Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day?

Worksheet Open-ended Questions

(Literary Critical Guidance and Analysis: theme, form, structure and language)

‘Shall I Compare thee to a Summer’s Day’

Sonnet 18 

  1. This poem is an extended comparison between the speaker’s lover and a summer’s day. According to the first two lines, how is the speaker’s lover unlike a summer’s day?
  2. Identify the negative characteristics of summer.
  3. Summarise the first four lines.  (In the Sonnet, a group of four lines is called a quatrain.)
  4. The lover is contrasted with nature. How is s/he better than a summer’s day?  Point out all the differences.
  5. Summarise the second quatrain.  (The first eight lines of a sonnet are called an octave.)
  6. Summarise the third quatrain.
  7. What will keep the lover young forever?
  8. Summarise the final rhyming couplet.  (The last six lines are called a Sestet.)
  9. The Shakespearean sonnet has a particular rhyme scheme.  Identify it by quatrains, octave (first eight lines) and sestet. e.g. another type of sonnet is abba/abba//cdcd/cd
  10. A volta is a surprise twist or shift in meaning that was intended to delight and surprise the reader– what is the volta in this poem and how is the rhyme scheme used to make it more effective?
  11. What other examples can you find of the meaning/progression of the poem being echoed/supported/helped by the rhyming pattern?
  12. Identify all the metaphors, personification, and hyperbole in this sonnet.  Assess the appropriate nature of each one, separately.
  13. What does this poem suggest to you about the value of art?
  14. Try to feel and describe the effects of spondaic (double stress ‘dum dum’) rhythm in line 3, as opposed to the predominantly iambic rhythm (light then heavy stress ‘di dum’) in other lines, esp. ll. 4, 7-8 and 13-14.
  15. Keats said the final couplet of the Shakespearean sonnet was apt to have a trivialising effect – do you feel this is so in this poem?

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