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The Art of Poetry: The Lunatic, The Lover, and the Poet

Teachers' Rating:
  1 rating

George Puttenham. The arte of English poesie. London, 1589.

April 2001
Rick Hummel teaches English at Edison High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Plays/Scenes Covered
A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.1
What's On for Today and Why

This lesson plan asks students to reflect on their attitudes toward creative inspiration and poetry. They will compare these contemporary attitudes with those of George Puttenham, an author from Shakespeare's day who wrote The Arte of English Poesie in 1589. Finally, using images from the 1623 First Folio, they will compare both these views with Shakespeare's attitudes towards poetry as expressed in Theseus' famous lines from the fifth act of A Midsummer Night's Dream.


This lesson will take one to two class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Document Handouts

A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.1 handout from the F
Handout of excerpts from George Puttenham's The
What To Do

1. In small groups, have students reflect on their attitudes towards poets and poetry. Have one student in each group take notes on the discussion. Then share these ideas as a class, writing them in a column on the board or on an overhead.


2. Have students read the handout, excerpts from George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie. This book, written in 1589, is possibly the first full work of English poetic criticism. There are three passages transcribed in the handout. Assign each small group a different passage to read aloud and discuss. Again, have one student take notes on the discussion and then share as a class. By now you should have two columns on the board or overhead.


3. Using the First Folio handout provided, have the students read Theseus's first speech in 5.1. If you prefer to use a modern text, the pertinent lines are 5.1.7-17.


4. Give students a minute to reflect on the lines, "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/Are of imagination all compact." Invite students to share their responses as a group. Note any distinctions between lunatics, lovers, and poets. Have the students complete a third column on the board or overhead in which they list Shakespeare's attitudes towards poets and poetry.


5. Conduct a class discussion comparing the three different attitudes toward poetry: the students', Puttenham's, and Shakespeare's. What do you discover?


6. A writing assignment could naturally follow here. You may wish to assign a one-page reflective essay considering how attitudes toward poetry and the imagination have changed over time, or a more formal essay comparing contemporary and Elizabethan attitudes towards poetry.

How Did It Go?
Were the students engaged? Did they generate interesting questions and discussion about all three attitudes towards poetry? Did they learn specific details about the role of poets and the imagination in history and today? Did their writing reflect this?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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