A good undergraduate Shakespeare paper should be concerned primarily with a careful and detailed analysisof a particular character, speech, exchange, scene, or theme in one or more of Shakespeare’s plays. Yourpaper should also pose some kind of argument about your topic, in the sense that it should advancean 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’sworks that stays close to the text as it develops. You should support your claims with quotations, but youshould also carefully analyze those quotations. And remember, all the normal rules of composition stillapply: focused thesis statement, strong topic sentences, unified paragraphs, and thorough analysis. If youdon’t know how to quote verse and cite plays, see the MLA Style Manual (which includes a list of commonabbreviations for Shakespeare’s works).
2. If you decide to use secondary literature, do not use it as a replacement for your own analysis. Secondaryliterature is best used as a point-of-departure for amplifying a particular point, orfor introducing an idea thatyou plan to argue against. There is a great deal of secondary literature available on the electronic GaleShakespeare 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 courseweb page to investigate and analyze particular words and linguistic patterns that might help you amplify youranalysis.
A close analysis of Shakespeare’s language is not possible without consulting the OED, so makesure you do so. And it is not enough simply to gloss the common, twentieth-century meaning of theword—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 somethingabout 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 aboutwhich version (folio or quarto) is “authoritative.” You might want to develop a paper that argues for aparticular preference for the play as a whole, or for a particular scene. You should begin by looking at whatthe Oxford Shakespeare PR2754 .
W45 1986b editors have done with the text, and this includes consultingWilliam Shakespeare: A Textual Companion by Wells and Taylor PR3071 .W44 1987, and the NortonShakespeare, by Greenblatt, which uses, but also alters in some instances, the Oxford text. Keep in mindthat some of the Oxford recensions have been hotly disputed.