The Poetry Place
Sonnet 116 Let me not to the marriage of true minds...
This sonnet needs considerable teasing out, though the overriding message is, I think, quite clear. ‘Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds’ seems to sum up the theme, however deep and convoluted some analyses of the sonnet have become. Use the Unlocking Literature Whiteboard tool to make notes which draw out some of the key phrases and/or explain a few of the more tricky expressions.
To make this a collaborative activity, divide the class into pairs and give each pair one of these numbered sections:
1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.
2. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove:
3. No! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken;
4. It is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
5. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle's compass come:
6. Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.
7. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
In most classes, this will mean that there will be two pairs working on each section. Ask students to try to tease out the meaning of their phrase or sentence and be prepared to share it in a plenary. They may come up with as many possible explanations as they wish. They should have access to reference books or an internet search. (Encarta on-line Dictionary, accessible from Word, is more helpful than the Thesaurus, which is very limited when it comes to Elizabethan English.)
Those who finish early can be asked to read the whole poem and pick out words and phrases that support the theme of permanence.
Using the Whiteboard tool, gather feedback from the class and add their glosses to the poem. Where there are disagreements or misunderstandings, discuss the options and act the honest broker. Where there are difficulties, admit them (I find ‘remover to remove’ tricky) and where you know best, say so – but give as much space as possible to their ideas so that the resulting annotation is everyone’s work.
Here’s an example of how it might look after some class input. Sonnet 116. Don’t forget, you can flip the comments and write more on the back and you can hide/reveal them too.
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