Schreiner University, ENGL 3333/THRE 3333: Shakespeare: Comedies & Sonnets—Exploratory Essay

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the Exploratory Essay (Expl), superseding any previously published information about the Expl.


As a class oriented towards upper-division majors and minors, ENGL/THRE 3333 should help to guide students into the kind of work done by scholars in the field. In large part, scholarly work in English studies and in the academic humanities more generally consists of interpreting art in one medium or another, commonly deploying the interpretations of others, and presenting that interpretation as a means to help others advance the collective understanding of the many ways in which art functions. Many of the presentations take place at academic conferences, where scholars are commonly invited to give fifteen- to twenty-minute talks as one of several taking related approaches to a particular body of work—and it is towards offering practice in doing so that the major sequence of assignments in ENGL/THRE 3333 is directed.

Academic conferences in the humanities typically expect that the papers presented reflect investment in the ideas contained, both in terms of content development and in terms of polish of prose. As such, they reward composition in stages, such that each part of the paper presented has been reviewed and revised—and one such stage is that of a brief essay meant to test out the thesis, something that might be called an exploratory essay.

To compose such an essay, students will need to accomplish a number of tasks:

Information about each follows, along with a copy of the relevant grading rubric and notes.

Refine the Topic, Thesis, and Argumentative Structure of the PProp

The PProp is an avowedly tentative document, outlining only in preliminary form the argument to be made in the paper that will proceed from it. To be able to make an argument, though, requires greater specificity than a proposal allows. In many cases, topics must be narrowed from sets of items to single items, or even from single items to individual components of the item. In many cases, the thesis will need to be similarly narrowed, refining as the topic refines to more accurately portray the argument to be made in the paper. The same will be true of the argumentative structure to be deployed in the paper, what points are to be made and the order in which they are to be made shifting in response to more exacting thesis and topic.

The Expl will need to display topic, thesis, and argumentative structures tightened from those initially proposed, in no small part because the argument to be made in the longer paper will begin to be developed in it. That development obliges a stronger framework on which to hang the argument, so having a clearer topic, thesis, and structure in mind will be necessary.

Note that while many arguments will entertain counter-argument and rebuttal, the Expl need not do so. It does, however, need to articulate context for the argument to be made, as well as moving through a reasonable order of support for it—whether sequentially within the topic discussed or in emphatic order based on the relative perceived strength of the points being made. It should also offer some kind of concluding statement appropriate to a conference paper, not a recapitulation of the thesis and points made, but a motion towards what future research can do with the thesis that begins to be validated in the Expl.

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Identify More Support for the Thesis

Because the Expl will develop the argument initially advanced in the PProp, it will necessarily need to employ more support for the idea than the PProp could contain. Much of it will need to consist of primary evidence, specific details in the text (and, depending on the argument being made, the paratext) that support the argument being made.

Because the Expl needs to offer context for its argument, however, it will also likely do well to invoke secondary evidence, deriving from other critical treatments of the paper’s topic or from treatments of similar topics (e.g., a paper treating Sonnet 18 might be able to deploy conclusions made about Sonnet 20 to its advantage). Information from journals such as Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare Studies, Shakespeare Survey, and Renaissance Quarterly is likely to be of benefit, as they are the leading journals for criticism of the Bard and his works.

Depending on the argument made, the Expl might also benefit from the invocation of tertiary/critical materials. Such materials offer a lens, usually consisting of an outline of some theoretical approach or standard, through which to examine the topic of the paper. One example would be to apply the principles outlined by Edward Said or bell hooks to the plays or sonnets; the applied works do not necessarily treat the topic in themselves, but they outline approaches to literature and other works that can be applied to the topic selected, revealing new ideas entirely.

Note 1, below, is of paramount importance. Attention to it will be rewarded. Inattention to it will not be.

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Explain the Support

Providing evidence, however much of it may be available, however good the quality, does not suffice to prove a point. The evidence means nothing until it is acted upon; such action should take the form of rigorous, detailed explanation of how the evidence leads to the conclusions drawn about it. The idea is to lead readers along the thought-paths through which the writer arrives at interpretation of the topic being treated—and it should be the primary focus of the paper, as it is only through such explanation that readers can ascertain whether or not the ideas advanced in the paper are worth considering. It is only through the explanations that the readers can see that the thesis of the Expl has, in fact, been validated.

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Compose the Expl

The preceding items can be regarded as comprising a sequence of prewriting; that is, they lead towards deliverables, but they do not themselves generate them. The first deliverable towards which they lead is the Expl itself.

The Expl will benefit from opening with a paragraph that identifies the topic, offers context for the argument to come, and advances a thesis to undergird the argument. (An essay map is helpful but not obligatory.) It should follow with a series of body paragraphs that develop a number of argumentative points in support of the thesis; they should be laid out in an order reflecting either the sequence of evidence within the topic of discussion or the rhetorical emphasis of the points being made. Afterwards should come a conclusion that moves beyond simple recapitulation of the thesis and argumentative points towards what readers can do armed with the validated thesis.

The Expl must be submitted through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time on 12 October 2016. It will be assessed according to the rubric below, its score recorded as a major assignment worth 10% of the total course grade. When it is submitted, it should be as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file consisting of 1,300 to 1,625 words, exclusive of heading (student name, instructor name, course/section, and date of composition), title, and any necessary end-citations. It should be typed in black, double-spaced, 12-point Garamond, Georgia, or Times New Roman font on letter-sized pages; the heading should be flush left, the title centered horizontally, and the body flush left with the first lines of paragraphs indented one-half inch from the left margin. Page numbers should be in the margin at the top of the page on the right margin, preceded by the writer’s surname, and in the same typeface as the rest of the paper.

The Expl will be used to inform other major assignments in the class, so sincere, diligent work on it will be of benefit. Consultation with the instructor throughout its composition is strongly recommended.

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Grading Rubric

A copy of the grading rubric that will be applied to the Expl can be found here: ENGL & THRE 3333 Expl Grading Rubric.

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Notes

1. The Expl will require use of primary source materials; it is likely to deploy secondary and tertiary/critical source materials, as well. All such must be attested in accord with the current standards of the Modern Language Association of America. Failure to offer such attestation may be investigated as an academic integrity violation, with substantially adverse consequences for students.

2. Examples of the kind of writing requested for the Expl are widely available. The pages of the journal The Explicator abound with them. Samples of similar papers are available on the course website, as well, although their topics and requirements will be somewhat different than that for the present assignment:

Another example, targeted at the present assignment, is available: “Sample Exploratory Essay: Shakespeare in Legend of the Five Rings.”

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Geoffrey B. Elliott
11 October 2016

Updated to refine and correct prefatory materials. No changes to assignment requirements were made.

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