Shakespeare (Othello, King Lear or Macbeth)

This essay is an exercise in close reading. You should treat one play, developing your argument by focusing on textual details selected for their capacity to reveal something a reader might otherwise not see about the play. We want you to develop an argument, furthermore, that shows how Shakespeare shapes his themes, how he produces his effects and arguments. For that reason, you might find it useful to think that you will be building your argument by tracking the different schemes through which the play builds its argument.

By far the best starting point for this essay is to identify some connections in the text that have begun really to interest and puzzle you, and to work outwards from that.

Option 1: Write a thesis-driven essay that somewhere in its five pages attends closely to one passage or scene in a tragedy (Othello, King Lear, Macbeth)

Develop an argument outwards from a speech, a section of dialogue, or a short scene that has begun to obsess you, in order to show the implications of its language for the play’s general arguments. Note that your essay should not be a reading just of the one scene, since to show how the passage participates in wider effects you will need to refer to many other sections of the play.  In other words, don’t limit your attention to the chosen scene, but use your interest in it as a lens onto the play generally, as the passage directs you to details elsewhere in the play that you might not otherwise have noticed. This means that it is up to you, of course, where in the argument to deploy the passage (it could come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, depending on the use you ultimately want to make of it in an argument that is bigger than the scene.

Option 2: Write a thesis-driven essay about the time or space of tragedy (Othello, King Lear, Macbeth). In addressing this question, you will want to focus on particular passages, in which you are able to characterize how the play develops its tragic plot in relation to one or both of these fundamental coordinates of theatrical experience.

Note 1: These options are frames for arguments rather than topics. Within these frames, you are free to pursue work on a particular theme or concept or problem that interests you. Indeed, that kind of focus will help you toward a more tightly imagined argument.

Note 2: Give yourself time. You won’t surprise us if you haven’t surprised yourself. Plan to write several drafts as a way of discovering a real thesis and an organization that does full justice to your details.

Type of assignment: Essay

Subject: English


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