Why teach sonnets?
- They are rewarding and fun to teach. Close attention to a text of fourteen lines draws attention to the power of individual words and to the nuances of meaning conveyed by variations in rhyme and meter.
- The characteristic sonnet explores those elements in human life which raise unanswerable questions -- love, war, mortality, suffering and change—questions that students ask even when they do not articulate them.
- Sonnets can inspire creativity in students, who can follow the “recipe” and are more apt to write good poetry than when they embark on free verse. Writing sonnets can be done solo, in pairs, or as a group, and is an active way of internalizing the sonnet’s structure. The subjects do not have to be traditional; many students have produced surprisingly good sonnets about football games.
- More readily than longer works of literature, sonnets can be dramatized in pairs or in groups, and they can be set to music or illustrated.
- Exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets can be a good way to introduce students to his language. Studying a shorter form is a great introduction to the more sustained and challenging length of Shakespeare’s plays.
Why Teach Shakespeare’s Sonnets?
- Although many questions about Shakespeare’s sonnets are unanswered, there is widespread agreement that they are the most intricate, profound, beautiful, and ingenious sonnets ever written in English.
- A large percentage of them are about the pain and perplexities of love –a subject most young people are eager to explore.
- Although many of the Sonnets are full of troubling – and fascinating –ambiguities, their tone is arresting. They are conversational, personal, and often intensely passionate – qualities which can kindle a spark in even a poetry-resistant student’s heart.
- Many ideas and themes of the Sonnets appear in Shakespeare’s plays and can be useful lead-ins. Examples are: Romeo’s initial love for Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet as well as the sonnets within the play itself; Silvius wooing Phoebe in As You Like It; love between men, one of whom loves more than another – Bassanio and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, another Antonio and Sebastian in Twelfth Night). Several sonnets have theatrical metaphors, such as 23, “As an unperfect actor on the stage”.
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