Final Project Guidelines

The goals of the final project are for you to explore our plays in greater detail and to exercise your skills in writing and critical analysis.  I also give you some options for exploring Shakespeare in other ways—through thinking about his work pedagogically or as a performer.

I am giving you THREE different options, with THREE different due dates, for completing this requirement for the course. Choose ONE of these options:

OPTION #1 (DUE Friday, April 11th):

Select a topic from the list below.  The questions posed here are intended to help you gather passages, brainstorm ideas, find a thesis, and ultimately get you started on your writing. You may find that you do not answer all of the questions in your essay:

  1. Blood in Richard II and Romeo and Juliet  In Richard II, the blood of the main character is violently spilled, while in Romeo and Juliet, many spill blood in a “civil broil” that ends in the two lovers’ deaths.  What is the difference between “blood,” both real and metaphorical, in these plays (you might find it helpful to look up the word in the OED)? What powers does it hold in each? Does the different treatment of this crucial element and idea relate at all to the differences between these two tragedies?
  2. Shakespeare’s Working Class  In addition to kings, merchants, and lords, Shakespeare fills his plays with other characters with more marginal roles: servants like the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Gremio, and Tranio in Taming of the Shrew, gardeners (in Richard II), carters (in 1 Henry IV), “rogues” like Sly, and so on. Choose two of these characters and discuss: What does Shakespeare show about the professional lives of characters who are outside of the main action of his plays?  What work do they do for the other characters in the play?  How do these jobs relate to their roles in the play, as a whole?  Are they in any way similar to other characters from the main plot of the play? Are they, in other words, as insignificant as they might appear?
  3. Bonds and Freedom  We observed in Taming of the Shrew that bonds or constraints can also be expressions of freedom. How does Shakespeare use bonds, both physical and figurative, in his plays and poetry? Using examples from two of his plays, consider how “bonds” are the source of limitations as well as opportunities. (For this topic, you might find it helpful to look up “bond” in the OED).
  4. Analyze a Performance For this assignment you will select a scene from one of the plays we have read this semester and analyze TWO interpretations of that scene in performance. In your paper, you should write about why you selected this scene and discuss how it is important to the play as a whole. Here are some issues you might consider in your analysis: What changes (cuts, insertions, reorganization) did the performers make to Shakespeare’s original text? How do these affect the performance? What is notable about the style of the actors’ performances? Are they naturalistic, exaggerated, emotive? What non-verbal elements contribute to the effect of the scene (lighting, costuming, cinematography, music, make-up)? Compare the two versions you have selected and analyze which you think is the more effective interpretation. Why? What did looking at the different interpretations of this scene help you understand about the play that you didn’t before?

SPECIAL NOTE: If you choose to write on one of these topics, I will give you the opportunity to revise and resubmit your essay. This option is only available if you choose Option #1.


1. Build your own topic for a 6-8 page paper.  You may also use something you wrote in a blog post (or even read in someone else’s blog post or comment), a topic you wrote about or explored in your Research Review, or something we discussed in class and that appears in our class notes as the starting point for your own topic.

If you choose this option, you will need to expand your original idea through the integration of further research on the topic.  This can include the use of other resources listed in the Research Review assignment (such as the OED, critical essays, and web resources) or sources that you derive from your own research.

2. Critical Pedagogy Lesson Plan. Imagine that you are an elementary school, middle-school, or high school teacher preparing to teach one of the plays from our syllabus. You want to enrich your students’ understanding of the play through the integration of a critical or historical source. In your paper, you will therefore present:

1)A narrative overview (about two pages in length) explaining why you would choose this play, what historical or critical issues you would want to highlight in your work with your students, and what your goals and outcomes would be for teaching this play.

2) A discussion and description of about 3-4 pages of the critical or historical source that you have chosen to enhance your lesson plan. You may choose a source from the bibliography in the Norton Shakespeare, a chapter from The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, or another source that you find from your research (please run the source by me, though, if you choose to find your own).

3)Finally, discuss in about 1-2 pages how you would integrate the historical materials or criticism you have chosen. How would you use and alter the materials you found in your research to make it more accessible to your students? Be sure that you are considering the age level of your students in your preparation. Try to be creative in coming up with ways to make Shakespeare accessible to your students.

If you choose one of these options, by Friday, April 11th you must e-mail me a brief explanation of your final topic, including your plan for further research and exploration.

Deciding between Option #1 and Option #2:

Read over the assignment options above and decide whether you want to write on one of the topics I have suggested or if you would rather pursue a topic of your own.  This step may seem obvious, but here are some questions to ask yourself before you finally decide:

How much work do you have at the end of the term? Would it be beneficial for you to get your final essay completed earlier?  Do you already have an idea for your own topic, or are you just hoping something will come to you? (if the latter, I recommend OPTION #1!).  Are you interested in research and honing your research skills? (If so, I recommend OPTION #2) Are you considering graduate school or a teaching career?  (Option #2)

Whatever your decision, please make sure that you start early, spend plenty of time underlining and selecting evidence from the text, and give yourself enough time to draft, revise, and turn in your strongest work!

And as always, I am more than happy to talk with you about your ideas and any problems or questions that arise as you are working on your writing projects.

OPTION #3: Performance (PERFORMANCES AND JOURNALS DUE Tuesday, May 6th)

For this option, you will be responsible for producing a scene of about 10-15 minutes from any of the plays we have read this semester. The “scene” doesn’t need to be a section of the text that your book’s editors have chosen—you can choose whatever section of the play you like.  You should also feel free to rearrange and edit the dialogue in the scene as you like, but all of the language needs to be from Shakespeare. Make sure, too, that you are doing actual interpretations and not just different acting styles (“serious” vs. “slap-stick”; “drunk” vs. “sober”). This should be a full, “off-book” (memorized lines!) production replete with blocking, props, and even sound or visual effects (if you choose).

If you are interested in choosing this option, please let me know as soon as possible and I will make a list of interested students.

I will not grade you on your acting ability, but I will be grading you on how thoughtful your interpretations are, how successfully you convey those interpretations to your audience, and on the overall quality of the performance.

Since this is also a writing project, 30% of your grade will be based on an “Actor’s Journal” that your group will submit on the day of your performance. The journal should contain the following:

  1. A Group Vision Statement. Roughly one page of the journal should be dedicated to explaining how you came up with your interpretation. What about the language of the scene led you to the ideas you had for shaping the performance? What other performances of this scene that inspired your interpretation (I expect there to be at least one other adaptation included in your bibliography). Generally, you should justify and rationalize the choices you made in putting together your production.
  2. Individual Actor Statements. Each member of the group should also contribute roughly one page that explains the choices you made in interpreting the role you were cast. How did you arrive at the decision to portray your character in the way that you did? What insights did you gain about this character from your reading of the play? Point to particular lines that you felt gave you a good understanding of the character (even if they are not in the scene that you performed)? How did you carry that understanding into this scene?
  3. Reflection Statement. Finally, your group should include roughly ½ page that explores further possibilities for your interpretation of this scene. If you were to produce an entire version of the play you chose, what would it look like? How would you use the insights of your interpretation to build a complete production of this play?