Explication of a Speech from Shakespeare

Write a two-to-three-page (500-800 words) explication of ONE of the following speeches by Shakespeare:

Romeo & Juliet (2.2.2-32)
  “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?”

Julius Caesar (3.2.73-107)
  “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!”

Hamlet (3.1.55-87)
  “To be, or not to be, that is the question”

(N.B. The full text of each speech appears on the download version of the assignment sheet.)

In this essay you will thoroughly and precisely explore a brief passage of Shakespeare’s dramatic language.


Explication To explicate your chosen speech, work through it carefully, line by line, unpacking the effects of each line’s poetic and rhetorical techniques. Then explain how those techniques help convey a possible meaning or key concept that a casual, first-time reader might easily miss. Your thesis will state this discovery explicitly. Note that an explication must analyze form as well as content: not just the themes and ideas in the speech, but also how Shakespeare crafts and styles the language. To help you develop both your explication and your thesis you will write a set of Explication Journals.

Everything you say in your explication must relate directly to the actual words of the text. Don’t get sidetracked; stick with the words. Focus on explicating this particular speech, don’t start talking about Shakespeare, or the culture that produced him, or the moral messages his plays (may or may not) contain, or on anything else but the words in front of you.

Structure of Explication Essay
Introduction
(1 paragraph)
  • Hooks the reader’s interest.
  • Introduces the critical question your essay will address.
  • Ends with a thesis statement (your answer to the question).
Explication
(3-4 paragraphs)
  • Explains the function of several poetic and rhetorical devices within the speech through close, careful, detailed analysis.
Conclusion
(1 paragraph)
  • Briefly summarizes your explication.
  • Returns to the “hook” from the opening paragraph.

Sources Your essay will have at least TWO sources: one primary source (the text of the speech itself) and at least one secondary source. Your secondary source will provide specific information relevant to your explication. You might use a standard reference work like the Oxford English Dictionary to help you define the precise historical meaning of a word, or you might look at a more specialized reference work on Shakespeare’s language (like David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words, C.T. Onions’s A Shakespeare Glossary, Alexander Schmidt’s Shakespeare Lexicon, or a concordance of Shakespeare’s works); the detailed footnotes and glosses in a critical edition of Othello (like the Arden, Oxford, or New Cambridge editions) could prove helpful, so might the vast body of critical commentary available on the play. But whatever secondary source you use, make sure it directly illuminates some aspect of your own explication of the speech.

Your essay must have a Works Cited page with full bibliographic information on your sources, and it must employ in-text, parenthetical references. Use proper MLA formatting throughout your essay. (See drmarkwomack.com/mla-style/, especially “Document Format,” “Anatomy of a Citation,” and “How to Quote Shakespeare.”)

Schedule for Essay 2 — Explication of a Speech From Shakespeare
Outline Workshop March 18 Explication Journal 4 (including your Working Thesis and your Informal Outline).
Peer Review Workshop March 22 THREE copies of your First Draft.
Revision Workshop March 25 Return Completed Peer Reviews.
Revision Conferences March 27 No class. (Optional Revision Conferences in CASA 325.)
Final Revision Due April 1 Revised Draft, First Draft, all the Peer Reviews you received, and all your Short Story Journals (in a two-pocket folder with your name on the front cover).

Please Note This essay builds on all the skills you learned from writing your short story analysis. Therefore everything the assignment sheet for that essay said about Thesis, Evidence, Structure, Style, Audience, Drafts, Revision Conferences, Proofreading, and so on applies to this essay too.

Page Last Updated: 25 February 2013