10 Ways to Write the Perfect Shakespeare Essay
William Shakespeare was like most artists, struggling to make a living. "Shakespeare in Love" (1998) deconstructed the myths surrounding the native of Stratford-upon-Avon, the greatest playwright in English literature. The Bad may (or may not) have been inspired to pen "Romeo and Juliet", probably the most unforgettable tragedy of all time. He may (or may not) be too drunk to be a prolific writer. Queen Elizabeth I may (or may not) be his biggest fan. All these reasons could inspire a college student to write an essay on a Shakespeare play. It would also be a romp.
Colleges could have opted to make Shakespeare a study option but chose to make it mandatory to all (BA English) students instead. Not a few have trepidation about it, as the Bard's English is hard to comprehend instantly. Then again, no one says that metaphor is piece of cake to the teenage mind. The enduring popularity of Shakespeare's plays has less to do with the requirement (on studying the Bard's plays) than the familiar themes. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (Don't tell it the descendants of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)
Elizabethan English shouldn't be an obstacle to study Shakespeare's plays. It's simple if you really know what to write about.
A short list to guide you through your paperwork
Know your history. You're halfway to your completion of your assignment if you know the background to the play. For instance, it won't be good enough to cite the annexation of North Africa to the Roman Empire. Ancient Egypt was the mightiest empire in the African continent, one of four cradles of civilization. Could petty politics among the members of the pharaoh's family play a part in its demise? The answer could be a nice introduction to your assignment on "Antony and Cleopatra". If you choose it to be your argument, then you must know more about the motives of the titular characters. You'll get to that part later.
Put yourself into the Bard's shoes. Shakespeare didn't pen complicated characters in their complicated affairs. The storyline would be simple, but the depth of emotions could overwhelm anyone. How did this brilliant playwright done it? This should be a subject for a debate, where you must make a guess. This one would be better than playing it safe (and look for previous opinion).
Have a drink. It might make you pass out after a long night at a party, but you wouldn't go through a familiar route on this one. There won't be any doubt that alcohol helped Shakespeare loosen up (and think about his next play). The premise of "The Tempest" didn't come to him unexpectedly. He must have known someone who resembled Prospero. His case won't be too different from most novelists. Comparison should be the right thing to do here, as you recall your favorite books.
Watch a play. If you can find a video of an old production, featuring the marquee figures in British theater, then it will be the perfect reference to your paper. A local production will be as good as the early version.
See a movie. Make it movies. Anyone could relate to the familiar themes, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Bard's plays transcend cultures. Think of "Throne of Blood", which would be "Macbeth" set during the medieval samurai era. It could also be genres. ("Forbidden Planet" would be "The Tempest" in spacesuits.)
Follow the lead (character). If you're struggling to figure out what the play is really all about, then concentrate on the lead character(s). Why did Romeo and Juliet became popular figures? How could young love withstand the more-pressing issues? There's a chance that most answers are almost identical, which shouldn't be a relief to you. There must be something else. Think harder.
Identify the motive(s). Emotions could affect good judgment, but it shouldn't be the case here. Power would corrupt anyone, and it had been a frequent theme in Shakespeare's tragedies. If you can contrast one from the other, then you'll likely to get a compliment from your professor. After all, you choose to make your own path.
Relate to the cast. You haven't lost your innocence (like the star-crossed lovers that would be Romeo and Juliet), even your jolly disposition. (You wouldn't be the merry wife of Windsor, though.) On the other hand, it should be a coincidence if you're drawn to the likes of Iago. Then again, everybody has brooding thoughts (or hate for that matter). Recall a particular moment in your (young) life and why would the Bard notice it. Your professor might be impressed at your response.
Be true to yourself. You don't need to try too hard to understand everything that Shakespeare had written in his plays. Pick the one you're familiar with, if not quite familiar with a theme or two. You can always the question if you're still in the dark on certain aspects of the play(s).
Raise your voice. It's a signal that you must abandon your passive stance.
You've come to the final draft
How will you know if you have written the perfect Shakespeare play? Aside from proofreading, you should have discussed every major point in your paper. There must be emphasis on the titular character, if not the lead character(s). A memorable villain must not be far behind. If you can disagree with Shakespeare's stance on a particular theme, then you won't be the same student in the eyes of your professor. Ever.
You might be tempted to resort to Elizabethan English, but you don't have to do it. Keep in mind that your professor must understand your essay, if not be persuaded by your arguments.
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