Home button


English 2121 critical response topics, spring 2019

Note that critical responses must be turned in as hard copy (printed on paper) and have a 200 word minimum (in the body of the response, excluding name, date, header, etc.): 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.

3.2 Due Monday, May 6th at noon: Follow the link and complete the survey.

On deck:

None--we're done!

Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission:

1.1 Due Tuesday, January 15th: Discuss three or more specific qualities that establish Beowulf as an heroic person in the first 835 lines of the poem. Go beyond focusing simply on events: concentrate on the personal qualities or attributes of the character that would be considered heroic in modern circumstances as well as in the time of the poem. For each of the three or more qualities you identify, quote specific lines of the text to support your claims, following the the mechanics of citing poetry explained in Q4.

1.2 Due Thursday, January 17th: Open assignment. Respond to the second installment of Beowulf however you like, so long as your response is analytical and avoids plot summary (see nugget 1). Comment on any events or aspects of the poem in pp. 58-87 that strike you as interesting or worthy of note. Quote the poem at least twice in illustration of your claims. For the mechanics of citing poetry, see Q4.

1.3 Due Tuesday, January 22nd: Quoting from lines 2200-3182 twice or more to illustrate your claims (see Q4), explore similarities and differences between the Beowulf we see in the final third of the poem and the younger man we have seen in the first two days' reading. How is Beowulf "still Beowulf"? How does fifty years of aging seem to have changed "our hero"?

1.4 Due Thursday, January 24th: Discuss the portrayal of women in "Lanval," or perhaps of the interactions between women and men. How does Marie de France appear to view women in this "lai"? Explain, including at least three quotations to support your observations. See Q4 for the mechanics of citing poetry.

1.5 Due Tuesday, January 29th: The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf presents ideals of heroic tribal behavior as recalled and recorded in the 8th century. Consider how Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a medieval romance written in the late 14th century, suggests different ideals of noble (or chivalrous or knightly) behavior. If Beowulf presents the code of the "heroic pagan warrior," what code of behavior does the first half of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seem to recommend as admirable? Quote the poem at least three times in your response. For the mechanics of citing poetry, see Q4.

1.6 Due Thursday, January 31st: Open assignment: respond to the second half of Gawain in whatever analytical fashion you like, so long as you avoid plot summary (see nugget 1). What strikes you as interesting or noteworthy in the last two parts of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?  Quote the poem at least twice in your response, following the mechanics of citing poetry set forth in Q4.

1.7 Due Tuesday, February 5th: Purely open assignment. Respond with analytical commentary on anything you find important, interesting, or thought-provoking in the "General Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales. Avoid plot summary, and quote the prologue at least three times.

1.8 Due Thursday, February 7th: What significance do you find in "The Miller's Tale" beyond its lewd and vulgar humor? Is Chaucer merely having fun in this story? Is there any serious social commentary about Chaucer's England in this funny, bawdy tale? What in this tale is universal? What statement(s) does this story make about the human condition? About the nature of men and women, together or separately? Explore any of these issues, and any others that suggest significance in the story beyond its obvious humor.

1.9 Due Tuesday, February 12th: Comment on Chaucer's depiction of women as suggested by the Wife of Bath's prologue and tale. Is the Wife of Bath something of a prototypical feminist? Is Chaucer's presentation of her "anti-feminist"? Explore, quoting the prologue and/or tale at least three times in your discussion.

1.10 Due Thursday, February 14th: In "The Pardoner's Tale" Chaucer delivers a fairly straightforward theme or "moral." Explain how this theme has particular relevance in American life today. Or as an alternative, you might broaden the discussion to include the Pardoner's prologue: how is there relevance today in the character of the Pardoner himself? Include at least two quotations to support your observations. 

1.11 Due Tuesday, February 19th: Address one option only, not both:
a) Basing your response on quotations from three or more of the different sections of Morte Darthur excerpted in our Norton text, explain your interpretation of Malory's apparent attitude towards Lancelot. Does Malory seem to admire Sir Lancelot? Does he seem to condemn the knight? Does Malory seem saddened by Lancelot's plight or fate? Does his attitude towards Lancelot change or vary between different segments? Explore these questions and any aspects of the reading that strike you as indicating the author's attitude towards his character, Sir Lancelot. Note that the three quotes (at least three) must come from three different segments of the four divisions in the text.

b) Compare and contrast the depiction of Arthur's kingdom in Malory's Morte Darthur and that in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: identify both similarities and differences. Quote Morte Darthur at least three times.

1.12 Due Thursday, February 21st: Choose one, do not address both:
a) Quoting from the text at least three times to support your claims, explore Spenser's depiction of chivalry in Book 1, Cantos 1-4 of The Faerie Queene. More specifically, consider how Redcrosse demonstrates the same chivalric ideals we saw in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Morte Darthur and also different aspects of chivalry not emphasized so much in Gawain and Morte Darthur.

b) Open assignment: write analytically about any episode or situation in Book 1, Cantos 1-4 of The Faerie Queene that strikes you as notable, interesting, or significant. If you can, you might consider specific ways modern readers can identify with Redcrosse. Be careful to avoid plot summary, and include at least three quotations from our reading in Book 1, Cantos 1-4 to illustrate or substantiate your claims.

1.13 Due Tuesday, February 26th: Choose one option only, not both:
a) Quoting from the text four times or more to support your claims, write an in-depth explanation of the allegorical meaning(s) you find in the battle between Redcrosse and the dragon in Book 1, Canto 11 of The Faerie Queene.

b) Quoting from the text at least three times to support your claims, explore the contemporary relevance of Spenser's depiction of lack of moderation or restraint as sinful (focus only on Book 2, Canto 12).

2.1 Due Tuesday, March 5th: Choose one option only, not both:
a) Give a close, line-by-line (or nearly so) explication of any two poems from this day's reading. You may examine only one poem if it's longer than thirty lines. Translate or paraphrase the substance of the lines into your own language, and explain the essential message of the poem.

b) After reading all the poems assigned for this class day, pick the two that strike you as most powerful or effective in communicating their essential "point" or "message" and explain what makes them so powerful or effective. Quote from each poem at least twice to illustrate your claims.

2.2 Due Thursday, March 7th: Iago is often considered one of the most evil villains in all of literature: discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of Iago in our first installment of Othello, considering in particular his motivation(s) for wanting to bring Othello to misery. Do you see Iago as being motivated by purely understandable, "normal" human feelings, or does he strike you as more truly evil? Explain, avoiding plot summary and quoting the play at least three times to illustrate your claims. See QD4, QD4vd especially.

2.3 Due Tuesday, March 12th: Two things (address both): how does Shakespeare develop Iago as a master manipulator, and why do you think Othello is so easily manipulated by him? That is, in separate paragraphs consider a) how Iago is such an effectively deceptive manager of people and appearances, and b) why you think Othello is so susceptible to being deceived. Include at least one quotation in each paragraph, totaling at least three in the response altogether. See QD4, QD4vd especially. Note that this critical response (only this one!) should be submitted as an email attachment sent to chip@chipspage.com.

2.4 Due Thursday, March 14th: Is Othello more to blame for his tragic undoing, or is Iago? Discuss both sides of the question, and include at least three quotations in your analysis. See QD4, QD4vd especially.

2.5 Due Tuesday, March 26th: How does Shakespeare present the young Henry V, famously a "wild man" in his youth (in 1 Henry IV), as a much wiser and more mature man in the first two acts of Henry V? How is he now a thoughtful, worthy, and effective ruler?  Include at least three quotations to illustrate your observations (see QD4vd). 

2.6 Due Thursday, March 28th: Address one option only, not both:
a) Focusing specifically on Act 3, Scene 1 and Act 3, Scene 3, explore Shakespeare's commentary on the nature of war through Henry's speeches to his men (3.1) and the enemy (3.3). Probe these two speeches closely, and quote each scene at least twice in your discussion (see QD4vd).

b) Explore Shakespeare's depiction of the burden of leadership in Act 4, Scene 1. Think of the "king vs. man" duality, and quote the scene at least three times in your response (see QD4vd).

2.7 Due Tuesday, April 2: Choose one, do not address both:
a) Respond to the king's speech urging his men to battle in Act 4, Scene 3, lines 18-67: how does he encourage them? If you were a soldier serving under such a leader, would you find his argument persuasive? Explain, including at least three quotations to illustrate your claims (see QD4vd).

b) Consider the king's wooing of Princess Katharine in Act 5, Scene 2: how does he show the mixture of "ruler" and "man" in this scene? Do you think he is personally sincere, as a man, in his "winning" of the French princess? Explain (see QD4vd).

2.8 Due Thursday, April 4: Choose one, not both:
Whether or not we are Christian, whether or not we believe in hell, we are all quite familiar with the concepts of Lucifer/Satan and hell. How does Milton's opening description in Paradise Lost of Satan, hell, and its first occupants resemble and/or differ from your own conception of them (or from how you think Christian believers generally conceive them)? Quote from Book 1 at least three times illustrate your claims (see Q4, and especially Q4mp).

b) Open assignment: respond analytically to anything that strikes you as interesting or noteworthy in Book 1of Paradise Lost. Avoid plot summary, and include at least three quotations to support your observations (see Q4, and especially Q4mp).

2.9 Due Tuesday, April 9: Discuss the primary arguments of at least two of the different speakers in the council debate in Book 2 on how the devils should proceed against God. Include the views of at least two of the following: Moloch, Belial, Mammon, Beelzebub, and Satan. Offer at least one quote from each speaker you discuss (see Q4, and especially Q4mp).

2.10 Due Thursday, April 11: Choose onedo not address both:  
Discuss Adam's responsibility for his own fall from Paradise in Book 9 of Paradise Lost . The bible and two thousand years of tradition blame woman for the fall, but in what different ways is Milton's Adam just as much to blame as Eve? Quote Book 9 at least three times in your discussion (see Q4, especially 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 (see Q4, especially Q4mp).

2.11 Due Tuesday, April 16: From its first publication, Gulliver's Travels has delighted readers of all ages. Two things (address both): a) Explain why Part I of Gulliver might be so appealing to children, quoting the text at least twice in illustration of your claims; and b) Adult audiences have found Swift's satire of human behavior through the Lilliputians highly entertaining as well. Quoting the text at least twice more to illustrate your claims, explain how Swift uses the Lilliputians to mock and criticize his own English society (or humankind more generally) in more sophisticated or "adult" fashion.

2.12 Due Thursday, April 18: In Part II of Gulliver's Travels, the Brobdingnag king says, after hearing Gulliver's description of various European customs, "I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." Respond to the king's assessment of "enlightened" European life: how is Swift harshly critical of British and/or European nations and peoples in Part II of Gulliver? Include quotations from at least two different chapters, totaling three quotations or more in your discussion.

2.13 Due Tuesday, April 23: Open assignment: avoiding plot summary, respond in whatever analytical fashion you like to the excerpts of Part III of Gulliver's Travels included in our Norton text. Include at least three quotations from the day's reading. You might want to focus on scholars or academics. . . .

2.14 Due Thursday, April 25: Discuss Swift's scathing commentary on the human race in Part IV of Gulliver's Travels: identify specific different targets of Swift's disgust, and offer quotes from at least three separate chapters to illustrate your claims.

2.15 Due Tuesday, April 30: Respond to Pope's satire in "The Rape of the Lock." First define satire, then explain how Pope is satirizing or ridiculing the behavior of upper class women in particular. Quote the poem at least three times in your discussion.

3.1 Due at the final exam, Thursday, May 2: Review the list of readings we've done this semester and in two or more paragraphs, offer your opinion on why any four of the works we've read are still valuable reading for contemporary Americans lo these hundreds of years later. That is, say how or why you think these four particular works contain relevance for modern readers beyond the simple fact of their presentation of different times and cultures in British history.