Sonnets Simplified?

So next week I’ll at long last be heading in to a classroom to talk about Shakespeare.  In this particular instance we’re talking about the sonnets, and I’m busy gathering material that I can use.

I’ve been informed by the teacher that, in preparation for the lesson, they “studied” Sonnet 29.  That is, she read and paraphrased it to them.  They also read Sonnet 18.  This was done mostly as a lesson in iambic pentameter.

Here’s my question to you, loyal readers.  What are the best sonnets I can use for examples in class?  We’ll be doing several games involving filling in blanks and shuffling words so we’ll need a handful of sonnets to work with that the kids don’t already know.

Guidelines

1) The iambic pentameter should be about as straightforward as it can be.  If we’re trying to get across five feet of baDUM baDUM baDUM baDUM baDUM and giving them puzzles where they need to put that meter back into place it won’t be fair to throw in too many twists.

2) Family friendly.  I love #130 as an example, just not sure what to do with “breasts are dun” yet.  Most likely going to come through as “flesh is dun” just so I can use it, but I’d rather have examples I don’t have to mess with.

3) Not too archaic.  If the kids need to be going to the glossary (me) for every single line, they’re never going to understand it.

I’d like to use Sonnet 12, as an example.  I think the imagery is something they could grasp, the meter is straightforward, and I don’t think I have to worry too much about the family friendliness of a word like “breed”.

Who’s got some help for me? Carl Atkins, you out there? You always seem to have a few sonnets to rattle off when we bring up the topic.  What’s that one about thinking about his beloved and he can’t sleep?  That’s a good one.

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8 thoughts on “Sonnets Simplified?

  1. I like sonnet 27. It can be interpreted as a homesick kid at camp, or a soldier, or any lovesick person yearning to be with someone who's far away.

  2. Hi Denice!

    27 is the one I was thinking about, thank you. And I think I will use it, it fits all my criteria.

    As Carl one pointed out to me, 27 is actually paired with 28 so I could possibly work that in. But the meter is a lot looser in 28.

  3. I'm fond of 29 ("When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes"). We seem to be going in order right along there.

    But it doesn't quite meet the criteria–at least, it might not be the one to start with. The first line starts with a trochee rather than an iamb. And the third line is also irregular. Perhaps you could use it to teach the fact that Shakespeare's verse wasn't slavishly devoted to absolutely ba DUM ba DUM ba DUM ba DUM ba DUM; instead, he made his verse even more interesting by occasionally breaking the pattern.

    Hope it goes well!

    kj

  4. The kids will be familiar with 29, the teacher did that one already (see introductory notes). So while it couldn't hurt to go over it more and use it as an example, I think that its value as a game is lessened because they're more likely to remember the general content and order of the words.

  5. How about this one?

    LXXIII

    That time of year thou mayst in me behold
    When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
    Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
    In me thou seest the twilight of such day
    As after sunset fadeth in the west,
    Which by and by black night doth take away,
    Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
    In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
    That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
    As the death-bed whereon it must expire
    Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
    This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

    You've got your iambs, you've got your pentameter (the iambic pentameter in this one is pretty strong and almost entirely regular), you've got your relatively easy vocabulary, and you've got your paraphrasable meaning.

    And don't forget to open by asking them which one is Shakespeare's biggest sonnet.

    It's number 40, by the way . . .

    . . . because it's XL.

    kj

  6. I had the same problem a few weeks back as I organized a workshop on iambic pentameter. All the “canonical” sonnets I could find had at least one small section where they colored outside the lines: archaic sentence structure, dactylic phrase, Olde Englishe pronunciation, etc. And they’re all beautiful sonnets, but I think it’s important to teach the rules first, and only later on teach the exceptions to those rules.

    I went with Sonnet 18. Which has “Olde Englishe” in rhyming temperATE with DATE. And it has a feminine rhyme in lines 11 and 13. Sorry. It’s a cop-out, but I had to get my materials ready for the workshop and this sonnet was close at hand.

    I’m working on new workshop materials which will use one of my own sonnets. That sort of substitution smacks of ego, but I can’t find any “canonical” sonnets that truly play according to Hoyle. I’ll post back here when I have the new materials ready. In the meantime, if you’re interested, you can download my Sonnet 18 notes and materials here:
    http://www.bicycle-comics.com/blog/heres-how-to-teach-pentameter-in-schools

    I’d love to know your thoughts!

  7. Sorry, Duane, my day job has been keeping me very busy and I missed this post. If you have already been to the class, I hope it has gone well. If not, two of my favorites that would fit your criteria are Sonnets 52 and 61.
    Sonnet 52, "So am I as the rich whose blessed key" is filled with lovely similes and stays mostly with the iambic pentameter. The only archaic word is "carconet" (a jeweled collar, often with one gem more prominent than the rest).
    Sonnet 61, "Is it thy will, thy image should keep open" is simple to understand, has a straightforward rhythm, and has the wonderful surprise turn in the last quatrain that makes it rather fun.
    –Carl

  8. Sorry, Duane, my day job has been keeping me very busy and I missed this post. If you have already been to the class, I hope it has gone well. If not, two of my favorites that would fit your criteria are Sonnets 52 and 61.
    Sonnet 52, "So am I as the rich whose blessed key" is filled with lovely similes and stays mostly with the iambic pentameter. The only archaic word is "carconet" (a jeweled collar, often with one gem more prominent than the rest).
    Sonnet 61, "Is it thy will, thy image should keep open" is simple to understand and has the wonderful surprise turn in the last quatrain that makes it rather fun.
    –Carl

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