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. Part of that work inheres in developing the credentials that convey sufficient ethos to conduct such work, and part of the development traditionally comes in the form of oral exams. Additionally, Shakespeare is performative, and so some performativity in an exam for a course in Shakespeare suggests itself as worth doing. It is towards preparation for the former and enactment of the latter that the FinEx is directed.
Academic conferences in the humanities typically demand that their presentations be researched and work from the best available understandings of the field of inquiry being pursued. To sit for the FinEx, students will need to accomplish a number of tasks:
- Read the assigned play;
- Investigate a theory of comedy and/or humor;
- Investigate how a particular character in the play enacts, alters, and/or subverts that theory; and
- Construct a five-minute argument about the same, presenting it orally and addressing audience questions about it for assessment as a major assignment worth 15% of the total course grade.
Since the course focuses on comedies and sonnets, it makes sense that the FinEx would focus on a comedy or sonnet, so that it can evaluate fairly the kinds of things that have been taught during the term. Such evaluation, however, needs to present new material for consideration, rather than allowing for simple repetition of ideas already presented. As such, since all of the sonnets are covered in assigned readings in addition to no few of the comedies, recourse to yet others of the Bard’s works is needed. Further, since exam activities will be interactive with the other students in the class, a standard reference text suggests itself as needing to be identified. The selected work is The Merry Wives of Windsor (Wiv.), a reliable edition of which is available for free here. Students should read the play in detail in advance of the exam.
No few performances and interpretations of Wiv. are available; examples can be found here and here, among others. The text of the play, however, should be what undergirds exam activities, so overreliance on outside sources is not likely to be of benefit.
The FinEx will articulate an argument about Wiv. To be able to do so, it will need to have some framework in which to develop an argument. This means that students will need to find some theory of comedy—or of the closely related concept of humor—on which to base their assertions. Such a theory can come from students’ own experiences and expertise. It can also come from an outside source, preferably one of a scholarly nature such as editorial materials appended to authoritative editions of the Bard’s work or proceedings of the International Society for Humor Studies. In any event, such a theory will need to be investigated in some detail; arguing from it will require being familiar with it. (Also, see Note 1, below.)
After having read the play and having reviewed a theory of comedy and/or humor, students will need to look at how a particular character in the play interacts with the theory. Characters will be assigned during class time, but whatever character is assigned will need to be investigated for how s/he embodies, enacts, modifies, subverts, and/or belies the theory used to frame the argument. In-text dialogue, description, and stage direction from the play will serve to exemplify the interactions—whatever they may end up being.
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 deliverable towards which they lead is the FinEx itself.
The FinEx will need to present an argument that the assigned character from Wiv. interacts with the particular theory of comedy or humor in a particular way, citing evidence from the play and from the theory and explaining how that evidence serves to support the central point made. In effect, it is a short paper that will be delivered aloud or a rough set of notes from which to make a lucid presentation, much like a roundtable contribution at an academic conference. Like many such contributions, it should run to some five minutes of talking time, and it should foster discussion among the other participants in the exercise. Some of that discussion will run to questions about the evidence presented and the interpretation thereof, so students should be ready to address them appropriately.
The FinEx is to be presented during the assigned exam period, 1330 to 1530 on Monday, 12 December 2016. Students should expect to be selected randomly to make their presentations on that day, so all should be ready to begin work at the outset of the exam period. Students should also be prepared to submit an MLA-style Works Cited list for the materials used during their presentations.
The FinEx will be assessed according to the rubric below as a major assignment worth 15% of the total course grade. Comments about the presented work will be returned to students via email. The comments returned should serve to help foster better work on similar exercises later on, as well as on presentations beyond the classroom setting.
The rubric through which the FinEx will be assessed appears here: ENGL/THRE 3333 FinEx Grading Rubric.
Although the FinEx is an oral, in-class exercise, it should present a scholarly argument—which means it needs to attest its sources. Informal citation within the presentation itself will suffice, but students should have a printed Works Cited list ready to hand for submission on request.
As always, consultation with the instructor throughout the process of developing the assignment is welcomed and encouraged. Office hours are generally open; appointments are available. Email for details.
Geoffrey B. Elliott
1 December 2016
Updated to include assignment information.