|Homework Assignment on Sonnets
Shakespeare and Acting
As a starting point, just become very
familiar with your sonnet by speaking it out loud in a variety of
different ways. The exercises below can help illuminate the
underlying emotion, movement and meaning in a piece of text by
giving you very physical ways to experience the words. Work with a
partner if you wish!
I. Physicalization: (These exercises were developed by Cicely Berry
of the R.S.C.)
- Read aloud - on your own - while walking around
- Read aloud - in place - pronouncing only the
- Read aloud- only the key words in each line.
("Me Tarzan; You Jane")
- Read aloud - in unison with your partner -
sitting on the floor. Smack the floor with your hand
or foot if a word strikes you as extreme or
- Read aloud - moving around the room - ; change
direction each time you reach a punctuation mark.
- Repeat the last exercise, but RUN!
- Read aloud; have your partner echo/repeat you.
- Set up two chairs. Read aloud, switching seats
at each punctuation mark.
- Read aloud, running, changing direction at each
punctuation while your partner chases you around the
Relax! Take a break! Get a glass of water, then go find a quiet
place to study the poem.
II. Verse Analysis: (These approaches to the verse were developed by
John Barton of the R.S.C.)
- “Words, words, words...” Read the poem
through and underline any of the words that you
don’t understand. First, try to figure out what the
words might mean from the context and rhythm of the
line. Next, consult the footnotes, but don’t feel as
if you have to use that meaning if you don’t like
it. Better yet, consult the Shakespeare Glossary
or O.E.D. and check out the various meanings the word
might have. Experiment with the different meanings.
Fall in love with individual words!
- Scan the verse to determine how Shakespeare
plays with and varies the iambic pentameter. Pay
particular attention to those words where the
stresses are placed in counterpoint to the usual
iambic rhythm, especially if the word comes at the
beginning of a line! Those words must be important!
- Does your poem have any periods in it? That
means ‘full stop’! If your poem doesn’t have any
periods, it must be presented nearly in one breath!
- Is Shakespeare using any poetic devices in the
- Of course he is using rhyme. But why? Think
about the ways Shakespeare links the meanings as
well as the sounds of the rhyming pairs.
- Is there any use of alliteration, the repetition
of consonant sounds:
“Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard…”?
- Is he using onomatopoeia, making the verse sound
like the natural sound it is describing?
“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their ends;
Each changing place with that which goes before...”
Sounds like waves crashing on a shore, huh?
- Notice the way Shakespeare uses antithesis.
He’ll set particular words or phrases against one
another. Words attack each other; one phrase
literally will knock another down:
“When I do count the clock that tells the time
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night…”
- Antithesis is very important. It is the
mechanism by which Shakespeare constructs his verse.
- Think of a dramatic situation in which your poem
might be happening. Be very specific. Who is
talking? To whom? What is the juicy situation?
- You will receive two grades for this project: for a
short essay analyzing your poem and for your
performance. Write up your analysis of the poetic
effects and discuss your choice of its dramatic
situation. (One thesis please.) The best performances
will be done free of the text (ie memorized).
They will receive the best grades.
That’s it! Come to class ready to rehearse for your performance.