The English Sonnet
The English sonnet began with another lovelorn poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503– 1542). In the 1530s, Wyatt translated some of Petrarch’s love sonnets and wrote a few of his own in a slight modification of the Italian form. Another English poet who deserves credit for popularizing the sonnet in England is Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517–1547). Building on Wyatt’s modifications to the form, Surrey changed the rhyme scheme of the sonnet to make it more suitable to the English language. Surrey’s innovations distinguished the English sonnet from the Italian sonnet, and eventually became known as the Shakespearean sonnet because of Shakespeare’s mastery of the form. By the time Shakespeare’s sonnets were published in 1609, the conventions of love sonnets had been firmly established. Surrey’s rhyme scheme allowed Shakespeare more freedom in his versification, and he used this freedom to expand on the typical sonnet subject matter. Instead of limiting himself to the subject of love, he introduced deep philosophical issues and perplexing ironies.