A good undergraduate Shakespeare paper should be concerned primarily with a careful and detailed analysis
of a particular character, speech, exchange, scene, or theme in one or more of Shakespeare’s plays. Your
paper should also pose some kind of argument about your topic, in the sense that it should advance
an idea that someone might disagree with. You are not required to use secondary literature for this paper.
Your primary aim should be construct a meaningful, imaginative reading of some aspect of Shakespeare’s
works that stays close to the text as it develops. You should support your claims with quotations, but you
should also carefully analyze those quotations. And remember, all the normal rules of composition still
apply: focused thesis statement, strong topic sentences, unified paragraphs, and thorough analysis. If you
don’t know how to quote verse and cite plays, see the MLA Style Manual (which includes a list of common
abbreviations for Shakespeare’s works).
2. If you decide to use secondary literature, do not use it as a replacement for your own analysis. Secondary
literature is best used as a point-of-departure for amplifying a particular point, orfor introducing an idea that
you plan to argue against. There is a great deal of secondary literature available on the electronic Gale
Shakespeare Collection (link on the course web page). Be sure to use MLA formatting.
3. As you develop your close reading, use the “OED Reports” and “Rhetorical Figures” handouts on the course
web page to investigate and analyze particular words and linguistic patterns that might help you amplify your
analysis. A close analysis of Shakespeare’s language is not possible without consulting the OED, so make
sure you do so. And it is not enough simply to gloss the common, twentieth-century meaning of the
word—use the OED handout to help you say something about the poetic power of Shakespeare’s language.
The same goes for rhetorical figures—it’s not enough simply to identify them, you need to say something
about how these figures shape meaning and create poetic effects in Shakespeare’s works.
4. In the case of some plays, such as Othello and King Lear, there is considerable scholarly disagreement about
which version (folio or quarto) is “authoritative.” You might want to develop a paper that argues for a
particular preference for the play as a whole, or for a particular scene. You should begin by looking at what
the Oxford Shakespeare PR2754 .W45 1986b editors have done with the text, and this includes consulting
William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion by Wells and Taylor PR3071 .W44 1987, and the Norton
Shakespeare, by Greenblatt, which uses, but also alters in some instances, the Oxford text. Keep in mind
that some of the Oxford recensions have been hotly disputed.

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