Shakespeare Short Papers:
Options and Guidelines

Passage| Design| Film| Influence| Source| Scene| Opening Scene

Criticism| Character| Text| Key Word| Adaptation| Subplot| Context

(a.k.a. close-reading)
  • Analyze Shakespeare's use of poetic techniques (rime scheme, alliteration, assonance, imagery, symbol, paradox, pun, etc.) in one sonnet or in a soliloquy or a single conversation or clearly delimited passage.
  • Follow or adapt the format provided in the sample sonnet analysis.

    Shakespeare's Sonnets (Stephen Booth) contains commentaries on individual sonnets [library reserve]

    (a.k.a. the imagination of Spielberg)
  • Draw up plans (in some combination of words and pictures) for the stage set design and/or costumes for major characters in a single play;
  • Explain your choices in relation to the Shakespeare's characterization and themes of the play.
  • If you set the play in another time period, explain its relevance to that time period.

    See the listings under the Director's Notebook project
    Refer to the various class handouts on designing a stage set and costuming from our discussion of Twelfth Night

    (a.k.a. Siskel and Ebert)
  • Watch at least 1 film version of one of the plays we have discussed in class.
  • Write a review that evaluates the quality of the production and the interpretation of the play presented.
  • Include both plaudits and criticisms in your review, along with brief examples to provide illustration and substantiation.
  • Be sure to list the date of the film version along with the producing agency (BBC, Ency. Brit., etc.) and the leading actor[s] and actress[es]; you can find such information through The Internet Movie Database .

    See the listings under the Film History project

    (a.k.a. F. R. Leavis and The Great Tradition)
  • Research to find one or more later works of literature that were influenced by a particular Shakespeare play. A famous example would be Keats' "Eve of St. Agnes," influenced by ROMEO AND JULIET.
  • Analyze the amount and kinds of influence that the Shakespeare text appeared to exert on the later text--this could be in the areas of plot, characterization, language, theme, etc. (See the rubric at the back of Satin's book for suggestions.)
  • Provide a brief summary--or a copy, if it is short--of the "influenced" work if it is one your professor isn't already familiar with.

    Shakespeare Spinoffs: A Bibliography Arranged by Source Play (compiled by Lawrence Schimel and updated by Hardy Cook)

    (a.k.a. F. R. Leavis and The Great Tradition)
  • Research the sources for a particular Shakespeare play, reading as much from the originals as is reasonable in the time available (reserve books have these already collected for you).
  • Analyze the amount and kinds of influence that the Shakespeare text appeared to absorb from the later text--this could be in the areas of plot, characterization, language, theme, etc. (See the rubric at the back of Satin's book for suggestions.)
  • Speculate on Shakespeare's reasons for adapting his sources in the particular ways he did.

    The information on "Sources" in Bevington's (our textbook's) appendices will identify sources for a particular play
    Shakespeare and His Sources (Joseph Satin) [library reserve]
    The Sources of Ten Shakespeare Plays (Alice Griffith) [library reserve]
    Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays (Holzknecht) [library reserve]
    Terry Gray's pages on Shakespeare's Sources (Biblical, classical, medieval, geographical) and on Shakespeare's Renaissance contemporaries

    (a.k.a. the RSC)
  • Remember that short scenes will work better than longer ones.
  • Analyze the interaction among the characters, looking closely at the clues provided by their language and by any stage directions. First, write up a description of the underlying relationship you perceive to exist between the characters at the psychological level, and explain your reasoning.
  • Then write up a description of how you envision the scene being performed, to include characters' promixity to each other, emotional state, facial expressions, gestures, use of props, etc.

    Think through the questions about performance of the scene that appear on the handout from our MND discussion.

    (a.k.a. Lilliput)
  • Critics have long observed that the opening scene of any Shakespeare play is not just an introduction, but in some ways a miniature version of the play itself--it contains the seed or kernel to which everything else in the play will relate.
  • Analyze the underlying conflicts or tensions reflected in the scene. Explain how these are later set in motion in the play's plot.
  • Analyze underlying metaphors, both at the broad level of symbolism and at the more minute level of imagery and word use. How do these foreshadow themes of the play that Shakespeare will develop more fully later?
  • Compare the final scene of the play (what has come full circle?) and other major scenes in the play (crystallization of conflict, dramatization of central metaphor, etc.).

    (a.k.a. A. L. Rowse and company)
  • Read 2-3 critical articles (or sections of books) on a particular play (readily accessible ones are listed in the STUDY GUIDE pages).
  • Isolate the ideas from these articles that are most fruitful in helping you form your own interpretation of the play. Also pinpoint ideas with which you disagree. Write this up as Section 1 of your paper.
  • Think about, expand, and refine your own interpretation of the play, using the article ideas as catalysts. Write this up as Section 2 of your paper.
  • Append a bibliography listing the articles and/or sections of books you consulted.

    The information in the "Bibliography" in Bevington's (our textbook's) appendices will identify criticism on a particular play

    (a.k.a. Hamlet on the couch)
  • Pick a well-developed (round) character in a particular play and analyze Shakespeare's characterization (interaction with other characters, language, confessions in soliloquys, etc.).
  • Come up with a theory that would provide a holistic, plausible explanation for what makes that character tick (what are his/her values, motivation, goals, etc.).
  • Explain your theory and bolster it with specific observations from the play.
  • A famous example is Ernst Jones' explanation of Hamlet's delay in terms of an Oedipus complex.

    Character and Characterization in Shakespeare (Leo Kirschbaum) may give you some insights into Shakespeare's techniques [library reserve]
    Think through the questions on the class handout "How Does Each Character Think and Feel?"

    (a.k.a. Pictionary)
  • Identify 2-5 key words in the play and note the variety of synonyms for them used in the play. These key words should be words often repeated (or mirrored in synonyms) and fraught with symbolic or metaphorical significance.
  • Discuss key speeches or central passages in the play where these words are used, analyzing their meaning in these immediate contexts. How do these words activate the imagination of the reader or viewer of the play?
  • Discuss any connections of key words with particular characters, either used by them frequently in speaking, or applied to them or associated with them by other characters.
  • Analyze the relationship of these key words to the play's themes or central conflicts. This may include discussion of significant interrelationships among the key words themselves.

    The Oxford English Dictionary [library reference]
    A Shakespeare Glossary (C. T. Onions) [library reference]
    Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare [library reference]
    M. M. Mahood, Shakespeare's Wordplay [library] <--
    The Shakespeare Oracle, where you can find how frequently a word occurs in a particular Shakespeare play and in other Shakespeare plays -->
    Try Statistics of Shakespeare's Plays by Hartmut Ilsemann to get some insights into who is speaking in whose presence
    To search just Shakespeare's poetry, use Shakespearean Poetry Search
    To search Shakespeare at large or within a particular work, use Matty Farrow's Works of the Bard

    (a.k.a. George Lucas)
  • Devise a way to adapt a particular Shakespeare play to a different time period, culture, and/or setting.
  • A famous example would be WEST SIDE STORY (from ROMEO AND JULIET).
  • Write out a brief description of the time period, culture, and/or specific setting in which the play would occur.
  • Annotate the list of dramatis personae to indicate how you would change the characters.
  • Write out a summary of the adapted plot for each of the 5 acts of the play. (You may omit and/or expand particular scenes as you wish).
  • Append a brief explanation of ways your adapatation is consistent with the original Shakespearean play.

    (a.k.a. Variations on a Theme)
  • Pick one play in which the plot and subplot have a clear relationship to each other and to the play as a whole.
  • Analyze and explain the kind[s] of relationship that exist between plot and subplot, noting and explaining any particular character foils.
  • Point out any ways in which the drama is structured to call our attention to these relationships.
  • Indicate how the existing relationships contribute to the overall development of the play's plot, characterization, and/or themes.

    Refer to William Empson's essay on subplots in his Some Versions of Pastoral [available from professor] for some of the kinds of relationships that typically exist between plot and subplot in Renaissance drama.

    (a.k.a. The Elizabethan World Picture)
  • Research one particular area of history or history of ideas that provides background to the original context in which a particular Shakespeare play was written. This is essentially a background study.
  • Summarize your historical findings in Section 1 of the paper.
  • Explain how your findings affect your interpretation of the action, characters, and/or themes of the play, giving both general concepts and specifics to substantiate and illustrate them.
  • Provide a bibliography indicating the nature and extent of your research.

    Shakespeare's World: Background Readings in the English Renaissance (Pinciss and Lockyer) contains essays on a variety of topics [library reserve]