What Do We Call The Last Two Lines Of A Shakespearean Sonnet?

by Amy
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Shakespearean sonnets are among the most revered forms of poetry in English literature. These poems are defined by their structured format, comprising 14 lines divided into three quatrains followed by a concluding couplet. The rhyme scheme for a Shakespearean sonnet is typically ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Structure of a Shakespearean Sonnet

Shakespearean sonnets are structured into three quatrains, each consisting of four lines, and a final couplet of two lines. This division allows for a systematic exploration of a theme or idea, with each quatrain presenting a different facet or argument related to the main subject. The final couplet then serves to provide a conclusion, resolution, or a twist that summarizes or adds a new perspective to the preceding quatrains.

Function and Significance of the Couplet

The concluding couplet in a Shakespearean sonnet holds significant literary weight. It serves multiple purposes, including summarizing the themes explored in the quatrains, offering a definitive resolution to the poem’s narrative or argument, providing a surprising twist, or delivering a conclusive statement that resonates with the reader. By condensing the essence of the poem into just two lines, the couplet enhances the impact and memorability of the sonnet, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Examples from Shakespearean Sonnets

Examples of famous Shakespearean sonnets vividly demonstrate the power of the concluding couplet. In Sonnet 18, often referred to as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, the couplet (“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”) not only immortalizes the subject’s beauty but also asserts the eternal nature of the poet’s love. Similarly, Sonnet 116 concludes with the couplet (“If this be error and upon me prov’d, / I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d”), affirming the steadfastness of love despite challenges.

Analysis of Examples

In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare employs the couplet to assert the timeless nature of the beloved’s beauty, contrasting it with the transient nature of a summer’s day explored in the preceding quatrains. The couplet serves as a definitive statement that ensures the endurance of the beloved’s qualities beyond the limitations of time and season. In Sonnet 116, the couplet strengthens the poem’s assertion of the constancy and enduring nature of true love, reinforcing the commitment described throughout the sonnet.

Comparison with Other Sonnet Forms

The Shakespearean sonnet’s use of the couplet differs significantly from other sonnet forms, such as the Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnet. In contrast to the Shakespearean sonnet’s concluding couplet, which typically offers resolution or reinforcement of themes, the Petrarchan sonnet’s structure includes an octave (eight lines) followed by a sestet (six lines). The sestet may offer a turn or resolution, but it does not function in the same conclusive manner as the Shakespearean couplet. This distinction highlights the unique role and impact of the Shakespearean sonnet’s concluding couplet in English poetry.

See also: How Many Sonnets Did William Shakespeare Write?


In summary, the couplet in a Shakespearean sonnet plays a pivotal role in shaping the poem’s overall impact and meaning. By providing closure, reinforcing themes, or introducing a surprising twist, the couplet serves as a powerful conclusion that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Understanding the structure and function of the Shakespearean sonnet’s couplet enhances appreciation for its literary craftsmanship and timeless appeal. Readers are encouraged to explore more Shakespearean sonnets to deepen their understanding of this iconic poetic form and its enduring significance in literature.

FAQs about sonnet of Shakespeare

1. What are the last two lines of a Shakespearean sonnet called?

The last two lines of a Shakespearean sonnet are called the “couplet.” In the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, the couplet typically follows three quatrains (four-line stanzas) with the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF, concluding with GG. The couplet serves to provide a resolution, summary, or a final thought on the theme explored in the preceding lines of the sonnet.

2. What is the last sonnet of Shakespeare?

The last sonnet written by William Shakespeare is Sonnet 154. It is part of his collection of 154 sonnets, which are widely regarded as some of the greatest poetry in the English language. Sonnet 154, like the others, adheres to the structure and rhyme scheme characteristic of Shakespearean sonnets.

3. What is the final couplet in a sonnet?

The final couplet in a sonnet refers to the concluding two lines of the poem. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the couplet follows three quatrains (four-line stanzas), each presenting a different aspect of the poem’s theme or argument. The couplet often serves to provide a conclusive statement, resolution, or a twist that summarizes or reinforces the main idea explored in the sonnet.

4. What are the last two lines of Sonnet 18 called?

In Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare, the last two lines are called the “couplet.” Sonnet 18 is one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, beginning with the lines “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The couplet in Sonnet 18 concludes with the lines “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” These lines affirm the enduring nature of the beloved’s beauty and the eternal life it gains through the poet’s verse.

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