Five Methods of Teaching Rhetorical Figures in Sonnet 23: Exemplary Student Essay Posted in Blog

Star Student:  Lika Tian

Author: Tian Lika (Lika)
Program: In-Class TESOL Expert Certification
Essay Date: August 31, 2012

 “Among Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, numbers 1-126 are addressed to an aristocratic young man, beloved of the poet, of superior beauty and rank but of somewhat questionable morals and constancy.” (Zhang Boxiang, 173) In the first 17 sonnets the young man is urged to marry and beget children. “The attitude of the poet toward the friend is one of love and admiration, deference and possessiveness, but it is not at all a sexual passion.” (Zhang Boxiang, 174) However, this Platonic love of a man for a man turns into a kind of homosexual attachment from Sonnet 20. Sonnet 23 is one of them. It follows the usual Shakespearean pattern of three quatrains (four line sections) and a couplet. It also follows the traditional rhyme scheme for Shakespearean sonnets: a b a b c d c d e f e f g g. What’s more important is that it uses rhetorical figures to express and further emphasize the poet’s passion for the young man. After learning five methods for teaching vocabulary, this essay aims to illustrate the usage of the five methods in teaching rhetorical figures on sonnet 23.

“Rhetorical figures, or patterns of figurative language, refer to the tools that make literary works effective, persuasive, and forceful.” (Roberts, 623) They are also called devices, mostly commonly found in poetry. There are a great variety of rhetorical figures, for instance, simile, metaphor, imagery, paradox, apostrophe, personification, synecdoche, metonymy, synesthesia, the pun (or paronomasia), overstatement, and understatement, etc. “All these figures are modes of making comparisons, and they may be carried out through single words, phrases, clauses, and entire structures. Figures enable poets to extend and deepen their subject matter in ways similar to the operation of symbolism.” (Roberts, 623).

As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strengths abundance weakens his own heart;

The first step is to read the sonnet aloud by students. By doing it students feel the rhymes of sonnets. The second step is to explain the first quatrain by teachers. This belongs to “explanations and examples”. The first quatrain describes a state at which the poet is terribly upset and utterly confused about his current situation. Among these four lines, Shakespeare uses two rhetorical figures. One is simile, another is metaphor. “A metaphor is the direct verbal equation of something unknown with something known, so that the unknown may be explained and made clear. While a metaphor thus merges identities, a simile explains the unknown by showing its similarity to the known.” (Roberts, 623) “A simile is distinguishable from a metaphor because it is introduced by “like” with nouns and “as” (also “as if” and “as though”) with clauses.”(Roberts, 624) On the first line, Shakespeare introduces a simile by comparing the speaker to “an imperfect actor on the stage who with his fear is put besides his part”. “as” with clause is the symbol of a simile. Thus, the bewildered performance of the speaker is easy to be felt by readers since almost everybody knows how it feels when one gets on the stage for the first time. Next, the speaker explains the frustrated and confused mood by equating him with “some fierce thing replete with too much rage, whose strengths abundance weakens his own heart.” Here there is no “as” or “like” to indicate it is a simile, which makes it into a metaphor because it is a comparison. For instance, “Your blue eyes are sea” is a metaphor whereas “your blue eyes are like sea” is a simile. Students will have to make new sentences after teachers’ explanations. Next comes to translation or paraphrase of the first quatrain. It begins by stating the speaker’s complex and painful inner world. He is like an unprepared actor who forgets his lines during a performance because his nervousness or he is like a wild animal which is so filled with anger that it does everything in vain. The third method is realia. Use platform as a stage. Ask students to stand on the platform and perform. The aim is to let them feel what it’s like to be put in the spot, rather than a real performance. The fourth method is pictures. Teachers prepare some pictures of performers who are showing nervousness or at a loss what to do. It is a fun activity since students can talk about performers’ unnatural expressions. The last method is gestures. Students are invited to stand in front of class. They are supposed to imitate nervous actors. Students can look at each other and have fun.

So I, for fear of trust, forget to say,
The perfect ceremony of loves rite,
And in mine own loves strength seem to decay,
Oer-charged with burden of mine own loves might;

The second quatrain is about how the off-putting power of love makes the speaker lose confidence. It can be paraphrased as “He doesn’t know how to successfully express his love to the listener. The speaker is weakened and overwhelmed by the strength of love.” Teachers can illustrate the second quatrain. To emphasize the power of love, the sonnet uses an overstatement by describing “the burden of mine own loves might.” “Conferring emphasis, overstatement (also called the overreacher) is exaggeration for effect.” (Roberts, 633) Obviously, one can not feel over-burdened by “loves might”. The pressure and fear of losing someone is highlighted by using an overstatement. Besides, the sonnet uses metaphor by equating the love to “loves might”. As it known to all, love is a kind of intense feeling of human beings. It is not something measured by balances. Therefore, it cannot be weighed. To some extent, the usage of “loves might” is a metaphorical expression. The method “realia” is taught by bringing fresh and withered flower as well as platform scales to classroom. Let students weigh physical objects on platform scales. Present questions like: “Can you weigh you own heart or love on it? If not, how do you describe the value of them?” Then ask students to observe the fresh and withered flowers, feeling the destructive power of nature. Showing pictures of steelyards and old people or withered flowers. Then encourage students to propose questions about them. The last part is to invite students to act like heartbroken after breakups. Plentiful body languages are key points.

O, let my books be then the eloquence,
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more exprest.

These four lines’ meaning is “let my poetry speak for me and be my silent messenger. Let my poetry beg for your love, more than anyone else could say in person.” This is the paraphrase of the third quatrain. The second is to explain it. In this quatrain, the speaker uses two rhetorical figures, which are personification and metonymy. “Personification is the attribution of human traits to nonhuman or abstract things. Poets build on personification to explore the relationships between people and their environments, their ideals, or their inner lives.” (Roberts, 631) Shakespeare personifies the “books” so that “books” can be his defender and speak for him. For example, “When I am sad, my guitar weeps.” “Metonymy refers to the substitution of one thing for another closely identified thing. Its objective is to express new ideas and insights in a new perspective”. (Roberts, 631) On the eighth line, “that tongue” is a metonymy for that person (the rival poet in Sonnet 21). The speaker uses “that tongue” to substitute the rival poet because the latter is good at sweet words. We can find other examples of metonymy: “That man is another Shylock.” Then ask students to make new sentences or write a love letter to someone. The method of “realia” can be presented by finding books or poetries. Ask students to think about the usage of books, specifically love letters. Next fun part is to use pictures. Download some photos or pictures of showing love. It could be any subjects, proposal included. Gestures are good ways to express one’s love. Invite students to stand up and use gestures to show love to somebody without saying words.

O, learn to read what silent love hath writ,
To hear with eyes belongs to loves fine wit.

In the couplet of Sonnet 23, the speaker asks the listener to learn to understand the silent passion and hear with eyes the true essence of love. Here synesthesia is used. The explanation of it could be specific. “Synesthesia is a figure that transfers one thing to another, and therefore resembles synecdoche and metonymy, which is the union of differing sensations or feelings. With the device a poet describes one type of perception of thought with words appropriate to another.” (Roberts, 632) Generally, people hear things with ears and see things with eyes. The speaker asks the listener “to hear with eyes” because sight is the most significant one among four senses. However, people can not hear sounds with eyes. The speaker uses synesthesia to stress his true love for the listener. For instance, taste the music of Mozart; The birds sat upon a tree and poured forth their lily like voice. Students write their own sentences after having comprehended synesthesia. Realia and gestures are not suitable in this couplet. Nevertheless, the method “pictures” can be applied by introducing the movie called Shakespeare in love. Since couplet is the last part of the sonnet, watching this movie is a vivid picture to better understand the background information. After studying the sonnet, students are encouraged to write a sonnet following the traditional rhyme scheme for Shakespearian sonnets: a b a b c d c d e f e f g g. Themes are made by themselves. They can exchange their sonnets and read them in class. At last, students vote for the best one and teachers give compliment.

In conclusion, Shakespeare uses six rhetorical figures (simile, metaphor, overstatement, personification, metonymy and synethesia) in Sonnet 23 to express his ardent but humble love to the young man. We can see that the speaker is in a confused state of mind because he does not know how to express his passion to the listener. At the same time, the speaker pleads the listener to take a notice to him and learn to understand his true love. By using different rhetorical figures, the artistic quality of this sonnet and the strong feeling of the speaker surface from lines. During the learning process, we can use the five methods (translation/paraphrase, realia, explanation and examples, pictures, and gestures) to analyze and study the sonnet in a deeper sense. Students will have a fun and educational class about the sonnet. Five methods of learning make it easier for students to comprehend sonnet 23, including rhetorical figures and meanings. It is more engaging and interesting for students to participate in class activities. What’s more, students are able to move into the analysis, synthesis or evaluation level by understanding the sonnet deeply.

Works Cited
•Roberts, Edgar V. and Jacobs, Henry E. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eaglewood Cliff: Prentice Hall, 1989.