Metrical structure of the European sonnet

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In the Italian sonnet, the rhyme schemes (abba, abba, cde, cde) and (abba, abba, cdc, dcd) can be analysed as the concatenation of an octave and a sestet. Without this bipartite structure, the Italian sonnet would be too complex to be perceptible. The French sonnet, with its usual forms (abba, abba, ccd, eed) and (abba, abba, ccd, ede), respects this division into two parts. Both in Italian and in French, the internal structure of the sonnet seems to be characterised by a branching form. Nevertheless, it is shown that the rhyme schemes (cdc, dcd) and (ccd, ede) include discontinuous constituents, thus the branching structure of the sonnet is quite different from those usually described in linguistics. In the English tradition, the Spenserian sonnet (abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee) and the Shakespearian sonnet (abab, cdcd, efef, gg) are not easily analysed as being formed by an octave and a sestet. It must be admitted that from a perceptual point of view, they are something entirely different: the fact they are labelled as “sonnets”, and hence seen as related to the Italian sonnet, seems to be due mainly to historical reasons and cultural conventions.


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