In his theory of tragedy, Aristotle said that a tragedy must possess a certain magnitude. This means that the story is timeless and universal in its themes, and themes we must necessarily understand here to mean ideas. Timeless and universal ideas are those that have consequence and relevance for humanity-at-large, regardless of time, place, or culture. An idea is not a simple concept (i.e. familial loyalty). An idea expresses a particular principle or conviction. An idea offers a particular understanding of how things are, of causal relationships between or among entities, of patterns connecting qualities, acts, or tendencies.
Ideas are often elicited through a well-phrased, provocative question. For example, “To be or not to be?” Ideas explore why. Humans grow intellectually, morally, and spiritually when they grapple with ideas.
But to be truly consequential and relevant to our lives, an idea must be more than ill-founded or uninvestigated opinion. An idea needs to be explored, weighed and considered, compared and evaluated to be meaningful. Indeed, we must deepen the idea through reflection, analysis, interpretation, and connection.
About Hamlet, eminent literary critic and Shakespearean scholar Harold Bloom said: “We read to reflect and to be reflected. … You can make of the play ‘Hamlet’ and the protagonist pretty much what you will, whether you are playgoer or reader, critic or director, actor or ideologue; push any stance or quest into it and the drama will illuminate what you have brought with you. The enigma of Hamlet is that so many are moved to identify with him.” (Bloom, Hamlet: Poem Unlimited)
Consider: What has Hamlet illuminated for you? With what do you identify in the character of Hamlet? Which idea raised in the play – which universal and timeless idea – resonates most profoundly for you?
II. THE TASK – DEEPEN THE IDEA:
Your task is to deepen a resonant idea from Hamlet and uncover its relevance to the world beyond the one depicted on stage. Through reflection, analysis, and interpretation of Hamlet and references to one other previously studied literary work and one artifact (i.e. artwork, historical/political event, speech, essay, advertisement), you will arrive at a deeper understanding of the idea – its history, its meaning, its slipperiness, its tensions, its implications, its consequences, its conditions, its contingencies. All of the things that float deeply beneath the surface of the idea and make the idea truly provocative and illuminating when closely considered.
You will deepen the idea through your own organic, original, creative connections among the texts and your ever-expanding understanding of the idea through analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. You will necessarily need to include well-chosen evidence from Hamlet, the other literary work, and your artifact. You may also include moments from your own experience and other texts in addition to the required evidence. (NOTE: You should not begin your essay with a personal experience. You are NOT writing a personal narrative essay.)
• What did Hamlet make you think more deeply about?
• To identify the provocative idea you want to explore, you can begin with an essential question that Hamlet raises (i.e. Is loyalty to self a greater virtue than loyalty to family?).
• Which previously read literary works do you connect with Hamlet?
• Which artifacts in the world (artwork, historical/political event, speech, essay, advertisement) do you connect with Hamlet?
• How does each text/artifact raise the idea?
• What does each text/artifact say about the idea?
• How do the texts/artifacts compare in their treatment/tone/attitude regarding the idea?
• Where there are conflicting implications, messages, or meanings, and how do you reconcile them?
IV. WRITE THE ESSAY:
Remember that you, yourself, should be authentically interested in and moved by the idea that you work with.
Your essay should demonstrate a clear ability to:
• Analyze written texts as sources of ideas.
• Discover and develop your own ideas.
• Select and incorporate evidence from written texts, art objects, and experience to substantiate ideas.
• Practice the art of incorporation (text/evidence integration): placing evidence into an essay to deepen the idea.
• Practice the art of meaningful reflection.
• Understand the form and nature of an essay – recording the idiosyncratic movement of your mind on the page in a coherent, compelling organization of points and evidence.
• Advance your ideas in well-organized prose that is academically sound without being pretentious.
• Properly cite all evidence. Write within MLA format.
Write and revise your essay with these brilliant insights in mind:
• All evidence should be presented to a reader under the assumption that the reader is NOT familiar with the texts and evidence you are using. You must SHOW your reader the images/artwork/scenes that you are presenting. You must give sufficient CONTEXT for all of the evidence you present, telling the reader where the parts/ specific aspects of the evidence you are citing come from. Include titles, authors, and summaries/overviews for the texts you quote/cite.
• Sentences are acts of interpretation and connection (not just a means of conveying facts and information)! In each of your sentences some aspect of the idea you are grappling with in your essay should be apparent. This means that whether you are describing a work of art, a place or a person, the tension/problem/question/ relationships at the heart of your essay should be manifest in the details you choose to present, and in the words you choose to present them with. No unnecessary words! No misleading details! No boring sentences!
• Transitions are meant to help your reader follow your mind as it weaves through evidence, interpretation and reflection. Your movement between paragraphs should be clear and well-considered. Each paragraph should move logically and lyrically to the next, and should clearly relate to the paragraph that precedes it.
A few important words about essay construction (taken from Pat C. Hoy II, English Professor at NYU):
• Beginnings seduce us, create the terms and conditions of the world of our inquiry, announce our intentions in subtle and evocative ways; and point the way to an IDEA. No idea, no essay.
• Endings collect our genius, the things we have learned and examined in the Middle, where the real work of representation and analysis takes place. In preparation for writing an ending, we must go back into the Middle to see what we have done that surprised us, what came to us by way of the Force, what needs to be preserved in the Ending. We bring all of those goodies into the ending with the force of confluence, allowing them to run together creating a new pattern, creating lasting emphases, reminding our readers what we have sprung on them. The Ending constitutes our last chance to get the IDEA expressed in its fullest and most exciting terms.
• As for Middles, suffice it to say that no one can tell you how to organize your own middle. Middles take their energy and derive their form from the work of your mind playing with evidence, with your evolving IDEA and with your concern about audience. You have to say to yourself: How can I tell them what I have to tell them so that they can follow me? How can I make them see? I must make them see it my way. See everything: what I have to say about the installation or performance; what I have to say about its relationship to space; what I have come to see about all of this stuff. Remember this: The Middle is the playground of your mind made manifest.
• 6 – 8 pages
• Judiciously chosen evidence from Hamlet, a previously studied literary work, and an artifact (artwork, historical/political event, speech, essay, advertisement, etc.)
• MLA format
• No research is required or desired for this assignment. The thinking should be yours throughout.