Major Essay Assignment UPDATED (See page 3 for update)
Length: 8-10 pages (This does not include Works Cited)
Other: 1 or 2 primary texts (unless otherwise indicated) from our course syllabus
Other: 1 recommended text from our course syllabus
Other: 1 secondary source must be included (not on course syllabus)
Other: Upload essay to Turnitin by the due date
Other: Submit Academic Integrity Checklist
Note: Papers without the checklist will not be marked!!!
See pages 5 and 13 of the course syllabus.
Use desktop computer or laptop rather than cellphone
Other: Follow MLA formatting and citational guidelines
Reminder: Please be very careful and thoughtful before you upload your essay to Turnitin.
You WILL NOT be permitted to resubmit work.
The goal is critical analysis supported by well-chosen references from primary and secondary
readings in the form of both direct quotations and paraphrases (use in-text citations). The topics
are broad and will need to be narrowed; establish your particular focus in your introduction. Use
recommended course text to create a theoretical framework.
You must include two secondary sources in your essay. One secondary source must be a
recommended reading. The other secondary source must be one which you select. Be sure to
select a secondary source which is relevant to your paper. A relevant article/book is one that
deals directly with the primary text about which you are writing and has something worthwhile
to say about your thesis topic. This relevant, secondary source must be reputable (no Wikipedia,
Spark Notes, etc.) and can be a critical article or a book. For example, if you are writing about
point of view in a story, a relevant critical article/book must say something worthwhile about
point of view in the story.
A comparison essay still requires a thesis argument, so make sure that you don’t just offer a
comparison (i.e., like a grocery list); instead, the comparison should prove a point about the two
texts (for example, that one text is more successful than the other, that both texts use the same
device but for different purposes, that there is a particular aspect of the technique that both texts
use or avoid, etc.). Remember that one cannot argue a fact, so don’t try to argue something
obvious about both texts (for example, “Both texts use point of view” is not an argument, but
“Both texts use first-person narration in order to make the reader sympathize with an unsavoury
character specifically so the reader will develop a feeling of resentment towards the narrator” is a
solid thesis argument.
Select ONE of the following essay questions and write an essay in MLA format.
- William Wycherley’s The Country Wife and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being
Earnest are both comedy of manners. In The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary
Terms, Chris Baldick defines comedy of manners as,
A kind of comedy representing the complex and sophisticated code of behaviour
current in fashionable circles of society, where appearances count for more than
true moral character. Its plot usually revolves around intrigues of lust and greed,
the self-interested cynicism of the characters being masked by decorous pretence.
Unlike satire, the comedy of manners tends to reward it’s cleverly unscrupulously
characters rather than punish their immorality. Its humour relies chiefly upon
elegant verbal wit and repartee.
Compare and contrast these two plays, paying special attention to genre, historical period
- Critically analyze three or four characters (preferably from a similar class, gender, age,
etc.) from different texts on our course syllabus. The texts should be from different
historical periods (i.e., Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and Eighteenth
Century, Victorian, Twentieth/Twentieth-First Century). Study the persistent,
evolutionary, and/or revolutionary treatment of the comic character. Is there a
relationship between the comic character and changes in the society? How do these
characters relate to the audience? Are the characters more realistic, more or less heroic,
closer or further away from the intended audience? How social, political, economic,
and/or philosophical change affects the focus of comedy.
- Compare and contrast a comedy on our reading list written pre-twentieth century with a
comedy from the twentieth or twentieth-first century. What does your comparison
suggest about comedy? What is comedy? Can comedy be delimited by a single
definition? Is it preferable to ask what is the function of comedy rather than what is
comedy? Has the “essence” of comedy changed from one historical period to another?
What historical factors might have contributed to the change(s), if any, in the “essence”
of comedy from one historical period to another? You might consider audience,
characterization, characters, representations of society and/or women, themes, etc. in
your discussion/analysis of the two plays.
- Our course has focused on the interrelation between comedic texts. The individual text
does not stand in isolation, but develop out of and/or in resistance to antecedent comedic
texts and comedic theory. This essay topic offers you to opportunity to analyze the
interrelation between a text on our course syllabus and its filmic or theatrical adaptation.
Sarah Casey Benyahia and Claire Mortimer’s argument should guide your comparison
between the literary text and the filmic/theatrical adaptation. They write,
…analysis of film language is the basis of informed interrogation of the film
text…within an individual scene there will be significant shifts in lighting,
costume or camerawork which contribute to the creation of
meaning…Performance cannot be studied in isolation, as it is clearly created by
the interplay of camerawork, editing, lighting, sound, costume and other aspects
of mise en scène. (68)
Select a key scene in the literary text and the corresponding scene in the filmic/theatrical
adaptation. Compare the comedic language in both the literary text and the adaptation.
The literary text might, for example, use mistaken identity, puns, repartee, double
entendres, etc. In comparison, as Benyahia and Mortimer explain above, film has its own
language. How does the scene in the literary source text and the adaptation contribute to
your understanding of the issues, challenges, ambitions, and politics of comedy?
Benyahia, Sarah Casey and Claire Mortimer. Doing Film Studies: A Subject Guide for
Students. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.
SOME POTENTIAL SOURCES FOR ADAPTATIONS
- BBC production of Measure for Measure
- And here is the general link for Theatre in Video ASP and Criterion on Demand
- Various filmic versions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- The Importance of Being Earnest URL corrected
Permissible Required and Recommended Texts for the Major Essay
Required Primary Texts
Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Chaucer, “The Miller’s Tale”
Ensler, Vagina Monologues
Gay, The Beggar’s Opera
Lear, From The Book of Nonsense
Plautus, Menaechmi: Prologue, Act 1: scenes 1 and 2
Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
Wycherley. The Country Wife.
Hawks, Bringing up Baby
Raynr, Martin Lawrence: Runteldat
Recommended Secondary/Theoretical Readings
Freud, “The Motives of Wit and Wit as a Social Process.” from Wit and Its Relation to
Frye, “The Mythos of Spring: Comedy.” from Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
Gruner, Chapter 1 “Win or Lose: The Games We Play.” The Game of Humor: A
Comprehensive Theory of Why We Laugh
McGraw and Warren, “Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny”
- Provide evidence to support your ideas by using short quotations from the literary,
secondary and/or filmic sources (to quote from films, please use subtitles, if possible).
Any quotations should be correctly cited – refer to the MLA Handbook. AVOID LONG
QUOTATIONS (your arguments are central to this paper) AND AVOID
DESCRIPTIONS AND SUMMARY (your essay should present an ANALYTIC
- Type your essay using Times New Roman font size 12.
- Margins must be 1 inch only at the top, bottom, right and left.
- Double space your essay.
- Do not use subheadings in your essay. Do not leave gaps between paragraphs. Simply
start a new paragraph on the next line, indenting the first line of your new paragraph.
- Number your pages. Place the page number at the top right-hand corner of each page.
- Give your paper a meaningful title!
- Follow MLA style for formatting, citing quotations, and providing a Works Cited page
(The work cited page is not included in the length requirement; see page 1 for more
- Have you done what the assignment asked you to do?
a. Analyze “to separate (a material or abstract entity) into constituent parts or
elements. To determine the essential elements of a thing?
- Does your introduction lead up to and provide a context for your thesis statement? Does
the thesis statement clearly address the topic and formulate your central argument?
- Is your analysis convincing? Does it demonstrate a good grasp of the texts and of
concepts relevant to your topic? Does the paper and go beyond ideas made in the lectures
and class discussions?
- Is your essay coherent and well organized?
- Are your assertions adequately supported with evidence from the text?
- Is the paper clearly written and free of stylistic and grammatical errors?
- Does it observe the length guidelines?
- Does it use MLA formatting and citational guidelines? The English Department requires
that you use MLA style to format your paper; this information is published in the MLA
Handbook. Below, you will find a link to SPARK which provides important information
about MLA formatting guidelines. Use the latest edition (8th edition) of the MLA
Handbook because formatting guidelines can change from one edition to another.