A Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem consisting of four stanzas: three four-line stanzas, or quatrains, and a final rhyming couplet. It has an overarching theme that ties it together from beginning to end. Its rhyme scheme is ababcdcdefefgg where "a" lines rhyme, "b" lines rhyme and so on.
The pattern of rhythm, or meter, typically follows a pattern of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables called iambs and contains five iambic units called feet, making the meter iambic pentameter. Stylistically, Shakespearean sonnets include figurative language, such as metaphors, similes, personification, or hyperbole to make the lines more interesting to the reader.
The Shakespearean sonnet is structured with the first three stanzas elaborating on a single idea with the final couplet coming to a conclusion on the topic, sometimes offering an ironic or surprising twist at the end. Most of Shakespeare's own poems discuss the subject of love, which is not always romantic, and sometimes just praise for an admired person or scorn for the negative aspects of relationships. Despite this, the poems often hold secondary themes dealing with immortality, self-destruction or the nature of life and beauty.
The Shakespearean sonnet is otherwise known as the English sonnet. It is one among several different types of sonnets including the Petrarchan sonnet, sometimes called the Italian sonnet, and the Spencerian sonnet.