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Assessed Essay Titles 2005-06




 Two typed copies of an essay (c. 3000 words) on one of the topics listed below should be handed in to the English Department Reception (or posted through the Department letter box) by 12.00 noon on Monday 13 March 2006 (Week 11, Term 2).   It should be accompanied by an assessed work cover sheet (obtainable from Reception) and signed in on the appropriate submission list.

 These titles are offered as suggestions.  You may, in consultation with your tutor, alter a title to suit your own interests or devise a new one.  Except where the question specifies a particular author, you may write about any of the dramatists studied.

 1.    Write about some aspect of the relationship between source material and its dramatic transformation in any TWO OR MORE plays.

 2.    Good Quartos, Bad Quartos, Folios, A-Texts, B-Texts.   Consider Shakespeare's and or Marlowe's variant texts as 'problem' AND/OR revision AND/OR instruction to performance.

 3.    Barabas in The Jew of Malta celebrates the idea of 'infinite riches in a little room'.   How do the fictional worlds of Marlowe's plays express or limit his characters' desires?


4.    'We may challenge, perhaps in uncouth accents, the stories that Shakespeare is usually made to tell;  we too may intervene among the contested scripts of our societies' (Alan Sinfield).  

What possibilities for intervention, challenge, and refashioning have been found in the critical AND/OR performance histories of Shakespeare's plays?


5.    'Marlowe's heroes give voice to the impulses that mark their location in history - the quest for novelty, the search for identity, the extortion  of the market, the seizure of crowns, the pursuit of the flesh, the assertion of female dominion' (Mark Thornton Burnett).  

Discuss any aspect of this statement with reference to one or more plays by Marlowe AND/OR Shakespeare AND/OR Jonson.


6.    'What do we with our hands?... And with our head?... What do we with our eyelids?  and with our shoulders?... there is no motion, nor gesture that doth not speak and speaks in a language very easy, and without any teaching to be understood' (Montaigne).   Consider the body as expressive medium in any play (or performance) studied on this course.


 7.    Consider the political and theatrical significance of the carnivalesque in any ONE OR TWO of the plays studied.

 8.  Coppelia Kahn asks, 'What did “Rome” - the city, the republic, the empire, the culture the history, the legend, and the Latin language that mediated them all - mean to Shakespeare?  (Roman Shakespeare).   Try to answer her question.  Or, for ‘Rome' substitute 'Venice'. Answer with reference to Shakespeare OR Jonson.


9.  'Heroism in Shakespeare is always obsolescent:  the giants have feet of clay or live by codes which are superficial or out of date'   Discuss with reference to ONE OR TWO plays.


10. 'It's queer how out of touch with truth women are' (Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness).  

 'So young, my lord, and true' (Cordelia in King Lear).  

Explore the implications of these statements with reference to ONE OR TWO plays.  


11. Orson Welles, between takes in filming Othello discusses 'the inequality of the sexes':                                                        

ORSON WELLES (playing Othello):   'Women have invented nothing, not even hats.'

MICHEAL MacLIAMMOIR (playing Iago): 'I demur.  And point to comedy.'


 12.    'The figure of the ‘absent mother’ pervades Shakespearean drama, simultaneously underpinning and problematising the masculinist focus of the action.'

    Discuss this comment with reference to ONE OR TWO plays.

 13. From William Cecil, Lord Burleigh's Advice to his Son (1598): 'Use great providence and circumspection in the choice of a wife, for from thence shall spring all thy future     good or evil, and it is like a stratagem of war wherein a man can err but once.'

    Discuss wooing and wedding (and 'warring'?) in Shakespeare's OR Jonson's comedies OR Middleton's tragedies.

 14    Discuss the relationship between tyranny and legitimate order in TWO OR MORE plays.

 15.    A senator asks Othello, 'Did you by indirect and forced courses/Subdue and poison this young maid's affections?'   Discuss Jacobean drama's preoccupation with the poisoning of the mind.


16.    'There is a current tendency to see society as a structure of oppression and exploitation, and to read Shakespeare accordingly.   We will get at part of the truth in that way, but only part ...   He allows us to feel the excitement,  even the longing, that the dream of a good order produces, for that too is part of our political life'  (Alexander Leggatt). 

Discuss with reference to ONE OR TWO plays.

17.    'You taught me language, and my profit on't / Is I know how to curse' (Caliban, The Tempest); 'You speak a language I do not understand'' (Hermione, The Winter's Tale).   To what extent does language function as a site of conflict and contest in any ONE OR TWO plays?

 18.    What is the place of magic / the supernatural / the irrational in any ONE OR TWO plays?


19.    'Tragic heroes share ... a self-expressive task: as they suffer greatly, so they must speak greatly, their eloquence matching their pain' (Lawrence Danson).  

What verbal and theatrical strategies are used to give expression to extremes of human experience in Shakespeare OR Marlowe OR Middleton?


20.    'Shakespeare, for half of his literary career, lived in a polity that consisted of England, Wales and - contested - Ireland.   The royal house was of Welsh provenance, and the Irish wars were the most pressing contemporary political conflict.   For the remainder he wrote in the context of an enlarged state presided over by a Scottish king' (Willy Maley). 

How do Shakespeare's plays engage with questions of national identity?   Alternatively, how has Shakespeare been used to intervene in such questions?


21. It is uncertain where death looks for us; let us expect it everywhere' (Montaigne).

'The corpse, seen without God and outside of science is the utmost of abjection.  It is death infecting life. Abject.' (Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror).

Discuss the dramatic uses of ONE OR MORE of the following: graves, funerals, ghosts, murder, suicide, corpses.

 22    Consider the significance of any of the following in ONE OR MORE plays:  drunkenness;  anger;  dreams;  letters;  food;  disguise;  lost objects;  clothes;  weapons;  beauty;  mutilation;  enigma;  the return of the repressed.

 23    'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy' (Hamlet).

Discuss the political, moral, humanist, or natural philosophy of ONE of the following and its impact on Shakespeare AND/OR Jonson AND/OR Marlowe AND/OR Middleton:   Giordano Bruno, Cornelius Agrippa, Pythagoras, Galen, Machiavelli, Aristotle, Galileo, Erasmus, Sir Thomas More.


24.    'Monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what normality is. A future that would not be monstrous would not be a future' (Jacques Derrida, Points.)  

In what ways may Shakespeare OR Jonson OR Middleton be considered a writer of the monstrous?


25.    'This word ‘damnation’ terrifies not me/ For I confound hell in Elysium' (Dr Faustus.)  

To what uses does Marlowe OR Shakespeare OR Jonson put classical mythology?


26.    Discuss the interaction between gender and genre in one play – or a selection of plays – studied on the course.


27.    'Death does not reveal itself as a loss, but a loss such as is experienced by those who remain' (Martin Heidegger). 

How is the 'experience' of death represented in the tragedies of Middleton or Shakespeare? Discuss with close reference to any ONE OR TWO plays.


28.    'Sex, Baudrillard argues, is quotidian, drab, referential, preoccupied with the real:  seduction ... depends on fantasy, romance, imagination' (Catherine Belsey).  

Discuss any aspect of this observation with close reference to any ONE OR TWO plays.


29.    Revenge plays 'register a troubling discrepancy between the desire for equity and the means of fulfilling that desire' (Katharine Eisaman Maus).  

Discuss Middleton's tragic revenge OR comic revenge in Jonson.

 30.    To what extent can Shakespeare's comedies be read as attempts to engage or ward off the questions posed by Marlovian tragedy?   Discuss with close reference to any ONE OR TWO plays.


31    'The meaning [that] is just on the far side of language ... is the meaning that Shakespeare succeeds in snaring' (Virginia Woolf).  

Discuss with close reference to ONE OR TWO plays.


32.    'Tragedy ... openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue [and] teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how weak foundations gilden roofs are builded' (Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poetry).  

Discuss ONE OR TWO tragedies in the light of this statement.


33    How do comedies incorporate and understand violence?


34.    'A theatre prepared to take risks.'   Discuss this assessment in relation to Shakespeare AND/OR any of his contemporaries.


35.    'O horror, horror, horror!/ Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!'   (Macduff in Macbeth)  

With what effect is horror portrayed on the early modern stage?


36.    'Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is an absurd one' (Voltaire).  

How does Shakespeare explore doubt and certainty in TWO OR MORE plays?


37.    'Now hang our bloody colours by Damascus,/ Reflexing hues of blood upon their heads' (Tamburlaine, 4.4.1-2).  

Discuss the exploitation of visual design on the early modern stage.


39.    'I do not know what ‘poetical’ is.   Is it honest in deed and word?   Is it a true thing?' (Audrey in As You Like It).  

With close attention to TWO OR MORE plays, consider Shakespeare's investigation and treatment of the ‘poetical’.


 40    'I have a kind of self resides with you -

    But an unkind self, that itself will leave

    To be another's fool.'


     'Was't Hamlet wronged Laertes?   Never Hamlet.

    If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away,

    And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes

    Then Hamlet does it  not.'



Discuss the problem of selfhood and/or interiority in ONE OR TWO plays.       

 41.    'Adieu, adieu, Hamlet.   Remember Me!' (Ghost, Hamlet, 1.5.91).

Consider the use made of remembrance (e.g. revenge motifs, memento mori devices, mourning and other individual or collective rituals, etc.) by Shakespeare AND/OR Middleton.


 42.    'Accursed be he that first invented war!'   (Mycetes in Tamburlaine Part 1).

                         'O love,

            That thou couldst see my wars today, and knew'st

The royal occupation' (Antony in Antony and Cleopatra)

 Discuss the representation of war AND/OR the warrior in Shakespeare AND/OR Marlowe.

 43.    'The critics… simply don't understand the very thing they're supposed to be watching.   They should read Shakespeare's Clowns and see the desperation there… They don't even begin to see the desperation…' (Kenneth Williams, Diaries, entry for 23 January 1963).

Consider the uses of clowns, fools and fooling in Shakespeare AND/OR one of his contemporaries.

 44.    'In vitro fertilisation and the invention of the portable aluminium stepladder has made masculinity irrelevant to the 21st century' (Michael Moore, Stupid White Men).

'True manhood is a precious and elusive status beyond mere maleness…Its vindication is doubtful, resting in rigid codes of decisive action in many spheres of life: as husband, father, lover, provider…A restricted status, there are always men who fail the test' (David Gilmore, Manhood in the Making).

 How does the early modern theatre explore manhood?   Consider ONE OR TWO plays.

 45.    'Who is it that can tell me who I am?'   (Lear).

Consider the dramatic and thematic function of ANY TWO of the following roles:  Nerissa, Parolles, Mosca, de Flores, Falstaff, Emilia, Pandarus, Menenius.

 46    Consider the ways Shakespeare AND/OR Jonson AND/OR Middleton explore the relationship between the human and the animalistic (OR the angelic).

 47.    'From the literature of the city…two opposing attitudes emerge - the city as a visionary embodiment of ideal community (either on earth or in heaven) or the city as a predatory trap founded in fratricide and shadowed by conflict' (Gail Kern Paster, The Idea of the City in  the Age of Shakespeare)

 Discuss the city theatrically as setting and thematically as the bearer of cultural meanings in any ONE OR TWO plays.

 48.    'Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes [men] mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge' (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish).

 Discuss the relationship between knowledge and power in ANY TWO plays.