Annotation Assignment

      Shakespeare II


Annotation Assignment


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an “annotation” is “a note added to anything written, by way of explanation or comment” (“annotation” def. 3.). For this assignment you will be performing your own annotation of a TWO-PAGE section of one of the plays we have studied in class (as measured by the Norton Shakespeare).[1] You may choose any two pages that you’d like, but I recommend that you choose a moment in the play that you find particularly interesting, difficult, or otherwise engaging. You will then write a report of roughly three to four double-spaced pages (about 750-1000 words) that further explores, explains, and articulates your findings from the annotation exercise.


Choose Something to Annotate and Mark Up Your Text. Choose any two-page section of the text (roughly 80-100 lines) and mark it with underscores, symbols, and handwritten annotations. You will photocopy your annotated pages and submit them with your final assignment.

There are many options for your written notations: Underline words and phrases that are unfamiliar to you or intrigue you, passages that are moving or funny, or moments that you simply find puzzling. Jot questions, comments, and other ideas in your margins. Make notes to yourself about details you’d like to look up or research further. Write topics in the margins that note patterns in the text (i.e., “clothing metaphors,” “Biblical references,” “Disguise”). Mark references to other moments in the play that are related to your passage (“See 1.2.45 for similar language,” “this reminds me of Olivia’s speech to Cesario!”). Make note of striking examples of figurative language (metaphor, simile, litotes, etc.) or meter. This part of the assignment is very much about your individual reading experience, so there is not really an incorrect way of doing it. However, the more probing, thoughtful, and extensive your annotations are, the better!

      • Research. Try to answer one or two of your questions or further explore something that intrigued you about the text by doing some research (I have listed some good and easily accessed library resources at the bottom of this page). Look in several sources, comparing them to see if there are different stories, opinions and ideas about the elements you have selected. If you are looking at the definition of a word, use the OED and other sources to find out as much as you can about the history of the word and how it was used at the time the play was published. In addition to reference resources, you could also look for criticism and commentary that might help elucidate your passage.
      • Write your Report (3-4 Pages, 750-1000 words). There are many ways to approach your report, but you shouldn’t organize it as a traditional research paper or five-paragraph, thesis driven essay. The paper can be more open ended than that and employ your own voice (“I found that…”) in describing your process and findings. A good starting place is to write about what drew you to the passage you selected—why was this the section you chose? What did you learn from looking at the text this closely? From there, you might report the findings of your research, describe differing interpretations of the text that you discovered through the process of doing this project, and/ or discuss questions that remain for you about the play after you have completed your work. You should also read your annotations objectively, and describe what you learned about yourself as a reader. What kinds of language and topics excite you and draw you in? What kinds of things did you leave out? Finally, you might conclude by discussing other questions about the play that this work has opened up to you. What kinds of research topics or projects would you be interested in pursuing?
      • Formatting and Submission. Your final submission should contain the following, stapled together:
        • A photocopy or printed scan of your annotated pages
        • A copy of your report (roughly 1000 words, double-spaced, in a 12 pt. font)
        • A list of Works Cited, prepared according to MLA guidelines



Resources for Research:

Below are titles and call numbers for resources that you can use for your research. Depending on your choice, you may or may not use all of these. I expect that every source that you use for this project will be reliable and verifiable. With that in mind, I strongly recommend using sources that you consult in print at our library, or a web resource that you found using our library’s catalogues and databases (such as the OED, Project Muse or JSTOR).


This is not an exhaustive list, and you should feel free to use other resources you find at the library or know about from your Wikipedia work. Look around the call numbers listed below and you will certainly find more resources. Also, I encourage you to consult with a reference librarian.


Definitions The best resource you will find for definitions of these words is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). You can access the OED online through the Sojourner Truth Library’s web page by clicking on the “Databases” tab and looking under the letter “O.” The OED offers historical definitions of words (that is, what they would have meant in Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, and Milton’s times), so it will help you better understand the language of your passage.


There are two web resources that you might also find useful: Lexicons of Early Modern English ( for the poems and the Middle English Dictionary ( for Chaucer.



A good first place to start for allusions, if you are completely lost, is The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Reference Stacks, PN 43 .O94), which has short entries on many, many of the allusions you will find in your passages. For more detailed information, consult these resources:


The Bible:

Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Reference Stacks BS 440 .M429

The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, Reference Stacks BR 95 .O95


Greek and Roman Mythology:

Cassell Dictionary of Mythology, Reference Stacks BL 715 .M37

Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion, BL 715 .O845



Dictionary of Folklore, Reference Stacks GR 35 .P5



The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Reference Stacks PR 19 .O94


Figurative Language, Rhyme and Meter:

A Glossary of Literary Terms, Reference Stacks PN 44.5 .A2

Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms, Reference Stacks PN 1042 .P75


Criticism and Critical Commentary:

Use the MLA International Database (available through the library’s web page) to find articles or books related to the general topic of your annotation. Use keyword searches to   You might be surprised to find that someone has already developed an essay or critical response to the allusion/word/topic you have chosen.


Use the Sojourner Truth Library catalogue to find critical editions of the work you have chosen. For everything we are reading in this class, there is a “scholarly edition” (see the MLA Handbook 5.5.10 for an explanation of this term) that will include notes and annotations. You can use and cite these in your annotation.




Requirement Assignment Demonstrates Mastery if:
Annotation -Annotations cover two pages of the Norton Shakespeare text, or roughly 80-100 lines. The underscores, marks, and handwritten comments reflect extensive and deep engagement with the material.
Research -Writer cites and integrates three or more resources, presenting an annotation clearly based on research. The resources are authoritative, reliable, and selected with care.
Report and Bibliography -Report is thoughtfully written and clearly develops from and engages with the specific issues raised in the annotation. Report suggests possibilities for further research and shows, generally, a strong engagement with the text and its issues.-Annotation uses proper MLA documentation format throughout.-List of Works Cited is in correct MLA format, and the entries are all properly formatted.
Grammar, Spell-Checking, and Proof-Reading -Though not necessarily perfect, report is written with correct grammar and usage, is properly punctuated, and is carefully proofread and spell-checked.
Formatting and Presentation •    750-1000 Words

•    Photocopy of the original text with your annotations

•    Typed and double-spaced

•    12 pt. Font, Times New Roman

•    1 inch margins on top, bottom, left, and right

•    Pages Stapled or clipped together


Assignment adapted from Wyn Kelley and Mark Sample

[1] For anyone not using the Norton Shakespeare, and for general reference, this amounts to roughly 80-100 lines of the play.



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