ENG 181: Writing about Literature

“Around About Shakespeare”

Spring 2017

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION

You know the name. He is the most written about author in western history – besides, perhaps, God. This course is about the ways in which people use rhetoric to talk around and about Shakespeare. Though we will circle around the famous playwright and poet, the primary focus of this course is developing a writing proficiency that engages with a multiplicity of genres and audiences. My hope is that by the end of the course, you will have learned how to write effective types of essays with the right audiences in mind, geared to and prompted by a particular subject, and that converse with existing dialogues. We will expand the notion of “essay” to include such assignments such as data analyses, film reviews, fan fiction, and more. There is no expectation that anyone will begin to fall in love with Shakespeare, or already does; however, I hope that you can begin to experiment with the way texts operate in the world both with and sometimes against one another. Shakespeare is simply a uniquely wonderful vehicle in which to convey this. Four plays will serve as case studies: Richard III, As You Like It, The Tempest, and Othello. We’ll also take a critical look at news articles, rare books, graphic novels, and museum exhibits in order to help develop our conceptions of rhetoric, authorship, and writing.

 

SOME MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS

Hypothesis of Writing/Theory of Writing

  • Copied intentionally from my 101 course, this pair of essays included a short blog post of 500-words where students were asked to consider their thoughts about writing upon entering the course. Then, at the end of the course, the students were asked the same question, but with a semester’s worth of work on our key terms – audience, genre, rhetorical situation, and conversation – under their belt.

Review Essay

  • Students were able to choose an object to review from among the many Shakespeare-related exhibits around campus, to a dramatic reading of Aime Cesaire’s A Tempete, to a handful of film adaptations of The Tempest. A number of them chose Julie Taymor’s more recent adaptation, and found it to be insufficient in very interesting ways. In the review essay, the students had to cite an external review (for the film) and also discuss how the film creates a conversation with their own reading of Shakespeare’s original text. Here, we were thinking about what makes something original.

Rhetorical Analysis

  • For the first major assignment, students were able to sit with the language of a Shakespeare play, Othello. In this essay, no external sources were to be considered (other than the editor’s note from the Pelican editions we used) though many found ways to use this essay to think through their feelings about the concurrent US government’s travel ban and slew of political news. The goal was to evaluate the usage and implications of the genres of soliloquy and monologue as the are used by either Iago or Othello in the play. Students seemed to struggle with the language at first, but with time and effort, they produced very engaging insights.

Richard III’s Fitness to Rule

  • The final large essay in the course was an argumentative one, and involved a bit of research (compiled in an annotated bibliography). It was also preceded by a 250-word abstract which the students were asked to revise post-essay – quite a difficult task for anyone. The prompted question I asked was: Is Richard III fit to rule? After weeks of research and editing and revising, some students took a biographical route, and some took a disability studies route, while some took the genre of the play into central consideration, and others took a psychological approach. What I could see berthing here in the students’ writing was a willingness to critically engage with established texts.

Shakespeare Adaptations

  • For the final project, I adapted my 101 pitch proposal project into one where the students had the opportunity to redesign one of the three plays that we read over the semester, adapting it into a proposal for a novel, a TV show, a stage production, or a film. They worked in groups of three and all the groups chose either a TV show or film. They also had to write, collectively with the group, a written rationale for their proposed adaptation which engaged terms of audience, genre, rhetorical situation, and conversation. Students also presented their proposals to the class with visual aids. I heard some of the most exciting ideas in this project.

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