Reading Shakespeare: Making it a Living Experience


“Nothing worth having comes easily. The enjoyment kicks in when you really start to get it, when you finally meet William Shakespeare on his own turf and his language begins to open new doors in your consciousness”.

Joseph Smigelski

This lesson is designed around Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29. Students watch a short film with no sound and speculate about the story it tells, read the Sonnet and discuss its meaning.

Step 1. Tell your students they are going to watch but not hear Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29. As they watch they should try to work out what the Sonnet and the film are about.

Step 2. Split the students into small teams and ask them to discuss what they think the Sonnet and the film are about.

Step 3. Get feedback.

Step 4. Give the students the modern vs. original text of the Sonnet and ask them to read the modern text and see if they were correct.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyesI all alonebeweep my outcast state,And trouble deafheav’n with my bootless cries,And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate.

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

When I’m in disgrace with everyone and my luck has deserted me, I sit all alone and cry about the fact that I’m an outcast, and bother God with useless cries, which fall on deaf ears, and look at myself and curse my fate, wishing that I had more to hope for, wishing I had this man’s good looks and that man’s friends, this man’s skills and that man’s opportunities, and totally dissatisfied with the things I usually enjoy the most. Yet, as I’m thinking these thoughts and almost hating myself, I happen to think about you, and then my condition improves—like a lark at daybreak rising up and leaving the earth far behind to sing hymns to God. For when I remember your sweet love, I feel so wealthy that I’d refuse to change places even with kings.

Source: No Fear Shakespeare

Step 5. Now show the video again, but this time with the sound on.

Step 6. Ask the students to study the original version of the Sonnet. Help them with vocabulary.
(The following resource may help

Step 7. Ask the students to read the sonnet out loud in their teams and see if they notice a particular rhythm in their first reading.

Step 8. Show the video again and ask the students to listen to the Sonnet again and mark the “stressed” words conveying the meaning of the Sonnet. Discuss the words and emotions they convey. Ask the students to read the sonnet aloud again, this time really accentuating the words they have marked as “stressed.”

Step 9. “What you get is what you hear” – Ask the students to distribute the lines between their team members and then make a recording of the poem. Does it sound right?

Enjoy and happy teaching!

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