This is an archived course. A more recent version may be available at ocw.mit.edu.

Assignments

Description of Assignments

Each student is responsible for three required papers (totaling at least 20 pages) and one required oral presentation (ca. 12 minutes) in class. Papers and oral presentations are conceived as exercises in literary interpretation through close analysis; they should be focused on a specific passage or small set of passages from the text under consideration. Passages chosen for analysis should be representative of some important concern in the work as a whole, so that by concentrating on the details of the passage, one ideally expands outward and comprehends large-scale tendencies of the work. Analysis, then, should be balanced between detail and generalization; depth of insight is only strengthened by specificity of reference. In general, the papers and talks will consider some combination of three main areas: character, imagery, and theme. This may vary somewhat in the case of a philosophical work. But all discussion of the content and form of a literary or philosophical work presupposes immersion in the particular writer's language (even in translation). The analysis of the work should make use of the work's own terms, as illuminated by careful reading and study. One thing to remember in all this: avoid simple plot summary. Anyone can recount "what happens" in a work; the challenge is to say what it means.

The first paper should be on Hamlet or Don Quixote, the second on any other text read in the class, including those assigned after the due date for the second paper. The third paper is a rewrite of whichever of the first two received the lower grade. The rewrite should be an occasion for rethinking the paper from the ground up, for tightening the organization of sentences and paragraphs, and for sharpening every single formulation

Student Work

The Value of Friendship (PDF) (Courtesy of Meredith Brown. Used with permission.)

The Duality of Don Quixote's Character as shown through his Attitude towards Dulcinea of El Toboso (PDF) (Courtesy of Jordan Wirfs-Brock. Used with permission.)

Moliere's The Misanthrope: Masking the Truth (PDF) (Courtesy of Anne Yu. Used with permission.)