the complaining tone of Shakespeare whose mistress deceived him with his friend. Spenser’s sonnets are unique for their ‘purity’, ‘maidenliness’, and divine qualities’. It is very improved in style and the rhyme scheme is three interlinked quatrains in an alternative rhyme with the couplet standing alone i.e. abab bcbc cdcd ee.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are expressions of his feelings and experience of love and lust, of friendship and honour, of growth through experience of sin, expiation, of mutability, plentitude and the knowledge of good and evil. According to Oscar Wilde, they are a dramatic presentation of the passions and conflicts raging within the poet’s own soul. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets; first published in Thorpe’s edition of 1609. Most critics agree that Shakespeare’s sonnets consists of two group of poems – a long series addressed to the Fair Youth (sonnets – 1 to 126) followed by a shorter series concerned with the Dark Lady (sonnets 127 – 154). The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into four parts – three quatrains and one couplet. Each quatrain has its own rhyme scheme as, abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Like the Italian sonnet, the Shakespearean sonnet is also normally addressed to a dear one, as mentioned already, but unlike the Italian sonnet, it has no turn of thought, hence no pause.
The other notable contribution is Henry Constable’s Diana, containing twenty eight sonnets, besides four sonnets To Sir P. Sidney’s soul prefixed to Sidney’s Apology For Poetry. Henry in his sonnet is often ingenious, sometimes graceful and always conventional. Delia by Samuel Daniel, a sonnet sequence of fifty sonnets is distinguished by a happy choice of words and phrase and sweet flow of verses. Michael Drayton’s Idea, containing fifty one sonnets however lacks true passion.
While the thematic arrangement may reflect the unfolding of real or fictional events, the sonnet cycle is very rarely narrative; the narrative elements may be inferred, but provide background structure, and are never the primary concern of the poet's art. Although many sonnet sequences at least pretend to be autobiographical, the genre became a much stylised one. Thus one could regard the emotions evoked to be as artificial as the conventions with which they are presented.