Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

A Sonnet for Shakespeare's Birthday Party

Winners and runners-up from the 2013 Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest
Winners and runners-up from the 2013 Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest, with poetry coordinator Teri Cross Davis (center), at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Each year, Folger Shakespeare Library invites students in grades 3 through 12 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to submit original sonnets for the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest.

We are now taking submissions for this year’s contest, marking Shakespeare’s 450th birthday!

All entries must follow Shakespearean sonnet form:

  • 14 lines of iambic pentameter
  • an ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GG rhyme scheme

A judge will select the top sonnet in three categories: grades 3-6, grades 7-9, and grades 10-12.

Winners in each category receive a full set Shakespeare’s plays, and runners-up receive a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Winners and runners-up are also invited to read their entries at Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House at the Folger Shakespeare Library on April 6.

Be sure to have your students send in their submissions by Friday, March 21. Please email submissions to Teri Cross Davis, at tdavis@folger.edu, or mail them to the address below.

Attn: Sonnet Contest/Poetry Coordinator
Folger Shakespeare Library 
201 East Capitol Street, SE,
Washington DC 20003.

Here’s an example of a winning entry from the grades 7-9 category, by Jennifer Owens, National Cathedral School:

A lonely figure stands beside the docks,
Not noticing the spray against her feet.
Her focus is on capturing the rocks
Where surf and salt and spray and stone all meet.

Her skillful brushstrokes toss and hurl the waves
Against the jagged outline of the sky.
Each speck of foam and breath of air she saves
No detail undetected by her eye.

The hours pass, she doesn’t seem to care,
Content to stand and paint beside the sea.
She brushes back a strand of fiery hair
That like the ocean tumbles loose and free.

And when at last the artist’s work is done,
Her two great loves have been turned into one.

Encourage your students to write sonnets of their own. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!


  • It is not necessary to peek under a rug for a reason to teach Shakespeare’s sonnets–do you think about vitamins every time you eat a peach? TEACH THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL!

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