Purpose: The purpose of the lenses writing assignments is to allow students to practice discussing Shakespeare’s plays in a specific context. Since Shakespeare is written about and discussed in so many different contexts, you will be applying the lens of one of four different contexts (literary analysis, pedagogy, performance, and popular culture) to your analysis of the play.
Specifications: Mini writing assignments should be approximately 800-1200 words long.
Lenses: As stated above, for each assignment, you will choose a lens through which to situate your writing rhetorically. The lenses are explained below, along with the assignment choices for each lens.
A. Literary Analysis: This lens is the most traditional province of college-level literary study: the analysis and explication of literary texts. Literary critics use a wide variety of theoretical approaches, but all literary analysis is grounded in the purpose of helping readers achieve a greater understanding of the text. You have two options for the literary analysis assignment:
1) Using one of the articles or book chapters assigned for the week, in your short essay, briefly summarize and then respond to the author’s argument. You should consider the following in your summary and response:
-The context of the original article (publication date, journal it was published in, etc.)
-The article’s place in the critical history of the play (you may have to research this)
-The intended audience (Shakespearean experts, novices, general public, students?)
-The author’s theoretical position
-Your opinion of the author’s argument
Some good examples to follow for this assignment are book reviews of nonfiction like those published in The New York Times Book Review and The Slate Book Review. These reviews engage with and debate the authors’ ideas and present them to an educated but not necessarily expert audience.
2) Choose a scene or short passage from the play and analyze it using a specific theoretical approach. Use this guide from the Purdue OWL to decide on your approach and the question you will attempt to answer. If you have previously taken another course on literary theory, feel free to apply what you learned there to this assignment.
B. Pedagogy: Pedagogy is, broadly speaking, the study and theory of education and is used to describe how teachers approach their job. Since almost all students read Shakespeare at some point in their education and for many it is the primary site of contact with Shakespeare, pedagogy is an important element of Shakespeare studies. For this lens you have two options:
1) Design a lesson plan for a specific group of students. Make sure to fully explain what you want the students to learn and why you think it is important for their understanding of Shakespeare.
2) Write an evaluation of a lesson plan involving your chosen play that you have been exposed to in your own education. What was the purpose of the lesson? How effectively was it executed? How did it contribute to your understanding of Shakespeare? How would you change or improve it? Address it to the teacher who used it, with the purpose of giving them constructive feedback on the lesson. NOTE: Feel free to use this class for this assignment and be honest. Criticisms will not be held against you.
C. Performance: Performance has of course been a key part of Shakespeare from the very beginning, and performers and directors often approach Shakespeare very differently than literary critics or teachers. For this lens, you have two options:
1) Create a director’s notebook for a particular scene in the play, in which you assume the role of director and give a general introduction to how you see the scene. Describe Set Design, Blocking, Costumes and Props, and Character Motivation for the given scene. Feel free to use visuals that you either create or find to supplement your text.
2) Review one of the film adaptations of the play. Focus on the decisions the director and actors made and the interpretation they are trying to put forth with these decisions. How successfully is it accomplished? How does it compare and contrast with your own interpretation of the play? For examples, search for reviews of Shakespearean films on Rotten Tomatoes, etc.
D. Popular Culture: Shakespeare’s presence in popular culture has frequently shaped popular understanding of him and his work. Two options:
1) Review a film, TV show, or song that appropriates your chosen text in some way. Focus on why the Shakespearean text is being cited or appropriated and how the appropriation alters the meaning of the original text. If you need help finding appropriate content please let me know! For example: She’s The Man is an appropriation of Twelfth Night.
2) Compile an annotated thematic list of adaptations, appropriations, and/or citations of your play. Choose a specific thematic focus either related to the medium or the play – for example, sitcoms or representations of a specific character – and write a brief introduction explaining your focus and then a list of annotated entries, similar to an annotated bibliography.