Authors: Louisa Newlin taught high school English for more than 40 years. She wrote "Nice Guys Finish Dead: Teaching Henry IV, Part I in High School" for the Shakespeare Set Free series. She leads workshops on sonnets for teachers. Gigi Bradford, former director of the NEA Literature Program and Folger Poetry Series, also taught the Folger's "Shakespeare's Sisters" seminar.
Common Core Anchor Standards: R.1, R.2, R.5, R.9, W.9
Text: The Parting, a Sonnet by Michael Drayton (1563-1631)
This activity works best after the “Petrarch, Father of the Sonnet” module.
Students will examine a sonnet by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Michael Drayton, indebted to Petrarch, emphasizing the distress and turmoil of love. Drayton's sonnet, and the sonnet of Spenser’s assigned for the next lesson, in which he idealizes his beloved in a “blazon,” are examples of the literary context in which Shakespeare was writing. Greater understanding of that context leads to deeper appreciation of Shakespeare’s innovation.
Time: One 45-minute class period
- Copies of the poem
- A dictionary
- An iPod to play Breaking Up Is Hard to Do or a more contemporary equivalent
- “The Parting,” Michael Drayton
- Handout: Sonnet 15 from Amoretti, Edmund Spenser
What To Do
- Play the song Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, by Neil Sedaka, or a more familiar equivalent (Google will give you multiple sites; or students can provide the song on their iPods or iPhones).
- Ask students to do a freewriting for 2-3 minutes on the subject of breaking up. Ask students if they are willing to share their work aloud.
- Ask students to take out the copies of Michael Drayton’s “The Parting.”
- Ask students to identify the rhyme scheme and compare it to that of Petrarch’s sonnet from the Petrarch module (“I find no peace…”); identify Drayton’s as an “English” sonnet, later called “Shakespearean”, which is less tightly knit.
- Break up the class into two groups: Group A collectively reads the octave, Group B reads the sestet.
- What’s happening in this sonnet? Who’s speaking:? Ask for line-by-line paraphrases of the first 8 lines.
- Dramatize the last 6 lines. Assign roles to: Love, Passion, Faith, Innocence, the departing lover, the anguished "dumpee". Students mime the action while the others read the lines aloud, in a circle around the dying Love.
- Have students write for 2-3 minutes in their journal about the sonnet’s ending. What are the chances that the departing lover will change his/her mind and resuscitate Love at the last minute? Share the responses.
- Discuss the intensity of feeling in Drayton's sonnet compared to that in Petrarch’s sonnet.
- Now that you get the hang of the English sonnet, move on to Shakespeare!
- Do the students show a fuller understanding of how a literary tradition is inherited and re-worked?
- Are they more secure in their definition of “sonnet”?
- Can they distinguish between Italian and English forms?
- Were they engaged in what they were doing?
Journal writing: List the characteristics of your ideal beauty, male or female. (Private writing, not to share). Hand out copies of Spenser’s sonnet to read at home.