For this essay assignment I would like you to begin by reading a short essay by the noted Shakespearean and early modern scholar Peter Stallybrass entitled “Against Thinking.” In it, he outlines a mode of writing that (I’m guessing) might be new to you as a student. For your first assignment I’d like you to take this essay as an “inspiration” (a key word for Stallybrass) in writing a response to one of three texts: The Rape of Lucrece, the quarto edition of King Lear, or Q1 Hamlet. Your essay will be due on February 5th, 12th, or 19th, depending on which of these texts you choose to address. (Note that these are Fridays–you may e-mail your paper to me as an attachment or drop it off in the bin of my office door, JFT 220)
You should write a 4-5 page essay that comments upon some dimension of one of these three texts. Include printouts, notes, images, and other materials that demonstrate your “work” in compiling the essay. There are countless “databases” that are relevant to the study of Shakespeare, some of them mentioned by Stallybrass (especially the Oxford English Dictionary, which New Paltz students may access through our library web page). I have assembled a list of other resources you might find useful for this assignment here.
I want you to see this as an open-ended assignment, and you should feel free to delve into the databases linked above in the way that most interests you. But here are two possibilities to give you an idea of what this kind of “work” can look like:
1) Explore the meaning of a significant word (one word!) from one of the texts using the OED Online. Try to choose a word that you think has significance in the text, but also one that has ambiguity in its meaning, has an interesting word history (etymology), or is otherwise notable. Discuss the significance of this word in its historical meaning and how different interpretations of it might influence our understanding of the play. How does the meaning (or ambiguity) associated with this term affect our understanding of the play?
2) Compare some section of the texts of King Lear or Hamlet as they appear in multiple editions (Q1 and Q2 of Hamlet, for instance). You can find online versions of both in the resources linked above. What are the significant changes you note? How do these changes affect some aspect of the meaning of the play as a whole? Which version do the Norton editors (or the edition you are using) choose? Do you agree with their choice?
Your essay should make an argument or attempt to answer a central question or problem. It should follow MLA style for all citations and adhere to the guidelines outlined in my style sheet.