Shakespeare Essay TopicsEssay Topics on Hamlet
Essay Topics on Macbeth
Essay Topics on Romeo and Juliet
Essay Topics on Julius Caesar
Essay Topics on King Lear
Essay Topics on Othello
Essay Topics on Henry IV, Part I
Essay Topics on Richard II
Essay Topics on The Taming of the Shrew
Essay Topics on The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare Study GuidesHere you will find a detailed analysis of selected plays, including information on the major characters and themes, study questions, annotations, and the theatrical history of each drama. Please check back frequently for more additions to this page. You will also find extensive explanatory notes and commentary for most of the plays at the bottom of each scene.
Hamlet Study Guide
Macbeth Study Guide
Romeo and Juliet Study Guide
Julius Caesar Study Guide
King Lear Study Guide
Othello Study Guide
The Merchant of Venice Study Guide
As You Like It Study Guide
A Midsummer Night's Dream Study Guide
The Tempest Study Guide
The Two Gentlemen of Verona Study Guide
Much Ado About Nothing Study Guide
Antony and Cleopatra Study Guide
Henry IV, Part 1 Study Guide
Featured Essays and Book Excerpts on Shakespeare's Plays
The Merchant of Venice
Setting, Atmosphere and the Unsympathetic Venetians in The Merchant of Venice
Themes in The Merchant of Venice
A Merry Devil: Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice
Three Interpretations of Shylock
Introduction to Shylock
Shakespeare Sisterhood: Exploring the Character of Portia
Forgiveness and Reconciliation in The Tempest
Magic, Books, and the Supernatural in The Tempest
The Contrast Between Ariel and Caliban in Shakespeare's Tempest
The Relationship Between Miranda and Ferdinand
Shakespeare's Second Period: Exploring Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and the Histories
Introduction to Shakespeare's Malvolio
Introduction to Shakespeare's Feste
Spiritual Grace: An Examination of Viola from Twelfth Night
The Comic Relief of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek
As You Like It
Shakespeare's Fools: Touchstone in As You Like It
Portraits of Human Virtue: A Look at the Characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It
Exploring As You Like It
Stage Rosalinds: The Trouble of Rosalind's Disguise in Shakespeare's As You Like It
How to Study a Play by Shakespeare
Exploring the Nature of Shakespearean Comedy
Shakespeare's Blank Verse
Pronouncing Shakespearean Names
Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
Shakespeare's Audience in his Day
Going to a Play in Shakespeare's London
Entertainment in Elizabethan England
Shocking Elizabethan Drama
Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
What did Shakespeare drink?
What did Shakespeare look like?
Shakespeare's Attention to Details
Shakespeare's Portrayals of Sleep
Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London
Incredible Quotations on Shakespeare's Genius
The second paper, on any of the comedies, is due in class on Monday, December 6th, at the beginning of class; as usual, absence or lateness will automatically mark the paper as late. Punctuality is important; late papers will drop one-third of a grade (i.e., from A- to B+, B+ to B, etc) for each day late. If you have printer trouble, e-mail me the essay (in the text of the message, not as an attachment) prior to class, and follow it up with a hard copy by the end of the day. Papers should be 5-6 pages, stapled, typed, double-spaced, in a standard 12-point font, with one-inch margins, and pages numbered; failure to follow instructions will result in lowered grades. As last time, citations from the text should be in parentheses, in act, scene, and line numbers (i.e., V,ii, 23-25); see Writing Tips for more details on both form and content. Again, what I'm looking for in these papers is a lively and persuasive argument, not just a series of observations. There should be an identifiable thesis statement that asserts what your paper is attempting to prove, and the "proof" should lie in your detailed, attentive analyses of significant passages. I will expect the standard essay form: a clear introduction delineating the paper's thesis, a body of argumentation, and a conclusion summarizing your findings. Your paper should concentrate on only one play, though you may refer to others in passing if helpful to your argument. Try to focus narrowly, and to support your argument with close reading of individual scenes, lines, and words. Use the OED as much as possible to hone your interpretations.
You are not required to answer every question listed in whichever topic you choose; use the questions as suggestions or guidelines to prompt your own approach. If you would like to choose a topic of your own other than the ones listed below, speak to me individually to get your topic approved.
1. A number of the plays we've read showcase twins or doubles, characters who mirror each other in some way: physically, psychically, or in terms of their structural role in the play. Choosing one or more pairs of doubles from a given play, consider what we learn about a character from his or her "twin." To what extent does doubling accentuate or eradicate differences between characters? What is the broader effect of this doubling on the play? What is the effect of twinning across gender lines, as in Twelfth Night? What other kinds of parallels or contrasts are mirrored by the twinned characters? In what ways are twins or doubles quintessentially comic?
2. One of the conventional truisms about a comedy is that it has to end in marriage (or, more often, multiple marriages). Consider the representation of marriage in one of the plays we've read. How does the playwright portray the rewards and costs of being married, and how does marriage affect lovers? Alternately, consider the ending of any of these plays: in what way, if at all, does it fulfill this rule? Do other forms of union, reunion, or reconciliation count? Why or why not? What is comic about marriage, and or about the ending you've chosen?
3. What is the function of an epilogue? What sort of relationship is established between speaker and spectator, and how does this communication reflect on the action in the rest of the play and on the comic resolutions of the plot?
4. Although comedy is often associated with pleasure, as a genre it can be heavily invested in cruelty. Choose a moment in one of the plays we've read that seems to embody this cruelty: Demetrius's dismissal of Helena in the woods, or the treatment of Malvolio, for instance. What is the effect of this scene, and what does it do for the play at large? Why is it here? What is comic about cruelty?
5. What are the claims of male friendship and/or female friendship in these plays? For example, you might study the relationships between Helena and Hermia, Celia and Rosalind, or Sebastian and Antonio (choose one twosome, or compare and contrast any two). How are these kinds of social bonds constructed and maintained? What threatens them? What do they exclude? What ideals, or idealizations, do they enforce?
6. Northrop Frye has written in The Anatomy of Criticism that one of the central themes of
comedy is the "ritual assault on a central female figure." Alternately, many have observed that comedies often feature women in positions of dominance. Which of these observations seems more true to you, and/or what seems to be the relationship between these two assertions? On the former, you might consider Rosalind's use of Phebe, or the plight of Hero; on the latter, the control wielded by figures such as Titania, Rosalind, or Viola.
7. Examine the uses of invective in one of the plays. Think about the insults hurled between Helena and Hermia, Oberon and Titania, and Touchstone and everyone in the forest. What special properties of language are highlighted in insults? Why are they so important to comedy? What do insults tell us about both their speakers and their victims?
8. Consider Shakespeare's representations of rustic spectacles, such as Phebe and Sylvius, or Bottom and the mechanicals. How does Shakespeare portray the "popular," and what is the effect of the parodies he offers? Alternately, examine a moment in which one of the plays reflects on its own theatricality. What conclusions can you draw about Shakespeare's ideas about the theater?
9. Consider the role of tragedy and tragic language in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, or Twelfth Night. What purposes does this infiltration of another genre serve? If comic language is based on wit and deceit, is tragic language more truthful? What does it add to comedy? What is the role of grief in comedy?
10. Consider the role of the fool in any one of these plays. Focus on close reading; what is distinctive about the fool's language, and how does it reflect on the play at large?
11. Consider the role of props in one of these plays. Choose an object which is singled out for attention -- Olivia's ring, for instance, in Twelfth Night, or the poems found on trees in As You Like It. How are these physical objects defined and valued by the play? How might their significance be highlighted in production?
12. Consider the significance of the physical settings of any of these plays. What buildings or natural phenomena are specified, and what is their relationship to the action and themes of the play? How do exits, entrances, and changes of scenery reflect and/or alter the significance of the action within the play? Where and when do characters make references to their surroundings? What sort of language is used to conjure the external world of the play? In what ways does the play's physical setting mirror, or contrast with, its action?
Return to Shakespeare's Histories & Comedies syllabus
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