Dr. Barbara M. Cobb is Associate Professor of English at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky
and Education Coordinator, Murray Shakespeare Festival
What's On for Today and Why
In today's lesson, students will explore Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
Students will create an original poem loosely based on the sonnet. Each will choose two things to compare and contrast in order to praise the favored thing and to explain why it is so special to the poem's speaker. Students will concentrate on the comparison and contrast, making fine distinctions between similar things.
Common Core Standards Addressed:
Reading Literature Standards 1,2,4,5,6,
Foundational Skills 3,4,
Writing Standards 1,3,
as well as a number of the Language standards.
This lesson may be completed in a 90-minute class period, with additional time allotted for revision and peer editing, or it may be divided into several shorter lessons.
What You Need
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
"Shall I compare...?" Graphic Organizer
Sonnet 18 Graphic Organizer
What To Do
1. Introduce the sonnet: Present students with the first line of Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Have students brainstorm: what does summer mean? What images come to mind when you think of summer? What does "summer" symbolize, when it isn't representing the season Summer? How about Winter, Spring or Autumn?
2. Read through the sonnet with students.
- 1st Quatrain (lines 1-4): What question does the speaker ask? Why does he/she ask it? What is his/her answer? What is the relationship of lines 3-4 to lines 1-2? Does the speaker actually compare the subject to summer or use contrast instead?
- 2nd Quatrain (lines 5-8): What does "eye of heaven" mean? Whose "complexion" do they speak of? What image is created in lines 5-6 and to make what point? What point does the speaker make in lines 7-8?
- 3rd Quatrain (lines 9-12): Something different happens here. Discuss how the word "but" signals the change. How does the speaker contrast "summer" to the subject? What does the speaker mean by "eternal summer" and "eternal lines"?
- Couplet (lines 13-14, the last two lines of the poem): How does the couplet serve to wrap up the poem? What is "this" in the last line? In what way is the speaker of the poem correct in his/her statement that he can make his/her subject "eternal"?
3. Have students use the graphic organizer to brainstorm two things that have similiarities, then compare and contrast them. Encourage students to use images and metaphors while working through several drafts of a poem.
Some students may be able to incorporate rhyme or structural elements as well. Encourage students to add these after the initial brainstorming process, as part of the revision process.
How Did It Go?
After the initial reading of the sonnet, did students recognize the structure of the sonnet? Did they recognize the praise for the subject of the poem, the contrast of the subject to other lesser things, the clever twist at the end of the poem that calls attention to the poem as the mode of praise?
Do students understand the difference between the subject of Sonnet 18 and summer? Do students understand the theme (main point) of the poem?
Was each student able to produce at least one comparison/contrast, a cohesive thought or set of thoughts (a poem)?
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.