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 select presenters based on the strengths of submitted abstracts—proposed papers that allow conference staff to determine what idea is being explicated, whether it accords with others being presented, whether the idea is of sufficient merit to pursue, and how it will be pursued. As such, the major assignment sequence in the class will begin with a proposal of a sort commonly solicited by regional, national, and international conferences in the academic humanities. To compose such a proposal, students will need to accomplish a number of tasks:
- Identify a topic of discussion;
- Identify an approach to that topic, deriving a tentative thesis;
- Account for textual and critical support for that approach;
- Sketch out a tentative structure for explicating the approach; and
- Compile the above into a short proposal, 300 to 500 words in length, submitting it online as the PProp, a major assignment worth 10% of the total course grade.
The course title serves as a seemingly sharp limit on what topics are acceptable for papers in the class—Shakespeare’s comedies and sonnets. While the sonnets are easily identifiable, however, the comedies are not so easily separated out; what are currently called the romances and the problem plays can—and sometimes have been—considered comedies. In the interest of opening up more material for investigation, then, the plays listed below are available for treatment in the paper; all 154 of the sonnets are available, as well:
- All’s Well That Ends Well
- As You Like It
- The Comedy of Errors
- Love’s Labour’s Lost
- Measure for Measure
- The Merchant of Venice
- The Merry Wives of Windsor
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Much Ado about Nothing
- Pericles, Prince of Tyre
- The Taming of the Shrew
- The Tempest
- Twelfth Night
- Two Gentlemen of Verona
- The Two Noble Kinsmen
- The Winter’s Tale
Once a topic is identified, of course, it becomes necessary to say something about it, or to move towards doing so; the PProp is an initial, exploratory work, after all. Even so, it needs to identify a thesis to be argued, although context forces acknowledgement that the thesis may need to be adjusted or reworked entirely.
Given the stated impetus for the class, addressing the continuing social cachet Shakespeare enjoys, some claim about why a given play or sonnet does or does not enjoy prevailing currency in some time and place or another suggests itself as worth making. That is, a paper might do well to argue why Much Ado about Nothing continues to play well in the United States of the early 21st century; another might do well to argue why the antebellum South might have rejected Measure for Measure.
Another likely avenue of inquiry is to trace reinterpretation of the comedies or sonnets. That is, how later movements refigure and reappropriate the comedies or sonnets might be worth investigating. Such projects need not cleave to traditional media, although they may well do so.
Other approaches and their resulting theses may work well, too. Consultation with the instructor is recommended throughout the paper-writing process to ensure that writers’ desired approaches will work for the overall project.
For a thesis to emerge, there has to be some reason behind it. That is, something in the text and the critical context must present itself as a justification to make the claim advanced in the thesis. As such, after identifying a provisional thesis, some explication of the underlying support for that thesis needs to be provided. The PProp mimics conference abstracts, which must convince organizers that a paper is worth including; a paper cannot be of such value if it does not work from concrete detail that supports an argument.
Ideally, there will be both primary and secondary evidence that supports the thesis; both can be glossed over in the PProp, which is not meant to be a full paper. Depending on the project being proposed, tertiary evidence might also come into play; again, it may be glossed in the PProp. What matters is that there be some rationale for the thesis put across; the idea has to show up as proceeding in a way others can follow, and that means a clear beginning must be indicated.
As support is searched out, writers should keep in mind their audiences. The primary audience for a paper proposal is a set of conference organizers who are trying to compile programming that will be of interest to scholars working in the fields being treated. They may not themselves be experts in those fields, but they have ready recourse to those who are—and they are likely to be experts in closely related fields, at least. Addressing the needs of such audiences in the selection of support will be helpful.
Again, consultation with the instructor is recommended throughout the paper-writing process to ensure that writers’ work is such that it will reflect well upon the writer.
Simply expressing a thesis and rattling off points of support for it will not make a convincing argument. Having a clear structure in mind and presenting it, conversely, creates an impression of certainty and authority in addition to contributing to the reception of the ideas being advanced. As such, the PProp asks writers to frame out a tentative organizational pattern for the papers to come; it is understood that the process of writing the fuller argument may occasion change to the indicated structure, but presenting some idea about how to go about making a given argument eases initial reception of that argument.
Suggested structures will vary by the thesis and support, of course, but academic work tends to benefit from simple chronological (i.e., first to last) or traditional emphatic (i.e., weakest to strongest) argumentative patterns. Academic audiences can be counted on to attend to the whole paper.
Again, consultation with the instructor is recommended throughout the paper-writing process to ensure that writers’ work will move forward in a helpful way.
The preceding four 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 PProp itself.
The PProp will benefit from opening with some indication of personal engagement in the topic selected (i.e., what makes it worth attention); it must identify the topic to be treated and the thesis that will represent its treatment. Major points of support should be presented in a paragraph outline afterward (i.e., the text following the thesis should indicate a tentative order of argumentation, indicating what individual supporting points will be made, summary support for them, and the order in which they are expected to appear in the paper to come). Again, it is understood that a proposed paper may well change during the process of composition, but it remains good to have an initial focus to drive inquiry and effort.
The PProp must be submitted through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time on 14 September 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 300 to 500 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 PProp will be used to inform several of the 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.
A copy of the rubric used to assess the PProp can be found here: ENGL & THRE 3333 PProp Grading Rubric.
Although the PProp does note a need for recourse to outside materials, if those materials are treated in summary, informal citation will suffice. Quotation or paraphrase, however, will oblige formal citation, both in the text and at the end of the text. Failure to provide it may be pursued as an academic integrity violation, with adverse effects.
Many examples of paper proposals of the sort requested by the assignment are available. Some can be found on the “Abstracts” page of ElliottRWI.com, here. Another, written for a different class and a different purpose, is available on ElliottRWI.com, here. Still another, one directed more narrowly at the current class, is available on ElliottRWI.com, here. Each can be used as an example of form, rather than one of content. Additionally, another example is being developed for the course; it will be posted to the class website when it becomes available.
Geoffrey B. Elliott
11 September 2016
Edited to make small typographical adjustments and incorporate a fresh example.