The Critical Analysis assignment on your choice of The Merchant of Venice, or Richard III , or Henry the Fifth (850 words, double-spaced, titled) directs you to explore a significant issue and rhetorical strategy that you identify in relation to cultural, historical, or theoretical contexts and concerns. Your topic may be prompted in part by our discussions, by instructor-specified scholarship/criticism (including the headnotes and materials in the Norton edition and in McEvoy's Shakespeare: The Basics, as well as articles available as pdf files to download via our Blackboard site, and the much longer advice on Blackboard on writing research papers and short advice on writing from Graff), and of course by your reactions and understanding. Your analysis can be quite "thesis-driven"—that is, you may find it effective to compose a thesis for your response that maps out for readers the engaging, important points that you want to develop—or you may prefer a more reflective, question and problem-posing approach.

For example, you might explain the social dimensions or importance of a particular character's desires and relations to and for another (or to others, including a group or "category" of people or to/for some concept or principle); your analysis may also speculate on the degrees of authority or power exercised or available to particular "figures" or "subjects" (characters) in the play; moreover, how are such identities or relationships represented and enacted (presented rhetorically in language and through narrative and dramatic structure and style. Or how would a director and actors embody and perform (and address the choices for performance) and communicate a particular interpretation. . . .


Your observations will need to be succinct, but I encourage you to develop and to support your ideas as clearly and as cogently as space allows, including brief citations of specific lines that illustrate your interpretation, and concise use of summary and paraphrase in support of your analysis. It may be helpful for your response to include a statement that makes a claim or presents a thesis with brief explanation and support (such as in the form of “One of Portia's main concerns is that she . . . because . . . . But her desire for . . . conflicts with . . ., and she must . . . in order to . . . . The play thus represents . . . in its depiction of . . . . Moreover, it is only through X's relationship to Y that Z can be realized or established or resolved, even though . . . .” This is just a partial and overstated (!) example of a structure that might inform your reasoning and writing for this assignment--the main advice is to consider that you may find it effective to compose a thesis for your response.


Assume your audience is familiar with the play (and/or film version of the play), but take care to articulate clearly your understanding and interpretation of the material, especially problems or contradictions that seem difficult to resolve.


Keep in mind that your critical analysis should aim to supplement or to build upon our work; in short, don't simply repeat an argument we have already substantially discussed unless you were engaged substantially in that discussion.


Reminder: You should also consider to what extent and how a secondary piece of commentary or criticism has influenced your views and understanding (such as McEvoy, Norton headnotes, and other scholarship or research, especially the instructor-specified/selected articles for each play).


Some writers use the first paragraph to describe an interpretative problem that arises in a specific passage or in a character (and the relations of that character to others or to the play's cultural context), or to present a conflict of critical approaches to a topic or issue that is pertinent to or evident in the play. You also may find it useful to review some of the sample journal entries on The Merchant of Venice, posted on the class site, and especially review/incorporate your own Discussion Starter work, and build upon others' discussion starters (but be sure to cite their work).