English 4100 paper assignment

Write an analytical or argumentative essay on a topic of your own choosing, focusing narrowly on one or more of the plays we've read:The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, 1 Henry IV, Henry V, and Hamlet. Your paper must meet each of the following requirements. Read these requirements carefully, more than once!

  • The paper must be 8-10 pages in length, 2400 words minimum, 3000 words maximum (in the body of the essay, excluding headers, name, date, title, works cited entries, etc.).

  • Your work must be formatted carefully and correctly, following MLA guidelines as outlined on my "simple stuff" web page. Papers not following these very simple conventions of formatting will be returned un-graded and will receive late penalties depending upon how many days it takes you to format them correctly.

  • A minimum of ten quotations from the play or plays you examine is required: ten is an absolute minimum—you may certainly offer more than ten to illustrate or substantiate your primary claims thoroughly and effectively.

  • You must incorporate some research into this paper, offering quotations from at least four secondary sources of legitimate scholarly criticism or commentary on the work(s) you examine. You should not consult any world wide web pages outside of our course materials while preparing your paper. You have access to scholarly articles and other materials in full-text electronic form via the MGA Library.

  • All quotations and other source material must be documented according to MLA guidelines as outlined on my "quotations" page, including the MLA conventions for citing poetry (Q4) and drama in verse (Q4vd). A works cited page is mandatory even if you cite only one play.

  • Due Tuesday, April 6th, turn in a paper proposal in the form of a topic sentence outline, beginning with the question your essay will strive to answer, followed by each body paragraph's complete topic sentence as it will appear in the essay itself, and ending with a thesis statement that a) answers the question you are addressing, and b) ties together the primary points in your topic sentences. The question you raise for this outline should be a literal question—an interrogative sentence ending in a question mark, not merely a statement of what your topic is. You may send your topic sentence outline in the body of an email message—that is, it’s not necessary to send the outline as an attachment. For full explanation of a topic sentence outline, including examples, see the paper proposal assignment page.

  • The real challenge here will be to arrive at a viable topic, one worthy of exploration in a senior-level college English course. See especially the first item below (excerpted from "grades and grading criteria" at chipspage.com). I have been of two minds on whether I should assign specific options for you to address in this paper, but I think it's an important element of any literature class that you explore and establish angles of critical analysis in formal papers on your own.

    Feel free to take any matters from our discussions and critical responses as a starting point for greater development in this paper. I also urge you to consider points of connection or comparison between different works we've read this semester.

    Feel free, of course, also, to email me or telephone if you want guidance in arriving at a topic for exploration. The starting point would be to set up a literal question such as you will need to begin the paper proposal. Do indeed let me know if you struggle in thinking of a viable topic!

  • From " Matters of course: the bedrock basics" (from chipspage.com, "2000-4000 grades"):

    In order to receive a passing grade:

    • An essay must first and foremost address a viable topic, meaning that if you are given a specific assignment for the essay, your paper must address the assigned topic squarely, directly, and fully. In the absence of a specific assigned topic, the essay must set up and address a topic genuinely worthy of exploration at the college level. . . . Here's one quick illustration: a beautifully written paper proving that Hester Prynne is treated harshly in The Scarlet Letter for her sin of adultery would receive a quick F because the point is too obvious to need elaboration: any reader of the novel would know that Hester is treated harshly simply from reading the book. Your essay should develop a thesis that will enlighten your readers: you should present and develop significant argument or analysis that goes beyond simply stating the obvious.

    • Secondly, every essay must meet all specified assignment requirements. For instance, if an assignment stipulates that you must incorporate a personal anecdote from your own life and you do not include one, your essay has no chance of passing however brilliant it may be in other respects. Or if you are asked to incorporate quotations from four sources and you cite only two? No chance to pass.

Note: As always, feel free to contact me by email or telephone for help. If you would like to meet face to face but my office hours don't mesh with your schedule, let me know, and we'll make other arrangements.

Okay, here are a few possible topic options:
Note that in all options below you are restricted only to plays we have read for this course. Comparisons or other significant concentration on plays we have not read is off-limits for this assignment.

  • Examination of the social norms or expected behaviors according to sex or gender as established in any three of the plays we've read thus far: The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, 1 Henry IV, Henry V, and Hamlet. Note that you must focus on norms or expectations for both male and female behavior. To reiterate, the focus here is on behavior expected of males, as males, and women, as women, as demonstrated in any three of these plays.

  • In-depth examination of psychological realism in any three or four characters from the plays we've read thus far: The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, 1 Henry IV, Henry V, and Hamlet. Explain what makes Shakespeare's portrayal of these characters convincingly realistic.

  • Examination of Shakespeare's use of disguise or role-playing to deliver a specific statement about the human condition, or theme, in any three of the plays we've read: that is, explain how Shakespeare uses characters' disguising themselves or playing artificial "roles" before others to make some statement about humanity that transcends the specific plot situations in the plays, commenting on human behavior in the "real world," beyond the plays.

  • Exploration of Shakespeare's commentary on his own art and/or theatrical drama more generally in any two or more of the plays we've read thus far: The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, 1 Henry IV, Henry V, and Hamlet.

  • In-depth examination of legitimate and meaningful wisdom about life, society, or humanity conveyed through Touchstone and/or Falstaff
  • In-depth examination of different notions of honor, or honorable behavior, in 1 Henry IV, as explained by or conveyed through Prince Hal, Hotspur, and Falstaff.

  • The use of contrasting paired characters, or foils, to deliver specific themes or statements about humanity in 1 Henry IV and Hamlet.

  • Shakespeare's commentary upon fathers and sons in 1 Henry IV.

  • The significance of comedy or comic characters (beyond mere comic relief) in both history plays.

  • Shakespeare's presentation of history in both history plays: compare/contrast with his sources or with what we know today of the history in these plays.

  • Shakespeare's commentary upon effective leadership in one or both history plays.

  • The conflict between "man" and "ruler" in one or both histories: the difficulty of being both man and king (and/or prince).

  • The king's powerful rhetoric (artful persuasion) in Henry V.


  • Offer concrete evidence (i.e. quotations) to support every one of your major assertions.
  • Make every body ¶'s topic sentence answer the topic sentence outline question directly.
  • Avoid plot summary: see nugget 1; introduce all quotes: see nugget 3.
  • Sweat the details: see the "Golden Rules," "Nuggets," "Simple Stuff," and "Quotes & Documentation" pages and proofread carefully.