311: Assignments

paper pileWeights

  • Participation/Attendance: 10%
  • Reading Quizzes: 10%
  • Essay #1 (Close Reading): 20%
  • Annotated Bibliography: 15%
  • Essay #2 (Research Paper): 25%
  • Final Exam: 20%



Your participation grade is based partially on attendance but mostly on participating in the class, by whatever means you are capable: classroom discussion, coming to office hours, communicating by email, etc.


Reading Quizzes

There will be four, unannounced reading quizzes. Each one will consist of four simple questions of fact from the plays. The function of the reading quizzes is purely to determine whether you read the text.


Essay #1: Close Reading

Length: 1500 words

Perform a close reading on a short passage from any play on the course. The passage should have a distinct beginning and ending and be somewhere between a dozen to forty lines. The exact length is less important than it being an identifiable “chunk” of text that contains a piece of the play’s plot, a moment of characterization, a poetic construction, or the like. Obviously, soliloquies are the simplest to grab, and guaranteed to be substantial, but you can select a short piece of dialogue.

Discuss your chosen passage at three levels:

  • poetic: meter, sentence structure, imagery, symbol/metaphor, etc.
  • contextual: what they do in the play, how they push/affect/delay plot, how they characterize the speaker, etc.
  • historical: political commentary, contemporary reference, the physical space of performance, etc.

You do not have to arrange your essay into three sections based on poetry/context/history, but I will mark your essay based, in large part, on how well it addresses all three concerns.

For your discussion of material history, your academic edition of the play is sufficient for the assignment. You are not required to do outside research, but obviously, you may do so if you wish. Please be advised that all historical references need to be cited and supported. You may not just go by what you “know.” If you go outside the academic editions, then stick to peer-reviewed journals, academic presses, or period sources.


Annotated Bibliography

Length: 10 entries (see below)

For this assignment, you will find ten (10) sources that you can use for your Research Paper (see below). You will write up those ten sources as if they were in a Works Cited list, and you will annotate each source. You will also write a short proposal for your Research Paper.

Click here for a format sample.

The Citations: Simply write up the texts in MLA format (8th Edition). The texts must be either academic sources (peer-reviewed journals, books from academic presses), or historical sources (contemporary with Shakespeare’s day). Your sources can contain critical arguments about your play(s), theory/methodology, historical analysis, or the like. NB: You may use up to three non-academic/historical texts if you justify them in your annotations (see below).

The Annotations: Write two sentences. The first summarizes the source text, specifically its thesis and evidence (i.e., its main claim and major support). The second explains how this text applies to your essay: how it helps answer the question/address the problem you’ve defined in your proposal. If you use a non-academic/historical text, you must justify it in this sentence.

The Proposal: Write a short paragraph (maximum 200 words) that describes the question your essay intends to answer or the problem it intends to solve. It must also describe the structure of the paper: its sections/subsections and what order they’ll go in. NB: the proposal does not count towards your mark, but it is required for the assignment. If you do not include substantive proposal, you will get an F on the assignment.

Hints and Tips:

  • Bigger is not better. When I say “two sentences,” I mean two sentences: not three, not four, not twelve.
  • Be direct. Do not hint at the thesis of your text. Do no intimate how it applies. Just say it, directly.
  • Get the formatting right! Half your grade is based on doing MLA correctly.


Essay #3: Research Paper

Length: 2500 words

For this assignment, respond to one of the topics below. You will likely alter your topic from the Annotated Bibliography, which is not only permitted but expected. I expect an organized, argumentative essay that uses (and explains) some amount of theory/methodology and relies on secondary sources, both historical and critical. You are not  required to use all ten of your sources from the Annotated Bibliography, but ten sources for a ten-page paper is not unheard of.




Open Topic: Invent your own thesis and pursue your own argument. Come and talk to me about your idea while you’re writing your Annotated Bibliography.


Production Book: Write a brief production book for one of the plays on the course. The length in words should be roughly the same as the essay, but it can also include staging diagrams and other visual design elements. If you find the length of the assignment constricting, which you probably will, you can instead include only a general discussion of your thematic/design approach to the play and then a more specific plan for a single act or series of related scenes.


Screenplay: Write a screenplay for a selected scene or sequence in a play—including camera angles, set design, musical cues, and the like—and include a brief essay (1000 words or more) that explains how your screenplay interprets the text of the play: i.e., emphasizing certain traits of the characters through casting (ethnicity, gender, body type, stars), creating historical/social/political commentary (by moving the setting/time period), bringing out specific emotions or themes (through setting, music, colour palette, etc.), helping a modern audience understand the material (through actions that punctuate the words, through familiar situations, etc.). Remember that you don’t have to be “loyal” to the text. It’s just source material.


Direct Adaptation: Productions of plays are always adaptations in the sense that they interpret the script. The director, producer, actors, and writer all participate in making a version of the play that emphasizes some elements over others. Find a filmed version of one of the plays on the course (not necessarily a movie) and analyze its implied interpretation of the text. Pay attention to which lines/scenes are cut and which are kept, how the actor’s deliver their lines, the period and costuming, the sets and locations, the way the camera moves, etc. Feel free to use theory/methodology from theatre and/or film studies.


Indirect Adaptation: Very often, people use the basic plot and cast of a Shakespeare play and recreate it in a contemporary context, for example Ten Things I Hate About You, O, or West Side Story. Sometimes, they will make metatheatrical adaptations that actively comment on the original plays, such as Looking for Richard, Slings and ArrowsRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Rome, or Kill Shakespeare!. Find an example of such a film, television show, comic book, video game, or the like and analyze how it comments on, reinterprets, and re-presents the original text. Look for plot changes, echoes of the original language, or commentaries based on context.


Play Topics

Please note, these topics are meant to inspire you to create your own essay. You should not simply respond directly to questions asked. You should take them as starting points to find your own argument. Remember, what you’re interested in or excited about is more likely to create an interesting, exciting paper.


Romeo and Juliet: Elizabethan London was a violent place. Research the duelling tradition and/or youth violence in general in England—why people did it, who did it, the Church’s and/or government’s attitude towards it—and describe the play’s commentary on violence among young men, upper-class and/or lower-class.

Titus Andronicus: This play references a great deal of Classical (i.e., Roman and Greek) literature, so much so that it’s almost a side plot. Track the references and comment on how they reflect, comment on, or otherwise enhance the play. That is to say, if an audience fully understands them, how would that knowledge change the play?

Richard III: Richard himself is practically a collection of ostensibly villainous traits: physical “deformity,” violence, selfishness, femininity, witchcraft, etc. How are those traits related to the beliefs and prejudices of Elizabethan England? Does the play comment on or complicate any of those traits?

Midsummer Night’s Dream: The English people still very much believed in faeries at the time this play was originally performed. Research contemporary beliefs about, accounts of, and/or literature on faeries and place the play’s depiction of them into that context.

Henry V: The battle of Agincourt is practically mythological for the English. Compare the actual battle to the play’s depiction of it—including the cult of the English longbow, if you want to—and comment on how the play’s changes might function as propaganda for the Tudor dynasty and/or the growing English empire.


The Final Exam

Due: 9 December 2016 (Friday), 11am (late papers will not be accepted!)
Length: 1000 – 1500 words
Format: MLA (including Works Cited page)

Respond to one of the questions below in the form of a thesis-driven, argumentative essay. Outside research is allowed but by no means required.

NB: Your essay may not focus on a play that one of your previous essays has focused on (“focus,” here, means that your thesis directly addresses it). You may discuss or refer to plays you have previously focused on for this class, but only if you do not repeat any of your own arguments, interpretations, or commentaries from those previous essays (i.e., give me new material).



NB: You may add a second play to one of these topics in order to create a comparison paper, but the second play may not be one that one of your previous essays focused on (see above for definition of “focus”).

Romeo and Juliet: What does it mean when Romeo complains “O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper softened valour’s steel” (3.1.115)?

Titus Andronicus: Compare/contrast Titus with Aaron.

Richard III: Explain how the play’s presentation of Gloucester/Richard valourizes the House of Tudor.

[NB: I have clarified this question. The old text read: “Explain the function Richard perform in the valourization of the House of Tudor.”]

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Explain the significance of the dreams (and “dreams”) in the play.

Henry V: Explain how Falstaff haunts the play.



NB: You may not turn one of these topics into a single-play essay.

Dreams: Compare Mercutio’s dream in Romeo and Juliet to Titus’ visions of the gods in Titus Andronicus.

Propaganda: Compare how Richard III and Henry V function as propaganda for the English monarchy.

Female Agency: Compare any two female characters (below) in terms of their agency:

  • Tamora, Lavinia, Juliet, Nurse, Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, Lady Anne, Hippolyta, Titania, Hermia, Helena, the Hostess (aka, “Nan”), Princess Catherine