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practical criticisms

Students studying this module with texts in Latin are required to offer a practical criticism, or close commentary on a passage, in lieu of the shorter term 2 essay (nb. you will still do the blog post in addition to the commentary). The questions and passages for term 2 are as follows (also see Coursework tab, and Moodle):

Write 1800-2000 words responding to one of the following questions:

1) Terence, Eunuchus 597-613: analyse this culminating section of dialogue, paying close attention to poetics, the development of key themes, and the production of comic effect.

2) Analyse the interaction between philosophy and comedy in either Seneca Ep.56.2-3
or Seneca Ep.56.12-15, paying close attention to poetics and context.

3) Develop a close interpretation of one of the following passages, paying close attention to poetics, voice, and to the multiple layers of potential comic effect catalysed by intertextuality: Seneca Apocolocyntosis 3-4; Seneca Apocolocyntosis 10.

Make sure you read the guidelines below. Further, detailed advice will be given in the weekly text classes. Selected passages to choose from for the term 2 coursework practical criticism follow at the end of this page, and will also be included in your module booklet.

Practical criticism: some guidelines

A literary commentary (‘practical criticism’ or ‘prac crit’ or 'gobbet') should not be the same as writing a short essay. A commentary is largely concerned with the explication of a single passage of text; an essay is directed towards a different goal - making a more general argument or arguments on a set topic, using a wide range of primary and secondary evidence (although of course essays include the kind of close reading pursued in a commentary). Here is a short guide to what to focus on:

Getting started:

  • identify the context (briefly but precisely), paying some attention to what follows as well as what precedes; if the passage is part of direct speech, identify the speaker;
  • briefly outline your coverage of major themes.Then, in the next two or three further paragraphs of detailed comment, you should:say what you feel should be said about the passage as a whole, broken down into two or three main themes. NB with any of what follows, it will be very useful to attempt to contextualize (or even politicize) more broadly one's observations. Try to work at least some broader cultural observations in to your close reading, as this will often distinguish excellent first-class work from good second-class material. Also, remember to analyse and evaluate, not simply describe.
  • Elements to mention in the introduction (and develop in the paragraphs that follow): explain how the passage fits into the overall themes of the work from which it comes. Do make reference to other relevant passages, but do this fairly briefly (remember, commentary, not essay!). Think about values, characterization, genre and literary form, ideology. If the text is a play, you might comment on general elements of stagecraft and scene-setting; in narrative works you might make reference to the passage's place in the plot and narrative development (is this a crucial or a pivotal point? does it look forward or back to other points?); in speeches and rhetorical works, you might analyse logical and rhetorical structure (argument, coherence); in historiography, you might comment on historical / mythological events and persons, elements of historiographical style including sentence structure, diction, imagery, and relation to / development of previous historiographical tropes if relevant.think about intertextuality / allusion - is there significant remodelling of earlier literature (e.g. Archilochus in Horace, Propertius in Ovid)? consider any relevant literary conventions which determine the overall character of a passage - e.g. hymn-style, catalogue, invective, supplication-scene, messenger-speech, priamel, panegyric, ekphrasis, locus amoenus , paraklausithyron, propemptikon, stichomythia (if any of these terms or others are unknown to you, look them up in (e.g.) the indices of Nisbet and Hubbard's commentaries on Horace's Odes or of Russell and Winterbottom's Ancient Literary Criticism, the Oxford Latin Dictionary, or the Oxford Classical Dicitionary, and/or seek guidance from your module conveners).

In the main paragraphs:

  • say what you feel should be said about the details of the passage, going through it in order and indicating points of interest. You may find it useful to quote a few words of the original and then comment on them, or use line numbers to refer to the text.
  • draw out detailed examples of the elements you identified in the introduction outlined above, specifically keyed to the wording of the passage; plus (where relevant):metaphor and related figures (simile, personification, etymological play, metonymy); verbal style (general linguistic register, unusual/colourful vocabulary), word order (e.g. artistic rearrangement of natural order, esp. in poetry); metrical and phonic effects.

Once again, remember to analyse and evaluate, not simply describe. For further guidance, please feel free to approach the module convener.