NOTE: This is the second in a series of four posts on easing your students into Elizabethan English without terrifying them.
Sonnet 130 isn’t one of the more popular choices for high-school English class — which is a shame, because I think it’s a great introduction to Shakespeare’s wit, as he’s basically parodying his own work.
Bonus: It has the added advantage of being the only Shakespearean sonnet read aloud by Alan Rickman on YouTube.
Here is how I use Sonnet 130
as an excuse to listen to Alan Rickman in class to teach the characteristics of a sonnet:
Give each kid a double-spaced copy of the poem and seven highlighters in different colors. (If you have a big class, you can break the kids into small groups and make them share a set of highlighters; just allow a couple of extra minutes for the kids to swap colors as needed.)
Put the characteristics of a Shakespearean sonnet — 14 lines; iambic pentameter; three quatrains and a couplet; abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme; usually about love — on the board for the kids to copy down.
Have somebody read the poem aloud. Then have the kids say the last word of each line, highlighting each pair of rhyming lines in a different color and labeling the rhyme scheme with the appropriate letters. When they’re done, the rhyme scheme should be color-coded and clearly labeled. (Your visual learners will love this.)
Next, ask them to label the accented and unaccented syllables using standard scansion marks. After yesterday’s lesson, they should be able to recognize iambic pentameter immediately, but if they don’t, this is a chance to practice.
After they’ve dissected the structure of the poem, have them read for meaning, defining any unfamiliar terms and coaching them through the archaic language.
To wrap up the lesson, give your auditory learners a treat by playing Rickman’s reading of the poem and having a little discussion about which was easier to understand — the printed copy or the spoken word — and why. Most kids find Shakespeare exponentially more accessible once they hear his work read by a professional actor who understands the words. One of my students is currently watching the Harry Potter movies for the first time and found it hilariously appropriate to hear Professor Snape reading such an unflattering poem.