A quick reminder that you only write one paper for me this semester, but you have a choice of submitting it either at an earlier or later due date. The advantage of due date #1 is that you get the paper out of the way and get more grades earlier in the term. The advantage of the later date is that you have more of Shakespeare under your belt.
Due Date #1 is March 24, end of day
Length: at least 4 pages; these usually come in 4-6 pages.
*Before you begin, please be sure to look at the 2 other pages in this section: Ground Rules and How to Cite.
Basically, this is a formulaic paper, but the formula is in the essay’s form, not its content. You’re going to pick one character from Merchant of Venice and argue that (a) over the course of the play that character learns something, or we learn something about the character [This one will most likely be the case for Henry IV!], and (b) the shape of that change (how exactly it occurs, the language and images through which it’s presented) conveys an idea. The character may have learned by being told something, or by observing or experiencing something. The important part, however, is that by looking at that process of learning we can see something: an idea about the process of change, or about our perception; or, perhaps the play reflects on whatever it is the character learned about: power, or authority, or speech, or the natural world, or God, or love, or about maleness or femaleness, or about desire, or any of the other million things these plays are about.
Occasionally characters reflect on what they learn, sometimes not (Bassanio is reflective, Orsino not so much, but he seems to see differently by the end). And of course we learn something about all of them–but what we learn doesn’t always change (Sir Andrew, for instance). Ultimately, your argument won’t be simply the fact that a character (or we) learn something so much as the meaning of that learning or insight.
The “formula” part comes in how I want you to pursue your argument. I’d like you to choose 3-4 short passages—spoken by or about your character—and read these closely to make your point. You will no doubt have to make reference to other parts of the play you use, but I expect you to spend most of your time explaining the meaning of—not just summarizing—your passages. Look especially at imagery and vocabulary, in many senses the heart of Shakespeare’s language. But note: You should not programmatically move through your passages by beginning each paragraph with “Another place that shows Bassanio’s growth is….” If you have offered a thesis in your introduction as to the meaning of a character’s learning, you should be able to organize your paper in roughly 3 sections: 1) what the character thought initially (or we thought about the character), 2) what events or forces lead to the character’s (or our) insight (this would be the change), and 3) what we should understand about the process or what the character learned—whether what was learned is a challenge to an orthodoxy established earlier in the play; whether what was learned undercuts conventional assumptions (also established in the play), such as what a man or woman is, the source of political power, how to conduct oneself, how to persuade, the value of play or jokes, etc.
Here’s an idea of how a paper might work [with a slightly different arrangement of sections: 1) Antonio’s initial state; 2) The problem with his state (i.e., the meaning); 3) What he becomes. Below are an introductory paragraph and a brief outline (I’ve underlined my “what the change means” claim; you don’t have to underline):
Over the course of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Antonio is transformed from a powerful but sad man who gains by giving to a “victim” who benefits from the generosity of others. Antonio’s change in attitude helps us see a larger movement in the play that suggests to be fully human requires not only giving and hazarding all, as the lead casket reads, but also being the beneficiary of the generosity of others. It is both giving and taking, in other words, that truly create the ties that socially bind.
Outline: The passages I would look at closely are:
a) Antonio’s remarks at the end and beginning of 1.1, which suggest both his generosity and affection, as well as his troubling sadness and lack of self-knowledge.
b) Portia, who at the beginning of 1.2 is only in a position to take (as opposed to the giving she does later).
c) Portia’s “mercy” speech (4.1, but just a few lines), which suggests BOTH the divinity of giving AND the humanity in taking.
d) And finally, Antonio’s humility in 5.1 as “subject” (237) and as newly “bound” to Bassanio and Portia in “soul” (251)
Let me again say that what really counts is that you show what a character’s change means, that you interpret change as showing us something about a larger issue. Here, that issue is the extent to which one has to “be” fully in a society not by virtue of being a member of its majority or most powerful group (male, white, Christian, etc.), but by performing a full range of social gestures.


(USA, AUS, UK & CA PhD. Writers)


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