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"O how I faint when I of you do write:" Analyzing Shakespearean Sonnets Using "SOAPSTone" and Performance

Teachers' Rating:
  8 ratings

Shakespeare. The Songs and Sonnets of William Shakespeare. London, 1915

January 2007

Cathlin Goulding teaches English at Newark Memorial High School, Newark, California.


This lesson is adapted from the "Facing History and Ourselves" website at www.facing.org.


Plays/Scenes Covered

This lesson can be used with any Shakespearean sonnet.  It uses Sonnet 133 as a model.


Suggested sonnets for this activity include 3, 9, 11, 16, 22, 25, 27, 42, 51, 57, 97, 102, 126, 127, 131, 133, 138, and 143.

What's On for Today and Why

Students will learn to use SOAPSTone—a strategy that helps students break down a text to understand its intended point of view and audience—in order to analyze Shakespeare's sonnets. Students will then physicalize their understanding through a dramatic performance.


As this lesson does not introduce the sonnet form, a brief introduction to sonnet structure may be necessary before beginning this lesson.


The lesson as written will take three to four class periods.

What You Need

at New Folger edition of the Sonnets

SOAPStone Definitions
SOAPStone Graphic Organizer
Newsweek Photo Gallery
What To Do

1. Share or project a current news photograph with the class; for a gallery of current photos, click here or follow the link below.


2. Ask students to identify the subject, occasion, audience, purpose, "speaker," and tone for the photograph, briefly defining each term with reference to the SOAPSTone Definitions handout. Make sure students understand how to use each term.


3. Pass out copies of the Definitions handout and tell students they will analyze a Shakespearean sonnet to determine the elements they've just seen in the photograph.


4. Start by "reading around" the sonnet; give each student a single line to read. Ask students to identify words with which they aren't familiar and parts of the sonnet where they see someone being addressed. Have a student look up any unfamiliar words for the class.


5. To analyze the sonnet, ask students: What do you know about the speaker of the poem? How does s/he feel? Who is s/he talking to? Why is s/he writing the poem? What occasion inspired the writing of this poem? What is the feeling you get when reading the poem? What emotions does the speaker appear to show? As students answer, have a student take notes on the board under the SOAPSTone headings.


6. Break students into pairs and give each pair a different sonnet to analyze. Pass out the SOAPSTone Graphic Organizer handout. Here, students will determine the SOAPSTone for the poem and note specific lines or words that led them to their conclusions. Have them leave the right-hand "Movement" column blank until they complete the first two columns.


7. Once students have analyzed their sonnets, they can prepare a two-person performance of the sonnet. One student will be the "Speaker," reciting the words of the poem and using dramatic movement, gestures, and voice to represent their character. The other student, the "Audience," will "mirror" the words of the sonnet's speaker, non-verbally reacting to each line or idea using only movement and gesture. Students may use props, entrances/exits, or music to enhance their performance. As they prepare the performance, have them record their movements in the third column of their handout.


8. Have each pair of students perform their scenes. After each performance, encourage thunderous applause! Quickly debrief what students noticed about the different SOAPSTone elements.


9. Conclude with a group discussion about the activity. In what ways did the SOAPSTone format allow them to add engaging detail to their performances?

How Did It Go?
Did each pairing have a unique way of presenting each sonnet? Was it clear, through their performances, that students understood the nature of the speaker and the audience, and the tone of the poem? At the end of the activity, have each student complete an "exit card" in which they explain which pair best showed the relationship between speaker and audience, and why. Collect these cards as their "ticket out of the door." Exit cards can help us see how much or what each individual student took from the assignment.

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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