Sunday, May 4, 2014

Final Exam: A Defense of Shakespeare

Final Exam Paper: A Defense of Shakespeare

For your Final Exam paper, you’re going to revise your essential thesis/approach from your Mid-Term paper with the following twist: imagine you are a professor, director, or actor who is giving a talk to an English department at University X, which is contemplating dropping Shakespeare from the curriculum.  In many universities (including ECU), the so-called “Great Books” of Canon of English Literature is under fire.  As Siobhan Kilfeather, formerly of Columbia University, wrote,

You’ve got people of mixed ability...many of them going into the sciences, and they’re asked to take a required lit course.  This is very difficult material to be read quickly...They’re all being asked to make a very real stretch when many of them can’t read a modern novel easily...people had substantial difficulties reading the texts; they couldn’t sort out the information and handle it: what it means for books to come from different periods; what it meant to move from one culture to another.  It was water off a duck’s back” (Denby, 203). 

In other words, since students have no background in reading Shakespeare (or other ‘old’ writers), we can’t possibly teach them how to do it.  They can’t relate, they can’t read it on a sophisticated level, so Shakespeare—and other canonical writers—should be abandoned for more ‘practical’ reading/writing skills.  After all, you don’t need Shakespeare to learn organic chemistry!  So your job is to show why Shakespeare is global in scope and connects to modern ideas, characters, or issues through his use of thematic connections.  Whatever you wrote about in your Mid-Term paper is the ‘frame’ for your discussion.  Revise, expand, or re-work your mid-term paper as a talk to a very specific audience (skeptical college professors) using evidence from the plays, adaptations, and critical sources.  Consider how watching Chinese opera and reading modern-day adaptations of The Tempest might play into your discussion.  How does your theme ‘translate’ in these versions, and why do we still need to know the original to see this?  

REMEMBER, you do not need to write a new paper here.  Use your Mid-Term as the “bones” of the paper, but focus it by considering your audience, and how you can prove that Shakespeare is a global, rather than a historical, author.  Try to respond to the fears of people like Dr. Kilfeather (above), who truly feel that Shakespeare is a lost art—and somewhat irrelevant to the needs of the modern undergraduate.

  • 7-8 pages at least (but you can certainly do more)
  • Should discuss at least 2 plays from class
  • Should reference/discuss at least 2 adaptations to broaden your discussion: a traditional film, a ‘global’ adaptation (Chinese Opera, foreign language Shakespeare, etc.), graphic novel, or related literary work (one of the Tempest poems, A Tempest, etc.)
  • Should use 2-3 critical articles to support your ideas, ideally from the Norton editions