Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

"The Marriage of True Minds"

August seems to be a big time of year for weddings, and Shakespeare’s sonnets are especially popular as wedding readings. They’re short, sweet, and often sound romantic. I, myself, chose Sonnet 29 to be read during my ceremony, and another friend of mine selected Sonnet 116 for hers. That same sonnet is read in Shakespeare RE-told: Much Ado About Nothing as Benedick and Beatrice prepare for Hero’s wedding and practice it as the reading. There’s a depth of meaning to be found in the sonnets – but it’s all down to who’s reading them and what they’re bringing to it.

There’s a project going on in NYC right now simply called “The Sonnet Project” in which actors will be filmed performing all 154 sonnets as a lead-up to Shakespeare’s 450th birthday on April 23, 2014. The audio album When Love Speaks features some of the most popular Shakespearean actors of our time reading Sonnets. Go to YouTube and you’ll see a host of students, actors, and fans interpreting the sonnets for themselves.

One of the reasons sonnets are so popular could be, given by Louisa Newlin and Gigi Bradford for our Teaching Sonnets Unit,: “Although many of the Sonnets are full of troubling – and fascinating –ambiguities, their tone is arresting. They are conversational, personal, and often intensely passionate …” In these short poems, we’re given Shakespeare’s lovely use of language unburdened by story or character. We, the readers, are the character, and we can interpret the poem’s meaning for ourselves.

So if you’re attending any weddings this month, listen for the reading selection. If it’s a sonnet, why did the couple choose that particular one? Which of the sonnets might your students personally relate to when they start reading the poems, and how can they express that?

I was going to post a video here, but the YouTube cache of available videos of people performing sonnets is just too large! Check it out and share your favorite in the comments!

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