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English 4100 critical response topics, spring 2021

Note that critical response essays have a 300 word minimum and must be typed: responses shorter than 300 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 unless you are using an edition of the novel other than the one ordered for the class and listed on the syllabus. Even without works cited pages, do still follow the MLA conventions for documenting quotations as explained in my quotations page.

Submit critical responses by email before we discuss the play in question.

2.4 Due Tuesday, April 27: Choose one—do not address all three:
a) Quoting the play at least four times to illustrate your claims, discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of Macbeth's positive qualities: how does Shakespeare present him as a protagonist that we can identify with and not condemn from the start as a villain? Why do other characters, such as King Duncan, admire him? How does he seem a particularly human character despite being a savage murderer?

b) Discuss the continuing relevance of this play. How does Shakespeare encourage us to recognize ourselves in either or both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?  Include at least three quotations from Acts 3-5 to illustrate your claims.

c) Open assignment: respond analytically (avoiding plot summary) to whatever strikes you as interesting or significant in the play's final three acts, including at least three quotations to support your observations.

On deck:


Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission:

1.1 Due Tuesday, January 26th: Address one of the options below (just one, not all three):

a) Quoting from the text four times or more to substantiate your claims, explain how the Induction is vitally important in setting up the body of the "play proper." How does the Induction establish themes or motifs that are central to the rest of the play? Explain.

b): Watch any film version of The Taming of the Shrew and discuss the significance of any departures the film version makes from Shakespeare's text: avoid simply stating what these differences are; explain how they effect a particular interpretation of the play or how they affect the "meaning" of the play in substantial ways.

c): Open assignment on Act 5: including at least three quotations to support your claims, examine anything from the last act that strikes you as interesting or significant in any way.

1.2 Due Thursday, February 4thChoose one—do not address both:
a) What comments does Shakespeare seem to be making on his own work as a playwright and an actor through the bumpkins' production of Pyramus and Thisbe? You may consider any of the scenes involving the amateur "players," but your discussion should focus mostly on Act 5 of Shakespeare's play.

b) Give a close analysis of Theseus's speech in 5.1.2-22 (Act 5, Scene 1, lines 2-22). How does he say a lover, a poet, and a madman are similar? Explain in full.

1.3 Due Tuesday, February 16thChoose one—do not address both:
a) Explore and explain Touchstone's assertion that "the truest poetry is the most feigning, and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign" (3.3.17-20)

b) Compare and contrast Touchstone and Jaques as observers of the human comedy, with greater attention to contrast than similarity. What fundamental differences can you discern in their views on life? Include at least two carefully selected quotations from each character to illustrate your claims

1.4 Due Thursday, February 25thChoose one—do not address both:
a) Give a close explication, a line-by-line analytical explanation, of the prince's speech in Act 1, Scene 2, lines 189-211. In effect, translate what Prince Hal says here into your own language and comment on the significance of the passage. How does this passage shade or impact your perception of Hal's character?

b) Defend Falstaff's view of honor, with particular attention to his comments on the battlefield in Act 5, focusing not exclusively on 5.1.127-40, but definitely including this soliloquy. Another place to consider is Falstaff's soliloquy in 5.4.111-28, where he delivers the famous line, "The better part of valor is discretion" (5.4.119-20). How are Falstaff's views on death and honor truly viable or worthy of consideration despite his apparent cowardice?

2.1 Due Tuesday, March 16th: Address one option:
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.

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.

c) In separate paragraphs, quoting from the text at least twice in each part, 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. And also 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.

2.2 Due Tuesday, March 30: Address one option, not all three:
Evaluate Hamlet's character: 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 one of Hamlet's major soliloquies in Act 1, Scene 2 or Act 2, Scene 2, or the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy in 3.1.57-89. Summarize his essential points in the soliloquy and explain what important insights they offer into his character.

c) Quoting from the text three times or more to illustrate your claims, and if necessary citing an authoritative definition of "tragic hero," 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.

2.3 Due Tuesday, April 13: Address one option, not all three:
a) Iago, in Othello, is often considered one of the most evil villains in all of literature: discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of Iago, 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 four times to illustrate your claims.

b) Explore the question of how much Othello is responsible for his own undoing vs. how much Iago is to blame, quoting from 3.4-5.2 at least four times in total, twice on each side of the issue.

c) Discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of "types" of women through Desdemona and Emilia, quoting from 3.4-5.2 at least four times in total, twice in discussing Desdemona and twice in your consideration of Emilia.