ENG220Y (Prof Percy & R. Ormsby's section): Essay 2

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Due 17 March 2000. Late penalty 2% per day; not accepted after 2 weeks without appropriate documentation (medical note, registrar's letter).

Length: Write a 1500-2000 word (6-8 typed pages) essay on a topic that you have focussed from one of the suggested subjects.

Writing the essay:

Rob's `Writing an Essay', which you received last term, is up on the course web page:

The U of T Writing Home Page has advice on writing academic essays:


You can also work with your college writing centre (and New College's, since you're taking this course) at any stage of the essay-writing process. And don't forget to reread and apply my comments on your previous work in this course.

Documenting your sources:

When quoting from Shakespeare's text, please include parenthetical references to the act, scene, and line number (e.g., 1.4.31 or I.iv.31 or 1.IV.31 - just be consistent). And please give a full bibliographical reference to the edition that you have used in the bibliography. E.g.,

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Edited by Peter Holland. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

You do not need to use secondary sources: close reading and deep thought over a 4-week period can produce a first-rate essay. However, it can be satisfying and helpful to contextualize your ideas about a topic in current scholarship.

It is better to put off reading secondary sources until you have devised a working thesis. That way you'll know what you are looking for. Once you've decided to use secondary sources, you must use a wide range of articles and books. Start with the general guides to Shakespeare scholarship listed on the course syllabus.

You must document all the sources you have used fully and accurately.

of T's Writing Home Page has good advice on how to avoid plagiarism:


Formatting your essay:

1. Please type or neatly print your assignments.

2. On a separate title page, please provide a unique (and interesting) title that reflects how you have focussed the topic; your name & student number; my name; and the date.

3. Do not put your name on the body of the essay. Your essay's title and your student number are my keys to your identity once I've finished grading. Please put the paper's title and your student number at the top of EACH page; number each page at the top right.

4. Please use a paper clip rather than a stapler to hold the paper's pages together. I do comments on the word processor, and it is easier for me to attach them to your essay if I don't have to chew off the staple.

Essay 2: Topics

1. Distinguishing Shakespearean tragedy, Maynard Mack contrasts the protagonist or "hyperbolist" with "the opposing voice, which belongs to the hero's foil, ... expressive of a suppler outlook than the hero's, and of other and less upsetting ways of encountering experience." Identify and describe the opposing voice or voices in Hamlet and King Lear, and, in a well-organized and well-unified essay, compare and contrast one or more of their most important thematic functions.

2. According to Linda Bamber, "the dialectic between King Lear and the outside world is what creates the satisfactions of tragedy". Moreover, she asserts that "like the world outside the Self, women in the tragedies are notably separate from us, governed by their own laws whether their natures are good or evil. The hero can only recognize them for what they are or fail to do so. The effort to control them is useless; neither the feminine Other nor the world outside the Self is within our power in Shakespeare's tragedy." Do you agree with Bamber? Assess her statement with respect to Hamlet and King Lear; in particular, explore the way(s) in which the female characters illuminate the tragic experience of the protagonist.

3. Compare and contrast the thematic function of madness in Hamlet and King Lear. Your answer should include analysis of relevant passages from the plays.

4. Similar assertions appear near the ends of Hamlet (c1600) and King Lear (c1603-1606). `The readiness is all,' says Hamlet (5.1.169); `Ripeness is all,' says Edgar (5.2.11). Incorporate a close analysis of these passages in their dramatic context into a focussed, well organized comparison of some themes of both plays.

5. Compare and contrast the thematic significance of forged letters in Twelfth Night and King Lear. (You can talk about Hamlet's, too, if it becomes relevant!).

6. Many of Shakespeare's plays contain characters (eg Richard II, Prince Hal, Henry V, Hamlet, Claudius, King Lear, Duke Vincentio, Prospero) who manipulate characters and create scenes within scenes for others to play in. Compare and contrast the various ways in which three of these characters manage the action; appraise their success in doing so; and explain the thematic significance of such successful or unsuccessful "stage-managing". Your paper must treat at least one of Hamlet and King Lear.

7. Compare and contrast the structural and thematic function(s) of the family in Hamlet and King Lear.

8. `[King Lear] emphasizes the ways in which the physical body functions as a contradictory signifier ... Caroline Spurgeon long ago noted that perhaps they key recurring image in King Lear was that "of a human body in anguished movement, tugged, wrenched, beaten, pierced, stung, scoured, dislocated, flayed, gashed, scalded, tortured and finally broken on the rack"' (Carroll). In a focussed, well-organized essay, consider some thematic functions of the human body in this play. You can also consider recurring images on stage: hand-holding, removal of clothing ...

9. "Waters, or fluids of all kinds, are continually being forced on our attention [in Twelfth Night]: wine, tears, sea-water, even urine are in evidence from the first scene on, and they are always being metaphorically identified with one another" (Hollander). Identify recurring patterns of water imagery in Twelfth Night, and explain their thematic significance in the play.

10. Compare and contrast the thematic functions of human sexuality in King Lear and Measure for Measure.

11. Compare and contrast the thematic functions of references to the supernatural in King Lear and Hamlet.

12. Hamlet says, `What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties ... and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?' (2.2); Lear says, `Is man no more than this ... Thou art the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art' (3.4). With particular emphasis on these passages, compare and contrast the thematic function of the tragic protagonists' musings on `Man' in Hamlet and King Lear.

13. Editions of King Lear often conflate different texts, quarto and folio. Compare and contrast the Q and F texts of 3.2, 3.4, and 3.6, and, in a coherent and well-organized argument, explain the dramatic/thematic effects of the differences. You'll need appropriate editions of the texts for this topic.

14. Compare and contrast 1.1 of King Lear with its sources and probable sources: what are the effects of Shakespeare's changes? Use Volume 7. Major tragedies of Narrative and dramatic sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Columbia UP, 1978).