21L.021 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate



For all essays, focus on a single character, scene, or even passage in the work(s), and support your point with close reading of the text. Make sure your essay has a point about which someone might take a different view, using evidence in the text. Try to avoid a mechanical, five-paragraph structure, aiming instead to engage your reader in dialogue with your process.

Essay #1 Comic Conflict (Aristophanes) 

Due Session 7 (1000 words)  

Essay 1 Grading Rubric (PDF) (DOCX)

This play about war enacts a dizzying variety of rhetorical and physical conflicts: insult rituals, mock battles, sexual play, choral songs and dances, domestic objects used as weapons, parody, undressing, dressing, and brandishing of body parts, punning, trickery, use of jarring contrast, and perhaps most devastating of all, unexpected kindness.

What is the effect of these conflicts? How do they begin, escalate, and get resolved? Do the combatants get stuck or move beyond the crisis phase? How do they reflect on conflicts taking place off stage—military battles between Athenians and Spartans, political rivalries in government, corruption and greed in trade and the marketplace?

Choose one brief example of a verbal or physical battle that you can analyze in detail. Pay attention to Aristophanes’ language (remembering that you are talking about a translation): patterns of meter and rhyme, word choice, sentence structure, repetition. Write a draft in which you investigate elements of the passage in detail, quoting from the text and developing your point fully. Give yourself room to entertain problems and even contradictions.

When you have a firm grasp of specific elements of the passage, write an opening paragraph in which you propose a question or claim. Use this introduction to frame your close reading, introducing topic sentences and transitions that structure and develop your idea. Conclude with a thoughtful paragraph that opens up your analysis for further reflection. You do not want your conclusion only to summarize material that you have already explained well in the paper, nor do you want to suggest that the subject is closed. You do not need to advance an argument for the whole play. Your reading will offer sustained attention to one small piece of the larger work. Remember that you are writing for people who have read the play and will not need a report on or summary of its content. Present your reading as part of a dialogue among engaged readers.

Use MLA Works Cited format to cite your texts (put page numbers in parentheses after your first quotation) and list the texts at the end of the essay in a Works Cited list. You may wish to write out the passage as an appendix, but do refer to and quote its details within your essay as part of your reading.

Give your essay an evocative title.

Revision of Essay #1 

Due Session 10 (1000 words)

Revision Guidelines (PDF) (DOCX)

You will receive feedback on specific aspects of your essay: ideas and argument, organization, mechanics, and style. Your revision should show that you have addressed the most salient issues carefully. It should also develop the original paper in some visible way: by refining the thesis, considering new evidence and textual details, substantiating the argument, expanding the conclusion. The revision is a new, not simply improved, paper: hence the weight given to substantial refinements. You may draw on new readings or films to amplify your original topic. Please write a cover sheet explaining your revision process.

Essay #2 Comic Love (Shakespeare, Behn, or Austen) 

Due Session 18 (1500 words)

In Twelfth Night, The Rover, and Pride and Prejudice, elements of farce (clowning, mistaken identity, trickery, verbal play, violent transgression) maintain an uneasy equilibrium with the civilizing influence of romantic love. Love conquers all, but the festive conclusion may not fully address the challenges raised by farce. Some characters are not happy or fortunate in the end; some romantic couples face certain tensions; lingering reminders of a darker world lurk outside the sunny circle of wedded bliss. Yet these are all comic works, fully invested in the healing power of love.

Looking more closely at the ending of one of these works, consider the way the author resolves tensions surrounding romantic love. You may focus on a line of text, a character, a plot twist—any detail that reflects the author’s strategy as the work closes. You may want to think about these as speaking to different issues—social as well as psychological, aesthetic as well as ethical, political as well as personal—that have arisen throughout the text. As always, keep your focus narrow and avoid generalizing for the whole work. Use textual details to build your reading of the significance of certain key elements of the conclusion. Here are some possible leads:

  • What has happened to disturbing secondary characters like Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch, Angellica, Lydia and Wickham, or Lady Catherine De Bourgh by the end of the work?
  • Who gets the last word and how does that final statement resonate with the happiness of the wedded lovers or a central theme in the text?
  • Is place important? How has the meaning of Illyria, Naples, or Pemberley changed by the end? Does it nurture festivity or seem somehow “polluted”?
  • What does the ending seem to say about women’s wit? Are wit or satire compatible with love?  

Essay #3 Modern Times (Wilde, Chaplin, Bechdel) 

Due after Session 25 (1500 words)

In this essay, you will have an opportunity to reflect on Melville’s Moby-Dick, Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Chaplin’s Modern Times, or Bechdel’s Fun Home; you may also compare two of these or one with an earlier work you have not written about. With these texts, ideas about social class, identity, gender and sexuality, the nature of art, the body and its appetites, and other themes enter into comic patterns we have seen before. For this paper, you may pursue more independent options in terms of content, medium, or format. In conference, we will develop a topic, focusing on a particular passage or scene, character, or turning point in the text. If you are using film, provide visual details from a particular scene.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
Learning Resource Types
assignment Written Assignments