HUMN / ENGL 150 -- SPRING 2007 -- PAPER 1

Length:  7-10 double-spaced, typed pages

Due: Friday, February 23, 2007

As specified in the syllabus/policies statement for the course, you must write a 7-10 page essay analyzing the works we have examined in order to argue a thesis about those works that addresses one or more of the historical and/or philosophical topics we have discussed thus far.  You will have an individual meeting with me within the next week in order to discuss a topic and plan your approach for the paper.  Begin your prewriting immediately--thinking about the works we've examined, brainstorming and making lists, beginning a tentative outline, etc.

You should avoid simply summarizing the work you decide to write about. While your essay may begin with a short summary in order to set context, you should be certain to analyze rather than to summarize. One way to avoid summary is crafting an argumentative thesis that takes an arguable point of view on the novel, a point of view that will require support from the text itself.

Suggested topics include:

1.  Choosing one or more of the figures we have studied so far as your focus, explore the idea of the "individual" that emerges in the Renaissance.  Consider some of the following sorts of questions: What features or capabilities seem to characterize the emerging Renaissance conception of the individual?  Are these characteristics entirely new?  What seems to be most distinctive (or most significant) about the Renaissance's contribution to the idea of the individual?

2.  Consider the notion of historical "paradigm shifts" as a way of understanding and articulating the fundamental importance of one or more of the figures we have examined.  How do Pico, Machiavelli, Marlowe, and/or Martin Luther represent continuity with the past and/or a radical break with the past?  In what ways are these continuities or breaks expressed in the works of the artists you've chosen?  You do not have to argue that all the figures we've examined are similar in this respect--you can choose to focus only on figures who represent breaks with the past, or you can look at some who seem more continuous or traditional and some who seem more revolutionary.  For example, are the ideals espoused by Pico and Machiavelli ultimately incompatible with each other or do they participate in the same pattern of historical change?  Do the figures you're examining present us with similar or different views of the human condition, human freedom, etc.?

3.  What we now call the European Middle Ages was a time in which the Roman Catholic Church had tremendous power, in terms of politics, philosophy, and cosmology.  Arguably, the Renaissance and the Reformation mark the onset of what we might now call modern secularism, in which religion has been progressively severed from politics and "everyday life."  Examine one or more of the figures we have studied in terms of this progressive challenge to the power of the church, explaining what role they may have played in such a movement.  It is not necessary to demonstrate a direct challenge to the church; certainly, it can be argued that shifts in philosophical ideas about authority, the importance of secular life, and so on have a role in historical change, as well.  One way to structure a paper such as this would be to focus on one particular philosophical theme or issue, such as "freedom" or "fate" or "authority."

4. Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus is the first literary or dramatic work we've read. Write a literary analysis that focuses on one theme or symbol in Dr. Faustus, explaining how this element of the text functions within the larger context of the play and how it contributes to the larger meaning of the text. Examples might include: the search for knowledge; sexuality; angels and demons; the "lower" characters in the text; and so on.

You are also free to suggest a topic or focus of your own, but in this case, you should discuss your idea with me soon.

Suggested Approach:

1.  Look back over the work(s) you are dealing with, until you think you have an idea of the overall theme or thesis or meaning.  Jot down notes as you read.

2.  Choose an element of the work -- philosophical theme, issue, style, symbol, structure -- that enables you to enhance or define the meaning of the work as you understand it.

3.  Construct a THESIS that indicates (a) your focus, and (b) the relation of that focus to the works.  A thesis represents your conclusion or opinion about the works.  Thus your thesis is argumentative; it should not be an obvious point or statement of fact, but should be a thoughtful statement that indicates some of the complexity and depth of the works in question, a statement that needs support and proof.  Don't settle for the first generalization that comes to your mind and think about the "So what?" factor in paper topics.  Ask yourself:  "Could my thesis or opinion cause a reader to respond, 'Yes, that's true, but so what?'  Or will my thesis illuminate for the reader some point that he/she might not have noticed at first reading?"

4.  EVIDENCE:  Find quotations and examples in the story that support your thesis, and organize the rest of your paper around this evidence.

5.  CONCLUSION:  Your paper should conclude by summing up your argument so that

(a) the reader sees that the evidence you've given does in fact support your thesis, and

(b) you offer some indication of how your focus/thesis fits into the whole of the story.


Other Important Advice:

1.  Follow your direct quotations with the appropriate page number from your textbook in parentheses.

2.  Somewhere on the first page of your paper, mention the works you are analyzing by title and author.

3.  When you write about literature, always write in the present tense.  For example:

"Faustus's lust for knowledge blinds him to what is happening to his soul."

4.  MAKE SURE YOUR PAPER IS NOT MERELY A SUMMARY OF THE WORK IN QUESTION.  You may offer a very brief plot summary early in your paper in order to provide context, but the majority of your paper must be analytical.

5.  Include a title for your paper.  "Analysis of Pico and Machiavelli" is not enough.  Give some indication of your topic (for example, "Pico and Machiavelli as Humanists").

7.  A decent paper takes some time.  Don't wait until the last minute and then rush to complete the assignment.  That way lies madness.