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Extra-Credit Suggestions

Directions: 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.  ALERT!! 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.

In general, 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.)


Updates:  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?

  • Roxanne vs. Cyrano de Bergerac
  • West Side Story vs. Romeo and Juliet
  • O vs. Othello
  • other?

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.)

Reviews:  Review a locally produced live play for theme, characters, and stagecraft (or a movie or video that we agree has merit).

Poetry1:  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.

Poetry2 After reading (and hearing?) Robert Frost's "Birches" and reading the sample analysis of it at the essay on "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
         March 1987:36.

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:

Poetry3:  Listening to versions of William Blake's "London" to hear variations in emphasis and method: Several readings of this famous poem have been gathered at

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 poem.

Helping Hints:
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?

Poetry4: 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.

Fiction:  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.)

Fan Letter: 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.)

Film:  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 Malkovich, etc.
* 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).

Comparing 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 ???

Writing a "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.

Doing 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 commentary.

Evaluating 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 the 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 the text.
  • 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.
    • Amadeus (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 the 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: 5.]


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