Critical Paper

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PLAY OPTIONS- The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Midsummer Night’s DREAM, The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, or Romeo and Juliet


Critical Paper Prospectus (5%)

On or around the 10th week (See Course Schedule for Due Date) you will submit a detailed prospectus for your Critical Paper. The prospectus will include the following:

-Proposed Title

-Research Question

-Minimum 3 Critical Sources and 1 Primary Source

-Minimum 300 word discussion of your research topic, question, how you intend to approach your analysis, brief outline.


The Critical Paper (20%)

You will also write a critical paper on a topic related to Shakespeare. You may choose to do an in depth analysis of one of the plays, a detailed character analysis, an explication of themes, a discussion of staging or possibly staging options for one of the plays, or any other relevant topic. If you are an elementary/secondary education major you may wish to research teaching Shakespeare through performance; however, this is not an informational paper, so you must have arguable thesis. Remember–this is a literature class, not an education class, so your paper must include in depth critical analysis of a play or plays. In other words, while you may use this as an opportunity to further explore the pedagogy of teaching Shakespeare through performance, the paper must still contain a substantial and well-developed critical and literary core. Do not include biographical information on Shakespeare—your audience for this paper is your peers, and they will already to quite knowledgeable about Shakespeare’s life and times. Including biographical details will be viewed as mere “filler,” and will not count toward the required page minimum. There are endless possibilities for topic choices. If you have an idea other than those suggested here, run it by me, and we’ll discuss possible ideas for developing your topic. Please keep in mind that this is a critical paper and is not merely informative. Be sure to have a recognizable thesis statement/argument.

**Please Note: Source materials such as Cliff’s Notes, Monarch Notes, Spark Notes, etc. are not acceptable critical sources. Do not use them. You are to research college-worthy critical materials such as the scholarly journals Shakespeare Quarterly, ELH (English Literary History), and books of criticism/critical essays. Each Folger edition of the play lists many excellent critical sources for that particular play. The use of unapproved sources will result in a grade of “F” for that assignment.

Be careful of websites. Be sure you have checked the authenticity of any website materials you use. There are several excellent websites on Shakespeare, but quite frankly, there’s a lot of junk out there as well. I strongly recommend you stick to peer-reviewed critical sources such as those available Library databases or published books. Two exceptions are the Folgers Shakespeare Library website and The Chicago Shakespeare Theater website.


  • 9-10 pages (of text not including Works Cited page), double-spaced, standard margins, 12 point Times New Roman font

2. MLA documentation style

3. Minimum 5 critical sources in addition to the primary source or sources. Each

Folder edition of the play lists many excellent critical sources. You should also

use Shakespeare After All as one of your 5 critical sources. (Be sure to quote

from the play itself and cite the play as a primary source.)

4.Topic Selection:

If you have taken Literary Criticism, a good choice might be to compare and

contrast a variety of critical views of one of the plays. Do these changes reflect changes in society?Or do they demonstrate something entirely different? Be sure to identify the specific literary theories and theorists, discussed and how those theories inform our understanding of the play today.

If you have not taken Literary Criticism yet, you may elect to write your paper on a major theme and and trace that theme throughout the play. Be sure to take a critical approach. Why have you chosen this theme? What is Shakespeare telling us about the nature of people? What can we learn from his treatment of this theme.

Another option is an in depth character analysis. Be sure to extend your analysis to a discussion of character motivation and how the role of this character furthers our understanding of Shakespeare’s theme.

Writing Evaluation Criteria

Any piece of writing reflects the choices made by the writer—choices in response to his or her understanding of the purpose of writing, its intended audience, and the form (or genre) the writer takes. These criteria attempt to evaluate the writer’s choices.

The A Paper

The assignment’s requirements are met. The writer is in command of the essay’s ideas; details to illuminate or support those ideas are specific, relevant and carefully crafted or presented. The work is tightly unified, and ideas are arranged logically with creative transitions. The introduction is original; it provides necessary context and engages the reader; the conclusion provides new insight and leaves a strong final impression. The writer’s sense of style is reflected in a variety of sentence constructions and sophisticated word choices; there are virtually no mechanical errors. Finally, if needed, MLA documentation rules have been applied precisely. The piece thoroughly satisfies, compelling the reader to think, reflect, or act.

The B Paper

The assignment’s requirements are met. The writer is in consistent control of the ideas of the essay; details to illuminate or support those ideas are specific and relevant. The organization and use of transitions are consistent. The introduction provides a context for the writing, but may miss the opportunity to fully engage the reader; the conclusion doesn’t repeat but rather pulls the essay’s ideas together. The essay demonstrates awareness of stylistic choices, in spite of a few mechanical errors (none of which are distracting to the reader or impede comprehension). Finally, if needed, MLA documentation rules have been applied with few formatting errors. The piece adequately satisfies, offering the reader some opportunity for thought and reflection.

The C Paper

The assignment’s requirements are met. The writer seems initially in control of the ideas of the essay, but is unable to maintain it; details to illuminate or support the essay’s ideas are typically relevant and/or specific. Organization is inconsistent, with few effective links between ideas. The introduction does not engage and provides little context for the reader; the conclusion repeats what’s already been said. The sentences demonstrate little awareness of stylistic options; mechanical errors are somewhat distracting, but generally do not distort the meanings of sentences. Finally, if needed, MLA documentation rules have been applied; formatting errors don’t mislead or confuse the reader. The piece prompts no further thought or reflection, leaving the reader indifferent.

The D Paper

The assignment’s requirements are not met. The writer maintains a false sense of control over the essay’s ideas (by mistaking a statement of purpose for a main idea, for example); details meant to illuminate or support the essay’s ideas are often generic and/or irrelevant. The organization is confusing, with little or no attempt at linking ideas. The introduction is unoriginal and fails to provide enough context for the reader; there is very little attempt at closing the essay. Sentences tend to be monotonous, with multiple mechanical errors that distract the reader from or even distort the ideas of the essay. Finally, MLA documentation rules have been attempted, but formatting misleads or confuses the reader. The piece is dissatisfying; it frustrates the reader’s attempts to further engage with the essay.

The F Paper

The assignment’s requirements are not met. The writer has no control over the essay’s ideas; details are severely lacking or missing altogether. The organization is incoherent or illogical, with no transitions between ideas, creating a total lack of unity. There has been no attempt to introduce or close the essay. Mechanical errors are distracting to the reader, distort meaning, and ultimately negate the writer’s credibility. MLA documentation rules, when needed, have not been attempted. The reader feels that his or her time has been wasted.

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