Thursday, November 7, 2013

Illinois Shakes Fest Brings Sonnets Within Range of High Schoolers

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival has begun another unique project, this time involving high school students and Shakespeare's sonnets. Poetry slams for high school kids have been around for awhile, bringing self-expression through rhyme to a wide array of people who might otherwise not consider themselves poets.

But this particular competition isn't about writing poetry. It's about connecting Shakespeare to kids through the sonnets by way of a competition structured something like the familiar spelling bee. Students from high schools in the Bloomington-Normal area will memorize and perform sonnets from the Shakespeare canon in front of spectators and a three-judge panel. Personnel -- what you might call "coaches" -- from the Illinois Shakespeare Festival have been working with these performers to get at what's really happening in the sonnets they've chosen, and the students have already competed at their own schools before advancing to this area-wide event. Just like a spelling bee!

So what is a sonnet? It's a poem of 14 lines with a specific rhyme scheme and structure. Shakespeare wrote 154 of them; their structure consists of three quatrains and a couplet, and the rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. (I am certainly no expert on sonnets, so I hope someone will jump in and correct me if I haven't got that right. Local poet Kathleen Kirk has written sonnets as well as broken sonnets, so let's hope she's reading this and can explicate.) At any rate, it will be interesting to see which of Shakespeare's sonnets, his musings on love, passion and death, high school students have chosen.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read...

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun...

We'll all find out which sonnets appeal to the younger demographic on Wednesday, November 20 at 7 pm at Illinois Wesleyan's Hansen Center. No reservations are necessary and entrance is completely free.

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