You may hand in one of these tasks as a substitute for one of the essays
from the listings in the course calendar. If you feel a need to do
extra-credit work, let's talk or email. You and I need to agree on the best
strategy to complete the course with the highest possible grade. Contact me
for detailed directions, to negotiate the size of the assignment to fit your
need for points, and to negotiate a deadline.
WARNING--Ground Rules: Do NOT send in
summaries of anything as if they are essays; summaries do not require
evaluative thinking, which is the basis of this course. Also, several
pages of mediocre writing will not convince me that your course grade
should be an A or a B, so select a topic for which you can do insightful
writing rather than a topic that looks easy.
NO POINTS WILL BE AWARDED
UNTIL THE WRITING IS LETTER PERFECT--WITH 100% ACCURACY IN EDITING, so
find a way to edit and proofread your work before turning it in with the
basics of spelling, verb endings, and sentences endings under control.
each page you write for these tasks would
be worth up to 20 points for the highly
detailed, smoothly written, thoughtful and thought-provoking analytical
writing of an A-quality essay.
(A "page" by email is, let's say,
20-30 lines of type.)
The movie Roxanne is an update of the play (and movie) Cyrano de
Bergerac, and West Side Story is an update of Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet.
a. Compare one of these
modernizations with the original on the basis of theme, cultural context,
and staging: Did the update significantly change the theme of the story?
vs. Cyrano de Bergerac
- West Side Story
vs. Romeo and Juliet
b. Outline a modernization of Oedipus Rex or of Antigone and
write out the climactic scene. Include in the outline details on setting,
characters, and staging.
New Litonline Module:
Suggest a work that might be of sufficient quality
that it could be the subject of a module at Litonline (see
contents). Explain how the work you are
suggesting is as complex as one of the works already listed in the table of
contents. (Thus, you are writing a comparison-contrast essay.)
Review a locally produced live play for theme, characters, and stagecraft
(or a movie or video that we agree has merit).
Review a current issue of Poetry
Magazine (available in our campus library) for variety of styles,
focusing on two poems from the issue to display and analyze the range you
perceive in the issue. Photocopy both poems, and analyze the quality of
both, using the
sample "recommendation essay" on Frost's "Birches" as a guide.
(and hearing?) Robert Frost's "Birches" and reading the sample
analysis of it at the
"Birches" website, find one of the following other poems that use
birch trees in their imagery and contrast the tone and images of that poem
with the tone and images of Frost's poem. For Frost, the birches are a
symbol. What do the birches signify in Frost's poem? for the other poem?
What differences in "voice" do you hear and what causes these
differences--rhyme (or not), rhythm differences, vocabulary?
Galvin, Brenda. "The Patience of
White Birches." The New Yorker, 16
Thornton, Thomas E. "Birches, Down
a 1/4." English Journal, 82.1
[January 1993]: 86.
Twichell, Chase. "Ghost Birches."
The Southern Review, 28.2 [Spring
Warren, Robert Penn. "John's
Birches." The New Yorker, 12 August 1985:
Listening to versions of William Blake's "London" to hear variations
in emphasis and method: Several readings of this famous poem have been
Go there and listen to each one in
turn; then select two that you would like to compare and contrast in
detail. Identify each of the two and tell differences in emphasis that you
hear; explain what these differences do to the tone or even the theme of the
1. The Westbrook version is sung in "cut time," that is mostly in 3/4 time
(like a heartbeat rhythm) but the loudest part is in 4/4 time. Does the
saxophone at the end change the tone?
2. The Brown version seems
chant-like. Listen to what the loudest part of a few lines is: Would you
have used the same emphasis? Did other versions? What's the effect of
repeating the first verse at the end?
3. In the Forbes version, what's the
effect of harmonizing the third verse? What's the effect of postponing the
last verse by inserting a musical interlude before it? What's the tone of
that interlude, based on the sound of the guitars?
4. The Vaughn Williams version is
sung without instruments. How does this affect the tone of this version?
(Part of the first stanza is cut off, accidentally, from this recording.)
The singing is also in a minor key; how does this fit or not fit the poem?
5. The Britten version with piano
accompaniment sounds different from the other versions partly because of the
singer's formal (operatic) training. Are its variations in volume more
appropriate than the chanting quality of the Brown or Forbes versions?
6. The Ginsberg version sounds like
a chant but uses heavy base background music. How does this version alter
or enhance the tone of the poem?
Poet Timothy Donnelly was selected in 2003 by Entertainment
magazine as IT poet for the year. Donnelly says--
- "Biggest Misconception About
Poetry: 'That poetry is a delicate and nostalgic pastime with little
cultural relevance, like needlepoint.'" (Entertainment Summer
Double Issue, June 2003: 92)
- "Best Advice: 'Poetry should
be at least as interesting as television."
Does Donnelly's poetry live up
to these observations? Judge for yourself. The links below are to
poems by Donnelly that were on the Web as of 7/8/03. Answer the
question by focusing on one or two that do or don't live up to his two
observations, above, in your estimation--though you can mention any and
all that you find on the Web, including these.
Review a current short story, focusing on theme, characterization, and
impact as a cultural artifact. (That means applying as many of the
"elements of fiction" as you can.) We need to agree on the story in
advance, and a copy (or an online story's URL) must be provided with your
review. For current short fiction (not non-fiction), see these sites or find
others. (Disclaimer: There's no assertion of quality or cleanliness for
stories at any of the links below.)
Write a fan letter to one of the main players in a movie that we agree on;
your letter must contain specific praise (e.g. praise for work in a
particular scene that consists of reasons why you liked manner, gestures,
tone, etc. in that scene). Get the address for the actor or actress or for
the actor's agent from Who's Who or the World Wide Web/Internet, (e.g.
Mr. Showbiz) even a studio's address
from some other source; ask the reference librarian of any library to help
you get an address. Plan to rent or use a video of at least one performance
to analyze a scene in detail for this assignment. (Warning:
Many students pick this assignment as "easy"; actually, it's easy to write a
mediocre fan letter, challenging but fun to write an informed, detailed,
analytical fan letter that's really a thoughtful review of one performance
or a pattern in a career.)
Make a playbill and background notes for
* Zeffirelli's production of Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson, Glenn
Close, Alan Bates, etc.
* OR The Glass Menagerie with Joanne Woodward, Karen Allen, John
* OR A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon,
Lou Gossett, etc.
Consult me for the exact format (I have
a sample for The Lion in Winter), but include the names and
identifying information of each character, along with the name of the actor
or actress who played the role. Information about many of these actors is
available simply by searching the Internet
Movie Database or doing a "Net Search"
for the actor's name on the World Wide Web, so you could include
"filmographies" and biographical background on some actors, listing the URL
or other specific source identifier so I or another student can look them up
later. Also include historical background on where this story came from
(this will take some research).
Hamlets: Rent another actor's portrayal of Hamlet to compare and
contrast with Mel Gibson's portrayal, such as the portrayal by Laurence
Olivier (1948), Nicol Williamson (1969), Derek Jacobi (when?), Kevin Kline
(when?), or Kenneth Branagh (1996). Consider attitude, gestures, looks,
tone of voice, actions, and interactions with other characters. What
personality do the differing portrayals give to Hamlet--decisive,
hesitating, condescending, bold, wimpy, insane, confused, or what? Plan to
focus on one or two scenes, e.g. confronting Ophelia in the courtyard or
confronting his mother in her chambers or ???
"Literary Research Paper": (strongly recommended for students who
will take a sophomore survey of American, British, world, or
African-American literature either here at JSRCC or at a transfer college or
university) Read the last case study in chapter 4 of Responding to
Literature (Stanford 139-155). The resulting paper will be graded, but
you should also keep a process log and hold on to all of your notes,
photocopies, bibliographic notes--in case I have questions or in case I want
to make an example to supplement your textbook's explanation for my JSRCC
students in later semesters.
Internet/Web or Online Research or Summarizing Literary Criticism: After you've seen some of the lessons
in Litonline, join
the fun by finding stuff (background information, biographical info. on the
author, literary criticism to summarize, as I did for "Hills"
using the Gale, MLA, and Factiva online databases via the JSRCC library web
page) for any other of the works that might be assigned
for this course. Basically, you type the name of a work or an author into a
"search engine," like Google, and then
click on the web page titles that are listed for you on screen to select
worthwhile analyses. The trickiest part is reminding yourself to keep track
of the Web address where things come from that you download.
No experience is necessary; I can show you what to do in about an hour
in the PRC library and I will supply diskettes for your downloading. To
earn points, you need to suggest possible uses of the materials you find,
including possible questions, notes, answers, captions, credit lines, and
Sample or Current Essay Drafts: (Contact me for this one. Front
Page fried the table of contents at this forum.) What makes writing for a
course like this one good writing? Email to me grade-raising ideas and
praise of particular strengths for one or more of the essays at
Essay Draft Drop Box.
Contributing to a Website on a Specific Literary
Work or Movie: The websites in
the Litonline site that serve as
study guides usually contain the pieces listed below. At the usual
per-printed-page point rate, you might easily substitute for an essay by
completing such a study guide on line.
- critiques, explanations, study
questions for a work: Most sites on the Web tend to be collections of
favorite poems without much reflection, so plan to include your own "A"
essays; but you should see if you can turn up literary criticism by
teachers or students. Google, Yahoo's selected hits, or HotBot's Boolean
search options may help.
- photos to illuminate a poem,
along with some explanation: For instance, to illustrate the setting of
Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," a photo of the Dover beach or cliffs or
even Dover Castle might accompany some scene setting. (Find a photo using
your favorite search engine or just by clicking on the "Search" icon in
your web browser.) Since it's only 22 miles from Dover, England, to
Calais, France, it's possible to see the French lights on the horizon, if
the sea is calm and atmospherics are right. For sonnet 116, I also tried
to use poems to translate or illuminate metaphors or individual words in
- Advanced: I haven't yet asked a
question and offered hot-linked answer choices so that when users click on
an answer they are sent to further considerations (to rethink a
short-sighted answer or for a right answer some praise and a more advanced
consideration). If the Litonline team gets more funding, I hope we can
all build in many such questions; there are only a few at the moment, e.g.
in the drama introduction.
- Suggest writing topics and
perhaps projects that might involve more than one student, especially from
more than one campus. Our current modules often end with
writing assignments--and the site for
The Glass Menagerie
steps students through developing four possible essays about that play.
Usually, the writing suggestions are on a separate page.
If possible, link to the work
itself online (use your favorite search engine to find it).
Suggest a Play for This Course: I'd
dropped Oedipus the King because there is not a good movie
version available (the most movie-like is the version with Christopher
Plummer and Lily Palmer). Hamlet seems to put some people
off. So suggest in detail why some other play or maybe a rentable
theatrical movie might serve better. The play/movie doesn't
necessarily have to be in our textbook. For instance--
- Death of a Salesman
enjoyed a successful
50th anniversary run on Broadway recently. Being a modern tragedy, it
is easier for students to read and watch and identify with in some way.
In addition, the playwright, Arthur Miller, has written and spoken about
his play and the nature of modern tragedy.
- A Raisin in the Sun
(also in our book) is a
popular play that many students know and would like to revisit. Two
good film versions exist (at least) and can be rented, so that staging
elements could be contrasted scene by scene, as was true for Hamlet.
(not in our text) was in my course
some years ago as part of a thematic unit on revenge (along with
Oedipus and Hamlet). Made from a stage script, the movie is
theatrical in its intensity (as opposed to an action movie that gains
intensity from personal danger and plot suspense but may use stereotypes
of villains and heroes).
The basic criterion is whether we
readers and viewers can sense the conflict inside the main character(s) as
well as between characters (action movies pretty much overemphasize
external conflict, which is often resolved by physical force).
To develop your recommendation
in detail, use any of the categories for movies on
midterm and final presentation checklist.
Letter to a
Character: One student wrote a letter to Minnie Wright to tell
her how she felt about Minnie's circumstances. Other students have answered
this letter as Minnie. Either way, the details support judgments about
motives and circumstances that made very interesting reading.
Following this idea, write a
letter to one of the characters you have read about this semester or to a
favorite movie character. Tell why you sympathize with the character, ask
any questions you have about the character's predicament or actions (but
suggest your own guesses about answers), and analyze the character's motives
(this is often called "second-guessing"). Of course, it's the pattern of
claims and supporting evidence that makes the letter substantial.
Alternatively, write a letter
as a fictional character to explain your motives for doing what you
did. Why did Ahab pursue the white whale until it cost him his life and his
ship? Why did Darth Vader turn to the "dark side of the Force"? Why did
Hamlet seem to "hesitate" for so long instead of just stabbing Claudius
right after seeing the ghost or in the chapel once Claudius's guilt was
confirmed? Or take another character and explain his or her motives; you may
have to supply a plausible "back story" (background) in addition to details
from a fictional work--short story, novel, movie.
Surviving This Course:
Record and provide a script for a sound file
that can be kept at this website regarding one or more aspects of surviving
this course, especially if you are in the online version.
- Keeping a balance among work, home, course work,
other courses, and maybe even a social life
- Tips for writing a high-quality essay that shows
critical thinking ability
- Finding and asking for help from classmates,
Academic Support Center tutors, faculty, significant others
- Handling your computer and the software needed to
work on this course efficiently and effectively
[This suggestion was adapted from Kam Jugdev and
Maureen Hutchison, "Online MBA Orientation Program: Some Best Practices," in
Online Classroom: Ideas for Effective Online Instruction Nov. 2004: