Some would find time spent “in-between”disconcerting or difficult to deal with. People often prefer to be on one sideof a line or the other. In the case of poets Sir Philip Sidney and WilliamShakespeare, this is not entirely the case. While Shakespeare found himselfsolely on the side of the English sonnet, Sidney found his place in literaryhistory somewhere between the Italian and English sonnets. Ironically, it was aplace he was entirely comfortable residing.
While many poets of his time were content withone structure for their sonnets, Sidney is noted for the use of varyingtechniques, all in the name of poetic experimentation. He was a man moreconcerned with perfecting his technique than he was about his poem’s subjectmatter. In a time where, although popular, the sonnet was still fairly new,experimentation with pentameter was not a poor idea. Experimentation the likesof which can be seen in Sidney’s “Sonnet Five”: It is mosttrue that eyes are formed to serve The Inwardlight, and that the heavenly part Ought to beking, from whose rules who do swerve, Rebels toNature, strive for their own smart. Iis most true, what we call Cupid’s dart An image is,which for ourselves we carve; And, fools,adore in temple of our heart, Tillthat good god make church and churchman starve. (Lines 1-8)Sidney’s structure varied based on the poem he was writing at the time,elected not to follow the traditional Italian approach, but did not followShakespeare’s chosen approach of three quatrains and a couplet. Instead,Sidney’s approach centered around two quatrains followed by three triplets, aless restrictive rhyme scheme, and an attitude of willingness to adjust to theever-evolving English language. Shakespeare approach,not surprisingly, was one already established by the time he took up his penfor sonnet writing.
Like Sidney, Shakespeare wrote sonnets most about love, butunlike his counterpart, Shakespeare focused more on substance rather thanstructure. It is no coincidence that Shakespeare’s style of sonnet would benamed for him later in history, an honor well-earned based on the impact hissonnets’ subject matter provoked: Not marble nor thegilded monumentsOf princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;But you shall shine more bright in these contentsThan unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.When wasteful war shall statues overturn,And broils root out the work of masonry,Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burnThe living record of your memory. (Lines 1-8) Both Sidney andShakespeare played their parts in the history of the sonnet well, the techniqueof the former and the content of the later resonating with readers far and nearthrough time. Interestingly, the each excelled where the other focused less oftheir attentions; not necessarily lacking, of course, but where lessconcentration was given. But considering that Sidney was writing in a time”in-between” and Shakespeare found his poetic niche after that, they each didpoetic justice to the sonnet styles of their time.