All Articles
March 12, 2019

The Structure of a Sonnet


The following is an excerpt from the official Shakespeare in Love Production Handbook, which is a guide to all aspects of production from dramaturgy to staging and more. Download the complete Handbook for free on the Shakespeare in Love and Shakespeare in Love High School Edition pages!


Use this lesson to: Understand how to write a sonnet.

Objectives: Participants will…

  • Understand the structure of a sonnet (particularly in the style of Shakespeare)

  • Explore how Shakespeare approached a sonnet’s stanzas to highlight its themes and subject

  • Practice writing their own sonnets from the perspective of a character in Shakespeare in Love


  • Shakespeare in Love synopsis (see pp. 5-6 of the handbook)

  • Paper and pen

  • William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” (Find the sonnet on the internet and then scribe or project the sonnet for all the students to reference.)

  • “Shakespearean Sonnets” activity sheet (see pp. 61-62 of the handbook)

 Time: 45 minutes


Introduction: (1 minute)

The playwright William Shakespeare is known for writing some of the most famous sonnets in history. In this lesson, we will learn the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet and practice writing our own from the perspective of characters in Shakespeare in Love.

Warm-up: (12 minutes)

  1. Write down each of the “Shakespeare Sonnet Must-Haves” below on slips of paper: 

    • Must be 14 lines that are broken down into three quatrains and one couplet (four stanzas)

      • Three quatrains = set of four lines

      • One Couplet = two lines that rhyme

    • Must follow the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

    • Must be about love (or related subjects like envy, heartbreak, friendship, family, passions, favorite things)

    • Must be in iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line)

  2. Divide your class into four or eight groups, and give each group one of the must-haves. 

  3. Prompt each group to take five minutes to create a tableau, catchy tagline, or short scene that will teach their classmates about 
their assigned sonnet must-have. 

  4. Invite each group to present their sonnet must-have. After each aspect of a sonnet is presented, check in with your students to 
see if they need any clarifications on the vocabulary words or concepts presented in the sonnet must-have. 

Hook: (10 minutes)

  1. Next, invite students to take a seat and distribute the “Shakespearean Sonnets” activity sheet. 

  2. Allow your students a few minutes to read the information on the stanzas of the sonnet. 

  3. Call your students’ attention to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” and facilitate a discussion encouraging them to make connections 
between how the stanzas break down and how that manifests within Shakespeare’s famous sonnet on their activity sheet. 

Main Activity: (15 minutes)

  1. Next, distribute copies of the synopsis of Shakespeare in Love to each student and allow them time to familiarize themselves 
with the story. 

  2. After they have finished reading, prompt each student to select a character from Shakespeare in Love. Let them know they 
will write the sonnet from this character’s point of view, and they should consider what the given circumstance is or who this 
character is speaking to throughout the sonnet. 

  3. Once they have selected the speaker and audience for their sonnet, instruct your students to draft their sonnet on the 
Shakespearean Sonnet activity sheets. 

  4. If time allows, encourage student volunteers to share their sonnets aloud for feedback. 

Reflection: (5 minutes)

Facilitate a class discussion using the following prompts:

  • What inspired the sonnet you wrote? 

  • Was the structure of the sonnet and its stanzas helpful in your writing, or did they make it more difficult? 


To purchase your copy of Shakespeare in Love, click here, and to learn more about licensing a production click here!

To purchase your copy of Shakespeare in Love (High School Edition), click here, and to learn more about licensing a production click here!

Photo Credit: Johan Persson