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Archive for the ‘Sonnets’ Category

By Folger Education

 

In February, when the Folger launched its exciting new website, we posted our first set of revamped teaching modules, which include assessment ideas, writing prompts and technology tools (where appropriate), and connections to the Common Core Anchor Standards for English. Just this week, we posted another round of great teaching modules: this time, on Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Shakespeare's Sonnets, Folger Edition (Image: Folger Library)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Folger Edition (Image: Folger Library)

 

If you’re thinking about teaching the sonnets next school year—or maybe even this summer—check out these lessons below, which spring from the work of Dr. Louisa Newlin and Gigi Bradford with the Folger’s “Shakespeare’s Sisters” program, a semester-long seminar on poetry for local high school students. Try these out with your students and let us know how they go!

 

  1. Easing into Shakespeare with a Modern Sonnet
  2. Petrarch, Father of the Sonnet
  3. Close Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets
  4. The English Sonnet: Michael Drayton
  5. Sonnet Performances: Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Scripts

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By Kevin Costa

Illustration opposite Sonnet XII by Henry Ospovat. (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Illustration opposite Sonnet XII by Henry Ospovat. (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are fantastic for so many reasons. Peter O’Toole, in an interview on NPR a few years ago, said, “They’re my life companion. They’re at the side of my bed. They travel with me. I pick them up, and I read them all the time. I find them endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful, endlessly – they say, they hit the spot so many times on so many things.”

He’s right. I find myself turning to the Sonnets in times when I’m looking for a companion who seems to understand me before I myself do — and, let’s be honest: isn’t that why we love literature in the first place?

When I with my students, I like to emphasize how “companionable,” to borrow a word from Yeats, poetry can be. The greatest lyric poetry feels like that friend you turn to who just “gets” you. There is no judgement but only unconditional love from a poem. I start there.

Years ago, I remember watching Trevor Nunn working with David Suchet on what would later become the series, Playing Shakespeare. Nunn asked Suchet to perform Sonnet 138 as if it were Suchet’s part of the dialogue in an imagined scenario. I was riveted. Understanding Shakespeare for the stage was the object there, but I have found this approach to be a superb way of achieving all the objectives of close reading in and English classroom. Laurence Perrine would approve!

With lyric poetry, we often feel that a person is right there speaking to us or, at least, to another person. A poem, in other words, gives us a character. And this is where you might begin, too. Let us look at Sonnet 18.

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As a follow-up to Mark Miazga’s fabulous story about his teaching epiphany, we invited you, our readers, to share revelations from your classrooms, and… wow! You and your students blew us away! Here’s what you had to say:

 

Epiphany in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Orsino realizes that the young page Cesario is in fact the woman Viola. Source: Scott Suchman

Epiphany in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Orsino realizes that the young page Cesario is in fact the woman Viola. Source: Scott Suchman

My epiphany came when I realized that getting students to act and move would impact them so much more deeply than merely reading. Handing over control to my students became a scary but exhilarating experience as they took the reins and directed their own scenes from The Scottish Play! Over 30 students last February took to the stage at a coffeehouse, performing in front of one hundred peers, family members, and teachers making our annual Shakespeare Festival the best one yet! I am continually amazed by the creativity and daring that students display when given support, freedom, and high expectations.

  • James Sheridan, Texas

(more…)

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Have you seen the Pop Sonnets tumblr?

It’s a simple yet ingenious formula: taking lyrics from popular songs and rewriting them in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. The creativity on display here is delightful.

Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” receives this final couplet: “If truly you did wish to win my hand, you should have graced it with a wedding band.” Elsewhere, the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” opens with “From western Philadelphia I hail, where in my youth I’d play upon the green”.

If you’re having difficulty getting students to take an interest in Shakespeare’s sonnets, maybe this could be a good way to capture their attention.

After all, as The Huffington Post excitedly puts it…

We’ve got lesson plans for teaching the sonnets and a great resource in Folger Digital Texts that you can use, but for more on that, you should read a blog post that we published in August.

And if you really want to have an awesomely nerdy moment, this blog post insightfully points out how the distinctive typography of Pop Sonnets helps achieve an “old-timey” feel.

 

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The Folger has just added Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems to Folger Digital Texts, which means that the complete works of Shakespeare as edited by the Folger Shakespeare Library are now available online for free. (Bonanza for teachers!)

Alberto Sangorski. Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Manuscript, 1926. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Alberto Sangorski. Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Manuscript, 1926. Folger Shakespeare Library.

 

Using Folger Digital Texts, you can read and search the sonnets, Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, and Venus and Adonis. It’s the same familiar text as the one that appears in the Folger Editions, so you can be confident that everything’s been vetted by the experts.

Do you need some ideas for teaching the sonnets? You can find a variety of lesson plans on the Folger website.

As for the other three poems, here’s some good contextual material to rely on:

Lucrece

Shakespeare’s long poem Lucrece takes place as Rome becomes a republic. As a minor epic (a popular genre in Shakespeare’s time), it centers on figures of seemingly secondary importance: Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, and Lucrece, the wife of his friend. (Read more)

The Phoenix and the Turtle

The poem by Shakespeare now known as “The Phoenix and Turtle,” or “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” was first printed with no title; it was one of several additional poems in the 1601 publication of a long poem by Robert Chester. In the classical tradition, the mythical phoenix consumes itself in fire, from the ashes of which another phoenix is born. In Shakespeare’s poem, the phoenix is female and the turtle (that is, a turtledove) is male. (Read more)

Venus and Adonis

With Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare launched his career as a poet. The poem is a minor epic, a genre that many poets in the 1590s chose for their first efforts. Characters in a minor epic usually come from the periphery of myth or legend; its interest is in eroticism, sophistication, and wit. Within this genre, Venus and Adonis was so successful that it was Shakespeare’s most popular published work throughout his lifetime. (Read more)

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Earlier this week, we invited you to share our sonnet-writing contest with your students. And we hope you do!

Shakespeare's Sonnets

William Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Illuminated by Ross Turner, 1901. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Why teach Shakespeare’s sonnets?

  • Exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets can be a good way to introduce students to his language.
  • Many ideas and themes in the sonnets also appear in Shakespeare’s plays and can be useful lead-ins. For instance, looking at individual sonnets in Romeo and Juliet can be a door into the play.
  • The strictures of the sonnet form can inspire creativity in students.

You can find a unit plan for sonnets on our website that includes these lessons:

  • Easing into Shakespeare with a modern sonnet
  • Petrarch: Father of the sonnet
  • Juliet vs. Laura
  • Close reading
  • Writing a group sonnet
  • Sonnet performance festival
  • And more…

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Winners and runners-up from the 2013 Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest

Winners and runners-up from the 2013 Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest, with poetry coordinator Teri Cross Davis (center), at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Each year, Folger Shakespeare Library invites students in grades 3 through 12 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to submit original sonnets for the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest.

We are now taking submissions for this year’s contest, marking Shakespeare’s 450th birthday!

All entries must follow Shakespearean sonnet form:

  • 14 lines of iambic pentameter
  • an ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GG rhyme scheme

A judge will select the top sonnet in three categories: grades 3-6, grades 7-9, and grades 10-12.

Winners in each category receive a full set Shakespeare’s plays, and runners-up receive a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Winners and runners-up are also invited to read their entries at Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House at the Folger Shakespeare Library on April 6.

Be sure to have your students send in their submissions by Friday, March 21. Please email submissions to Teri Cross Davis, at tdavis@folger.edu, or mail them to the address below.

Attn: Sonnet Contest/Poetry Coordinator
Folger Shakespeare Library 
201 East Capitol Street, SE,
Washington DC 20003.

Here’s an example of a winning entry from the grades 7-9 category, by Jennifer Owens, National Cathedral School:

A lonely figure stands beside the docks,
Not noticing the spray against her feet.
Her focus is on capturing the rocks
Where surf and salt and spray and stone all meet.

Her skillful brushstrokes toss and hurl the waves
Against the jagged outline of the sky.
Each speck of foam and breath of air she saves
No detail undetected by her eye.

The hours pass, she doesn’t seem to care,
Content to stand and paint beside the sea.
She brushes back a strand of fiery hair
That like the ocean tumbles loose and free.

And when at last the artist’s work is done,
Her two great loves have been turned into one.

Encourage your students to write sonnets of their own. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

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