Essay 1

Write a stylistic analysis of a short passage from Shakespeare

This essay will have two parts:

Part One. Analyze ONE of the following passages. Work through it carefully, line by line, to “unpack” each line’s poetic and rhetorical effects. Use the online Oxford English Dictionary to explore the etymology of key words in the passage and their particular usages during Shakespeare’s time. (Get into the habit of looking up key words in the OED for any literary analysis. But while one or two instances of important etymology or usage might prove useful to your essay, avoid letting the essay become a listing of vocabulary words and their various meanings.) Note whether the passage is verse or prose and what effect that choice has in the particular context. Grapple with the literary and rhetorical figures—simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, assonance, consonance, enjambment, parallel structure, and so on—and through your analysis reveal an important effect of the passage that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Build your thesis statement on this discovery.

Part Two. Discuss the passage you have analyzed in connection with another brief citation from the play, one of your choosing; do not choose a passage longer than 5 lines. You could choose to focus on a single word and its connotations in another passage; you might choose a single metaphor that echoes the passage at hand; perhaps you will find a similar statement made by another character, with some nuanced difference; the passage might connect with another passage that uses similar imagery, amplifying or complicating its use in the first passage; and so on. As these plays are rich in thematic, poetic, and rhetorical resonances, you should have no trouble finding a succinct phrase, line, couplet, metaphor, or whatnot, that resonates with the original passage. The purpose of this assignment is to practice thorough and precise exploration of Shakespeare’s dramatic language.

I have quoted the passages from the Pelican edition. If you use a different scholarly edition, however, you might notice differences between your text and the Pelican passage. You might want to explore any such editorial differences you encounter in your essay; whatever text you use, including the Pelican, feel free to compare it to other editions to see if it sparks a new line of thought on the passage. Do not, however, put much stock in differences in punctuation; all the punctuation is by modern editors, not by Shakespeare.

Remember that your are writing for an audience thoroughly familiar with these plays and with early modern English; do not, therefore, waste time summarizing the plot or paraphrasing the language. Avoid generalizations and steer clear of hypothetical or psychological readings concerning a character’s potential emotions, thoughts, or motivations. Everything you say in your analysis should relate directly to the actual words of the text. Don’t get sidetracked; stick with the words.

Make your prose as clear and concise as possible. Don’t waste my time and yours trying to sound impressive. Organize your paper around a thesis, a claim about how the stylistic elements in your passage work. A good thesis will address the full complexity of the passage you select.

Your essay should be 2-3 pages (500-800 words). Quote the passage you select at the beginning of your essay. Put the exact word count for your paper (not including the quoted passage at the beginning) on the last page.

Since your only source for this essay will be your chosen passage, you do not need a Works Cited page. You should, however, use MLA style for formatting your document. (See MLA Style: Document Format, Anatomy of a Citation, and How to Quote Shakespeare.)


Romeo & Juliet 3.2.17-25

Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night,
Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night;
Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.1.123-34

His mother was a vot’ress of my order,
And in the spicèd Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossiped by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking th’ embarkèd traders on the flood;
When we have laughed to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind,
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following (her womb then rich with my young squire),
Would imitate, and sail upon the land
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.


Twelfth Night, or What You Will 1.5.257-65

Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemnèd love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Hallow your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out “Olivia!” O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me.


Hamlet 1.5.32-40

                                                            I find thee apt,
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear.
’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forgèd process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.


Page Last Updated: 14 May 2011