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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Literature & Composition
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Post by Xinyuan Xing on October 21, 2015

Great Lecture! I watched Sonnet 20 slide twice! It's so wonderful!

The Sonnets

  • First Things First
    • This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a set of poems by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
    • These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
  • What is a Sonnet?
    • A Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line lyric poem, usually about love in some form.
    • The structure calls for four quatrains (groups of 4 lines) and a couplet (a pair of rhyming lines).
    • The rhyme scheme is usually abab / cdcd / efef / gg.
    • Shakespearean sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.
    • The first quatrain establishes the sonnet’s theme.
    • The second quatrain develops the sonnet’s theme.
    • The third quatrain rounds off the sonnet’s theme.
    • The final rhyming couplet concludes the sonnet, often with a twist or surprise ending.
  • What Do We Know?
    • The language indicates these poems were probably written in the 1590s.
    • Theatres closed 1592 – 1594 due to a plague outbreak.
    • Some poetry was written on commission; these poems may have been written for a wealthy patron.
    • Probably circulated in manuscript form.
    • Published in 1609, almost certainly without Shakespeare’s permission; published in another edition in 1640 with some major (and highly inaccurate) changes.
  • What Don’t We Know?
    • Who (if anyone) commissioned the sonnets
    • How Thomas Thorpe got his hands on them
    • Who “W.H.” was
    • Who the various characters were
  • Why Do the Sonnets Matter?
    • Some of the finest poetry ever written in English
    • Created a new sonnet form that has been imitated for centuries since.
    • Just about the only writing we have by Shakespeare that isn’t a play
    • Great for quoting and driving academics berserk
  • What It Means: Sonnet 18
    • 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 owest;
      Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
      When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
      So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
      So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
  • What It Means: Sonnet 20
    • A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,
      Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
      A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
      With shifting change, as is false women's fashion:
      An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
      Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
      A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
      Much steals men's eyes and women's soulsamazeth.
      And for a woman wert thou first created;
      Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
      And by addition me of thee defeated,
      By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
      But since she prick'd thee out for women'spleasure,
      Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.
  • Sonnet Characters: The Fair Youth
    • An attractive young man, identity unknown
    • Some sonnets encourage him to procreate
    • Later sonnets suggest either romantic or platonic love
    • Affair with Dark Lady?
    • Possibly Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton
    • Was Shakespeare gay?
  • Sonnet Characters: The Dark Lady
    • An attractive young woman, identity unknown
    • “Dark” features include black hair and dusky/olive-colored skin
    • An object of sexual love (more so than the Fair Youth)
    • Many identities proposed, none proven
    • Married?
    • An enduring mystery
  • Sonnet Characters: The Rival Poet
    • A competitor for fame, wealth, and patronage
    • Possibly George Chapman, Christopher Marlowe, or any number of other poets
    • Possibly fictitious
  • What It Means: Sonnet 130
    • 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, 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.
  • How to Read a Shakespearean Sonnet
    • Break the sonnet into quatrains and couplets. Observe how each section changes the nature of the sonnet and builds toward its conclusion.
    • Read line-by-line, translating each small segment before moving on to the next.
    • Look for allusions to other works and to the older, Petrarchan style of sonnet.
    • Read the sonnet aloud to get the sound of the words—and keep an eye out for puns (especially sexual ones)!
    • Read the sonnets before and after your assigned sonnet to get an feel for the context.
    • Pay particular attention to that last couplet!

The Sonnets

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:10
  • Lesson Overview 0:40
  • What is a Sonnet? 1:26
    • A 14-line lyric poem, usually about love
    • Structure calls for four quatrains and a couplet
    • Rhyme scheme
    • Written in iambic pentameter
  • What is a Sonnet?, cont. 2:46
    • First quatrain establishes theme
    • Second quatrain develops theme
    • Third quatrain rounds off theme
    • Final rhyming couplet concludes with twist or surprise
  • What Do We Know? 3:10
    • Poems probably written in the 1590s
    • Theaters closed in 1592 due to plague
    • Some poetry written on commission
    • Probably circulated in manuscript form
    • Published in 1609 without Shakespeare's permission
  • What Don't We Know? 4:58
    • Who commissioned the sonnets
    • How Thomas Thorpe for his hands on them
    • Who “W.H.” was
    • Who the characters were
  • Why Do the Sonnets Matter? 5:54
    • Some of the finest poetry ever written
    • Created new sonnet form
    • Writing by Shakespeare that isn't a play
    • Great for quoting
  • What It Means: Sonnet 18 6:58
  • What It Means: Sonnet 20 9:00
  • Sonnet Characters: The Fair Youth 11:06
    • Attractive young man, identity unknown
    • Some sonnets encourage him to procreate
    • Romantic or platonic love?
    • Affair with Dark Lady?
    • Possibly Henry Wriothesley
    • Was Shakespeare gay?
  • Sonnet Characters: The Dark Lady 13:58
    • Attractive young woman, identity unknown
    • “Dark” features
    • Object of sexual love
    • Married?
    • Mystery
  • Sonnet Characters: The Rival Poet 15:20
    • A competitor
    • Possibly George Chapman or Christopher Marlowe
    • Possibly fictitious
  • What It Means: Sonnet 130 16:26
  • How to Read a Shakespearean Sonnet 19:06
    • Break it up