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.)

  1. Read aloud - on your own - while walking around the room.
  2. Read aloud - in place - pronouncing only the vowels.
  3. Read aloud- only the key words in each line. ("Me Tarzan; You Jane")
  4. 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 particularly strong.
  5. Read aloud - moving around the room - ; change direction each time you reach a punctuation mark.
  6. Repeat the last exercise, but RUN!
  7. Read aloud; have your partner echo/repeat you.
  8. Set up two chairs. Read aloud, switching seats at each punctuation mark.
  9. Read aloud, running, changing direction at each punctuation while your partner chases you around the room.

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.)

  1. “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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. Is Shakespeare using any poetic devices in the poem?
  5. 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.
  6. Is there any use of alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds:
    “Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard…”?
  7. 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?
  8. 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…”
  9. Antithesis is very important. It is the mechanism by which Shakespeare constructs his verse.
  10. 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.