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English 2111 critical response topics, spring 2017

Note that critical response essays have a 200 word minimum and must be typed: responses shorter than 200 words will not pass. Avoid plot summary or straightforward retelling of "what happens" in the work—see nugget 1.

Format your response according to MLA guidelines for margins, spacing, name, date, etc., headers, etc. as outlined on my "simple stuff" page. Note that I will not accept critical responses that have any errors in document formatting: responses submitted with any "simple stuff" errors in formatting will be returned to you ungraded, and you will have to fix the errors and resubmit your work to get credit for it. Works cited pages are unnecessary for critical responses. Even without works cited pages, do still follow the MLA conventions for documenting quotations as explained in Q1-4 on my quotations page.

Recall from the syllabus that you do not have to do every critical response assignment, just a total of five over the course of the semester.

Submit critical responses by uploading them, preferably as MS Word documents, in the appropriate critical response "assignments" dropbox in D2L.


Unit 15, Due by midnight Monday, May 1st: Choose onedo not address both:  
a)
Discuss Adam's responsibility for his own fall from Paradise. The bible and two thousand years of tradition blame woman for the fall, but in what different ways is Adam just as much to blame as Eve, if not more so? Quote Book 9 at least three times in your discussion (follow Q4 and Q4mp).

b) Open assignment on Book 9: respond analytically to anything that strikes you as interesting or noteworthy in Book 9 of Paradise Lost. Avoid plot summary, and quote from Book 9 at least three times in your discussion (follow Q4 and Q4mp).


On deck:


Unit FX, Due by midnight Thursday, May 4th: TBA


Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission:

Unit 1, Due by midnight Tuesday, January 17th: Choose one—do not address both:  
a) One general feature of the epic is that it conveys a variety of core ideals from the nation, culture, or people depicted in the work. Quoting from Gilgamesh at least twice to illustrate your claims, explain what traits, qualities, or ideals this epic reveals as important to the ancient Babylonian society depicted in Gilgamesh. For the mechanics of citing poetry, see Q4.

b) If you had to pin down one theme as the central overriding "message" of Gilgamesh, what would this message be?  Identify the most important plot elements or events that help the author deliver this message, and back up your assertions with at least two quotations from the poem itself. For the mechanics of citing poetry, see Q4.

Unit 2, Due by midnight Monday, January 23rd: Choose one—do not address both:
a) Discuss the cultural or personal qualities or ideals The Odyssey suggests were important to the Greeks in the time of Homer, including at least three quotations from different "books" to illustrate your claims. For the mechanics of citing verse in a multi-part (or multi-"book") poem, see Q4, especially Q4mp

b) Explore the development of Odysseus's character or personality in Books 1-12, including at least one quotation from three separate "books" to support your observations. Basically, discuss leading traits or qualities in Odysseus demonstrated through his adventures in Books 1-12. For the mechanics of citing verse in a multi-part (or multi-"book") poem, see Q4, especially Q4mp.

Unit 3, Due by midnight Monday, January 30th: Choose onedo not address both:  
a)
Being careful to avoid plot summary (
nugget 1), discuss the use of deception in Books 13-24 by Odysseus, certainly, and others as well.  Identify different types of deception and analyze the different motives behind each instance of deception you discuss. Include quotations from at least three different "books" to illustrate your claims. For the mechanics of citing verse in a multi-part (or multi-"book") poem, see Q4, especially Q4mp

b) The traditional epic, by definition, focuses on a central character of great significance to his people or nationa king, or a mighty warrior, or a champion of his people in different important respects. And most of the central characters in epics tend to be of high social standing (royalty, nobility, "upper class" in whatever social system the epic portrays). Discuss the thematic importance of common characters in the conclusion of the Odyssey ("common" meaning essentially "working class"). Note that you must speak on matters of theme here: it would be a matter of plot to say that certain common characters "help Odysseus," e.g. Concentrate on how the common characters help convey one or more of the work's overriding "messages." Quote from Books 19-24 at least three times to illustrate your claims (see Q4, especially Q4mp).

Unit 4, Due by midnight Monday, February 6th: Choose onedo not address both:
a) Frequently one of the most difficult and widely debated elements in the Aristotelian conception of tragedy is the catharsis. According to his Poetics, Aristotle believed that a tragedy should arouse pity and fear in the audience for the purpose of purging these emotions in the members of the audience themselves. How do you think readers of Oedipus are supposed to feel "better" after reading this play? Focusing specifically on pity and fear, explain how viewing or reading a tragedy can be a positive experience for the audience.

b) Discuss the play's opposing philosophical or religious views involving fate or destiny vs. humanity's responsibility for our own lives. While the play expresses views on both sides of the debate, which side does Sophocles seem ultimately to endorse? Discuss, offering at least two quotations supporting each viewpoint on the issue (four quotes total, see Q4). 

Unit 5, Due by midnight Monday, February 13th: Identify and explore two or three different ways the ancient Medea still holds great relevance for readers today. Address each different avenue of relevance in separate paragraphs, and include at least two quotations in support of each main point (four total, minimum).

Unit 6, Due by midnight Monday, February 20th: Choose one—do not address both:   
a) Compare Aeneas with Odysseus as an epic hero: what qualities in Books I-IV does Aeneas share with Odysseus, and even more, how does Virgil's portrayal of Aeneas in these books make him a radically different character from Odysseus?  Include at least three quotations, and don't forget the mechanics of citing verse in a multi-part (or multi-"book") poem: see Q4, especially Q4mp.

b) Discuss Virgil's portrayal of the relationship between Aeneas and Dido in Book IV, citing the text at least three times to illustrate your claims; here, too, don't forget the mechanics of citing verse in a multi-part (or multi-"book") poem: see Q4, especially Q4mp.

Unit 7, Due by midnight Monday, February 27th: Discuss the code of chivalric (knightly) honor presented in Song of Roland, being careful to avoid plot summary and including three or more quotations to support your observations (following the MLA guidelines for quotations of verse as outlined in Q4). Essentially, discuss what the poem suggests makes an ideal knight.

Unit 8, Due by midnight Tuesday, March 7th: Discuss contemporary relevance in any of the excerpts we're reading from The Thousand and One Nights (vol. B, pp. 552-82), including at least three quotations to illustrate your claims.

Unit 9, Due by midnight Monday, March 20th: Choose one—do not address both:  
a) How is the view of chivalry very different in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from that we saw in Song of Roland? That is, compare and contrast the notions of ideal chivalric behavior in the two poems, including quotations from at least two different "fittes," or parts, of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

b) Open assignment: avoiding plot summary, comment on whatever strikes you as interesting or significant in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, including at least three quotations from the poem to illustrate your observations.

Unit 10, Due by midnight Monday, March 27th: address onedo not address both:  
a)
Quoting the text at least three times to illustrate your claims (follow Q4 and Q4mp), explain how Dante's first seven circles of hell resemble and/or differ from either your own personal conception of hell or from the common Christian conception of hell as you understand it.

b) Quoting the text at least three times to illustrate your claims (follow Q4 and Q4mp), explore the difficult and seemingly contradictory notion of God being a merciful God and the ultimate need for such harsh justice as the eternal torture of the damned for their sins in life.

Unit 11, Due by midnight Monday, April 3rd: Choose onedo not address both:  
a)
Quoting from Cantos 17-34 at least three times to illustrate your claims (follow Q4 and Q4mp), argue both for and against Dante's ranking of treachery as the gravest of all sins. That is, in separate paragraphs, explain how Dante's ranking of treachery as the worst of all sins may be seen as accurate and also how some might see any other particular sin(s) as worse than treachery. Indicate which side of the argument you believe yourself, and explain why.

b) Open assignment: respond analytically to anything that strikes you as significant or noteworthy in Cantos 17-34 of the Inferno. Avoid plot summary (nugget 1 on chipspage.com) and quote the text at least three times in support of your analysis (follow Q4 and Q4mp).

Unit 12, Due by midnight Monday, April 10th: Choose onedo not address both:  
a)
Discuss Don Quixote's notions of what it means to be chivalrous or "knightly." From Cervantes's mockery of it in the novel, identify key elements of the "chivalric code" presented in the types of romances that have driven Don Quixote "mad," including at least three quotations to support your claims.

b) Write a brief parody of some common genre of book or film in today's world following Don Quixote as a pattern—that is, in 400 words or less (no more!), tell a brief story of someone whose "madness" consists of believing life to be like it is portrayed in some specific fiction, film, or TV genre from our own time. Be sure you understand this topic: you have to write a brief story about a character whose madness resembles Don Quixote's, believing that life is actually like it's portrayed in the genre you choose, and the madness should definitely conflict with reality.

Unit 13, Due by midnight Monday, April 17th: Follow instructions for citing poetry and drama in verse in Q4 and Q4vd carefully. Address one option, not all three:
a)
Evaluate Hamlet's character as it's established in our first reading of the play. What kind of person is he? What are his personal strengths and weaknesses? In addition to what we learn of him through his own speeches and actions, what do we learn about him from other characters? Explain, including quotations from at least three different scenes to illustrate your observations.

b) Quoting from the text at least four times to support your claims, give an in-depth analytical interpretation of either one of Hamlet's first two major soliloquies (I.ii.129-59 and II.ii.501-559). Summarize his essential points, and explain what important insights they offer into his character.

c) Quoting from the text six separate times or more, give a close analytical interpretation of Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy (3.1.57-89). Going line-by-line, or nearly so, translate what Hamlet is saying here into modern English.

Unit 14, Due by midnight Monday, April 24th: Follow instructions for citing poetry and drama in verse in Q4 and Q4vd carefully. Address one option only, not both:
a) Quoting from the text three times or more to illustrate your claims, explain how Hamlet can be seen as a traditional tragic hero, complete with his ultimate fate being determined by hamartia (the "tragic flaw" or failing of character that leads to his undoing) and possibly by hubris as well—hubris meaning the arrogant overstepping of the bounds of one's destiny in defiance of typical moral principles.

b) Open assignment: respond analytically to anything that strikes you as significant or interesting in Acts 4-5 of the play. Avoid plot summary and quote the play at least three times in support of your analysis.