Sonnet 130


Ask your class what they already know about love poems. What should be included in a love poem? Ask them to have a go at writing a love poem about a woman. In the poem they need to talk about the woman’s eyes, lips, skin, hair, breasts, cheeks, smell, breath and voice. You could use an image of a woman to spark ideas. Read a few and talk about common features (flattering etc).


Talk about the ‘blazon’ technique which was a common feature of love poetry – a technique in which poets listed their beloved’s attributes and made elaborate comparisons with each one. Often, the phrases used by many love poets were hyperbolized. Many women’s features were compared to objects that they could not realistically resemble. Look at an example – for example an extract from Edmund Spenser’s ‘Epithalamion’ (1595):

Her long loose yellow locks lyke golden wyre…

Her goodly eyes lyke saphyres shining bright,
Her forehead yvory white,
Her cheekes lyke apples with the sun hath rudded,
Her lips lyke cherryes charming men to byte,
Her brest like to a bowle of creame uncrudded,
Her paps lyke lyllies budded,
Her snowie necke lyke to a marble towre,
And all her body like a pallace fayre,
Ascending uppe, with many a stately stayre,

What do they think about the use of this technique? Is it romantic? How would they feel to receive it?

Main Activities:

Tell students that you’re going to look at a love poem that uses the blazon technique but in quite a different way. Unroll (see earlier post) Sonnet 130. What do students notice? What questions do they have? What do they think?

Before the final couplet, ask students to write the last two lines. Feedback. Reveal the final two lines and discuss what differences this makes to the poem.

What do they think about Shakespeare’s love poem? How would they feel if they received it? Is it more or less flattering than the love poem they wrote? Why?


Dice Game – students get into small groups and roll a dice. Whichever number they roll is the kind of comment they need to make about the poem. If someone has already commented on that, they have to elaborate, extend or challenge. (They should also use this time to annotate their copy of the poem).

1 – Interpretation

2 – Tone of the poem

3 – Context of the poem

4 – Language – linguistic devices used and effect?

5 – Structure – structure of the poem and significance/effect?

6 – Possible links between this poem and any others studied so far.

Follow this us by asking students to review what comments were made and give them time to add anything new to their annotation of the poem.

I have included a link below to a brilliant stop frame animation of the poem – you may want to spend a little bit of time looking at it with your class:


Shakespeare: Visual Summaries

Teaching Hamlet at A level has been one of the best experiences of teaching to date. I’ve been blessed with a very pleasant and mostly enthusiastic class and they seem to really enjoy the play (yay!). However, Hamlet is undeniably long, complex and at times confusing. To add to this, the examination is closed text and therefore students need to know Hamlet very well. I decided from the start of teaching this text that I did not want students to have to revise this play – I wanted them to really know it and to avoid the chore of learning quotations by rote before the examination. There are a couple of ways I’ve tried to achieve this.

 Firstly, from the very first scene we have worked together to select quotations that we think are significant. They may link to an emerging theme or reveal something about a character. These quotations have been noted alongside a sentence or two about their significance and have been discussed regularly. I can now pick almost any of these quotations and students can tell me who said them, when and what the significance is (often commenting on the language). Whilst I would not want this process to become overbearing, I do feel that a little bit of this regularly will enable students to have a good bank of quotations that they know rather than having to revise them just before the exam. I’m also hoping that this will enable them to feel more confident about a closed text exam and about discussing the significance/relevance of the evidence they use.

 Today I tried something else to help students remember and visualise the play. Students were asked to draw boxes or fold their paper into four or eight. In each box they had to write the Act and Scene, draw a memorable image from that scene and write a key quotation underneath it. Here is one for Act 1 Scene 1 of the Tempest which I am also currently teaching to year 12:


 What I found was that students were selecting images that really captured the essence of the scene and the act of squashing it all into one box was forcing them to do this. The quotations they selected were either useful summatively or were highlighting a significant theme in the play. What I’m hoping is that these visual summaries will help them to remember the events of the play and also support their understanding with something visual. Obviously this may prove most beneficial to visual learners. Other things I have tried have included headlines for scenes and 10 word summaries but I think that this may prove to be one of the most successful summary activities.

 As Hamlet says… ‘Whilst memory holds a seat in this distracted globe. Remember thee!’