Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “sonnets”

POM: Yo–Shakespeare

I’m not aware of any other literary celebrity whose birth and death dates are the same day. That just Billy the Bard even more special, doesn’t it? This year is being touted as the Shakesyear, due to the span of 400 years  of celebrating his influence since his death in 1616. I certainly couldn’t let National Poetry Month slip by without celebrating Shakespeare on his birthday. Here is one of my favorite sonnets:

Sonnet 29 read by Matthew Macfayden

Oh, for a muse of fire

As a senior English teacher I have the distinction of being the last of a long acquaintance with school literature for my students. Many, if not most students, come in with a surly attitude about English. My goal is to get that frown turned upside down. While I don’t resort to extremes, I have been known for some surprising antics to liven up class. I inject movie clips, silly voices, and theatre activities into the lesson plan.

I enjoy teaching English because I’m actually a librarian at heart (budget cuts). To infuse the love of books is a mission, not a vocation.

At the end of the month my students will have studied a handful of sonnets, examined three Shakespeare plays, watched one live performance of Hamlet, analyzed two of the Bard’s speeches, and have performed one of the speeches from a play. They will be so full of Shakespeare at the end of this unit they will leak iambic pentameter onto their desks. This might cause consternation with the custodians, yet it is all part of my mission to turn these Bardihators into Bardinators. I would be Bardilating even if it wasn’t Shakesyear.

My extra effort Barding might be paying off; I think I might be making headway. We began with Taming of the Shrew, a farce that they could relate to because of Ten Things I Hate About You, and then we went onto a tragedy. I surprised them with Othello, a complicated study of villains and heroes and racial issues that resonates with my students even after 400 years it was first performed.

We moved onto my personal favorite: Hamlet. We explored the first eleven lines together and they realized Shakespeare’s language does not present the barrier they thought they would encounter. We prepared for the climatic duel of act five by going outside and learning  stagecraft fighting with duct-taped yardsticks.

I teach the same lesson six times, slightly modified, due to being the only senior English teacher this year, so my Shakespearience becomes even more enriched over the years because the math computes to a lot of repetition of knowledge. I’ve always said the best education I’ve received is from teaching.

As for students and their absorption of English? I wonder how much impact I will have. Will students fondly or disdainfully remember my efforts to interject the muse of Shakespeare’s fire into their lives? Will there be Renaissance Man moment, when they will recite a few lines or carry the meaning of a studied play with them into their future life? I hope so.

For now, my librarian-teacher  heart will continue to thrill when students make comments like: “I really like this. I really like digging into this Shakespeare stuff.”

My fire is amused.

image: pintrest

Poet Appreciation #8: William Shakespeare

*Gasp* Billy Bard is celebrating his 450th birthday on the 23rd. I advise those attending the birthday party to stick to the crumpets and steer clear of the kippers, as they didn’t do ol’ William any good at his own birthday din celeb.

Would William be surprised to know how many Bardinators there are coasting about due to his most marvelous ability with words, wit, and retrofitting old tales into something more appealing?  Probably.  Ben Jonson knew his contemporary, and somewhat rival was “a man for all time.”

What better way to say “Happy Birthday, Bill!” than with a couple of his sonnets.

First, the Mona Lisa of his career:


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st; 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee


Who hasn’t heard this lovely tribute of admiration? No matter how many years I’ve taught it to high school students they still “get it” and appreciate the trick ending of the couplet.  That’s what I like about Wm’s wit: it’s subtle and winking.  I think he’s winking right now as it’s being read. I’ll let Michael York recite it for you.  He gets it for sure, this is a loving tribute (don’t get shook up about it being for a man, like my freshmen do–this was supposedly to William S.’s patron, the guy who paid the bills so Wm could keep writing. Is that any different from dedicating a song or book to an agent, sibling, parent, or editor?)

Another tribute sonnet is perhaps not as complimentary, yet I think it showcases Shakespeare’s ability to take the accepted medium and poke fun at how poets tended to extol too vigorously the glories of a person, thus rendering him or her to be removed from humanity–it’s difficult to climb down off a pedestal that’s built too high. This particular sonnet at first sounds like a bash session; however, after a step back moment, it’s clear to see Shakespeare extols the real beauty of his love.  He loves this woman, warts–that is, frizzy hair, and all.


My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

This video captures the satire of those mushy sonnets while intones the general attitude of love.  Alan Rickman and typography mash up at its best.  Wouldn’t you want Alan Rickman reciting a sonnet to you?  Check yes.



These are only a drop in the sonnet bucket.  Wills wrote 150 sonnets, far more than the 38 plays we know to be roaming about.  So why do we mostly associate him with being a playwright than a poet?  According to many historical sources, he considered himself to be more of a poet than a playwriter. Hmm, it’s easier to turn a play into a film than a sonnet, I suppose.

Once again, Happy Birthday, William!



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