Close Reading the Sonnet, from Renaissance England to 21st-Century America | Newberry

Close Reading the Sonnet, from Renaissance England to 21st-Century America

Friday, February 19, 2021


The Newberry

Rebecca Fall, Newberry Library
Newberry Teachers' Consortium

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme,” begins Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 116. And as Shakespeare predicted, the “powerful rhyme” of the fourteen-line sonnet form has fascinated Anglophone writers for centuries, outlasting not only “gilded monuments,” but other poetic styles and fads, too.

In this virtual seminar, we will dive deep into sonnets, exploring their formal features (rhyme scheme, meter, “turns”), common themes (love, sex, grief, nationhood), and enduring popularity from the early 1500s to the present day. Given their robust history and concise structure, sonnets are perfect for teaching students how to interpret form and content simultaneously, identify and analyze thematic patterns, and interrogate the politics of “the canon.” To that end, we will devote most of our seminar to close-reading and comparing sonnets across time. We will also make space to brainstorm and share strategies for teaching with sonnets based on this practice.

Authors under discussion might include: Thomas Wyatt, Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser (16th century); William Shakespeare, John Donne, Mary Wroth (17th century); Charlotte Smith (18th century); Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Wordsworth, Emma Lazarus (19th century); Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks (20th century); Eve L. Ewing, Terrance Hayes (21st century).

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Teachers’ Consortium participants may register for this seminar through their designated school administration contact, as space permits. Individual educators without a subscription package at their home institution may register for this seminar by purchasing an individual seminar slot at the time of registration. Registration for all NTC seminars opens Friday, September 11, 2020. For more information about NTC subscription packages, please contact Cate Harriman, Teacher & Student Programs Coordinator, at

A link to the assigned pre-readings for the seminars, as well as instructions for logging onto the Zoom session, will be distributed to participants via email.

If you believe you are registered for this seminar but have not received an email confirmation or reminder, please contact Teacher Programs staff at