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Comedy


Major Essay Assignment UPDATED (See page 3 for update)

Worth: 25%
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.


2
ESSAY TOPICS
Select ONE of the following essay questions and write an essay in MLA format.

  1. 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
    and characterization.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
    3
  4. 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
  5. BBC production of Measure for Measure
    https://video-alexanderstreet-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/watch/measure-formeasure/transcript?context=channel:theatre-in-video
  6. And here is the general link for Theatre in Video ASP and Criterion on Demand
    https://www.library.yorku.ca/web/smil/collections/streaming-collections/#video
  7. Various filmic versions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    https://oculyor.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/search?query=any,contains,midsummer%20nights%20dr
    eam&tab=Everything&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&sortby=date_d&vid=01OCUL_YOR:YOR_D
    EFAULT&facet=frbrgroupid,include,9033016792162530215&offset=0
  8. The Importance of Being Earnest URL corrected
    https://media3-criterionpiccom.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/htbin/wwform/006?T=AL040022&ALIAS=AL040022_EC
    C.KF&M=0_k5ejytwr&DSTYLE=0#multimedia_resources_AL040022
    4
    Permissible Required and Recommended Texts for the Major Essay
    Required Primary Texts
    Anglo-Saxon Riddles
    Aristophanes, Lysistrata
    Beckett, Waiting for Godot
    Chaucer, “The Miller’s Tale”
    Ensler, Vagina Monologues
    Gay, The Beggar’s Opera
    Jonson, Volpone
    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.
    Required Films
    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
    the Unconscious
    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”
    5
    ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS:
  9. 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
    evaluation).
  10. Type your essay using Times New Roman font size 12.
  11. Margins must be 1 inch only at the top, bottom, right and left.
  12. Double space your essay.
  13. 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.
  14. Number your pages. Place the page number at the top right-hand corner of each page.
  15. Give your paper a meaningful title!
  16. 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
    information).
    CHECKLIST
  17. 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?
  18. 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?
  19. 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?
  20. Is your essay coherent and well organized?
  21. Are your assertions adequately supported with evidence from the text?
  22. Is the paper clearly written and free of stylistic and grammatical errors?
  23. Does it observe the length guidelines?
  24. 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.
    https://style.mla.org/
  

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