Our main goal for this essay is to focus on your ability to apply ideas from secondary sources (commentary & analysis, philosophical concepts or definitions, and/or historical context) to a primary source (the text or object you are actually making a claim about). In other words, secondary sources should give you the tools you need to make your own sophisticated claim about what the object of your analysis is doing.
In this case, the primary source (object of your analysis) is Shakespeare’s play, specifically the characters in the play; you will be making a claim about those characters and whether or not they count as “monsters”. The secondary sources (assigned articles and essays) should give you the vocabulary, definitions, concepts, and context you can use to help analyze the characters. For example, do characters perform the functions Cohen suggests for monsters? Or do characters seem to follow Machiavelli’s advice for rulers? How successfully do they do so?
Prompt: In William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, which characters might be classified as “monsters,” and why? Can any characters be considered innocent or not monstrous, or do they all ultimately contribute in some way to the tragedy of the play’s events?
To answer this question, you will need to consider the actions, motivations, and ultimate fate (what happens to them? is it deserved? do we feel any sympathy for them?) of at least three of the main characters in the play, and demonstrate your knowledge of characters and events by using specific support and quotes from the text.
You will also need to incorporate at least three (your choice) of our secondary source readings and/or videos from the first half of class (see the list below). You may use these sources in various ways: definitions of monsters and their purposes, historical context for what audiences might have thought at the time, ideas about morality, happiness, and/or good or bad leadership, and so on—but you should demonstrate your ability to connect the ideas of at least three theorists and apply them to Shakespeare’s characters.
Possible Secondary Sources (you’ll need to work with at least three!)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture: Seven Theses”
John Edgar Browning, “UB Research: Monster Culture”
Guillermo del Toro, “Monsters Are Living, Breathing Metaphors”
Natalie Wood, “How Society Makes Monsters”
Barbara Mowat & Paul Werstine, introductory sections on Shakespeare’s life & language, in your copy of Titus
Alexander Leggatt, “Titus Andronicus: A Modern Perspective,” in your copy of Titus
Aristotle, “The Aim of Man”
Hsun Tzu, “Man’s Nature Is Evil”
Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Qualities of the Prince”
Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence”
Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny”
Stephen King, “Why We Crave Horror Movies”
Be sure to have a strong, unambiguous thesis, no later than the end of your first paragraph (or your second, if you have a short dramatic hook as an opening), in which you state your overall claim about at least three main characters, whether they deserve the label of “monster” (you can say all or none of them do!), and to what extent they contribute to the tragic ending of the play. (continued on page 2)
Remember, the goal here is not to have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ position on the monstrosity of Shakespeare’s characters, but to persuade your audience that your position is the correct one. To do this, you must establish your credibility by showing your knowledge of both Shakespeare’s play and the three secondary sources you choose.
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