This project will demonstrate your intense and careful thought about one particular poem. The focus is style. Do not be led astray by big ideas, broad themes, or general thoughts. Do not write about heroes.
1. Pick a short section of one of the poems.
2. Reinterpret it in another style, another medium, another art form, another language, with images, with sound, and so on.
3. Write 5 to 7 pages on why you interpreted as you did. Be very, very specific.
You must have permission from me by 18 November. I will not accept a project that has not been cleared.
Paper Topic: Variant One
This paper compares the first half of Beowulf to the second half. The first half ends when Beowulf leaves Hrothgar's land.
1) Look for parallels between the first half and the second half. Make a list.
2) Put your list into categories (like objects, characters, settings, plot devices, and so forth). For example, there is a funeral in the first half and a funeral in the second half; Beowulf's sword breaks in the first half, and his sword breaks in the second half.
3) Do not write an introductory paragraph, propose a thesis, or offer a conclusion.
4) Describe the parallels. Complete one category before you go on to the next one.
5) Read your paper aloud. Make sure each sentence can be understood by someone else.
Paper Topics: Variant Three
1. Style versus
Substance. In Book Two of Paradise Lost, Milton says that Belial's
speech is "cloth'd in reason's garb" (226). Milton employs
a number of metaphors of covering or clothing, and even has one
devil claim that God's glory can be clothed in darkness. Milton
is distinguishing between appearance and substance, between the
style of a speech and its truth claims. With their rhetorical tricks
(their style, as it were), the demons can make darkness appear to
be light, baseness appear to be loftiness, and Hell appear to be
In your paper, find
ways that the metaphor of covering, or of false appearances, or of outside-versus-inside
explores the relationship between truth and fiction. Please distinguish between
simile, metaphor, and metonymy. You need come to no conclusion.
2. The Substance
of Style. Rhyme, verse form, and meter contribute to the overall
effect of a poem. In Herbert's "The Pulley," a lack of
feet in the first stanza, an abundance of feet in the second stanza,
and a balance of feet in the fourth contribute impressionalistically to the poem's larger
claims about balance and rest. Assonance and initial conjunctions imply syntactic dependence, which in turn speaks
to the dependence of the reader on divine rest.
In your paper, describe
how the form of a poem (verse form, meter, rhyme, sound, etc.)
contributes to one of its themes. Choose specific examples. Concentrate
on one poem only (not "The Pulley").
3. War. Many
of the poems we have read, especially Chaucer's Knight's Tale,
depict men and women at war. Whether it is Beowulf at war with mostrous
forces, the English at war with vikings, Milton's demons at war
with angels, or a war between opposing forces in the mind of a character—conflict
is at the heart of much English poetry. In your paper, explore how
conflict works a single poem. Which characters are in conflict? Are settings in conflict? Are motives in conflict? Most importantly, how are those conflicts portrayed? Does the author use colors, sounds, verse structure, rhyme, or any other device to make you feel the conflict as well as read it?
characters in medieval poetry seem flat (like Beowulf or the Lanval's Queen of Fairy),
and some multi-dimensional (like the Wife of Bath). But few seem
actually to change significantly during a work.
In your paper, explore
how character works in a single poem. What are
the minimum requirements for a character (how little do we have
to know of a character to imagine him/her)? How do we know what
a character is meant to invoke (e.g., evil, envy, confusion,
doubt)? Be specific and use evidence to back up each claim. Try
to establish what words and phrases tell you about a particular
character. Concentrate on one work only.
5. Symbol. Part of Paradise Lost concerns Adam's relationship to Eve before
and after the Fall. What implications are there for that relationship if we interpret Eve as a symbol of women? What implications are there if we interpret Eve as a symbol of mothers?What implications are there if we interpret Eve as a symbol of practical reason? Finally, which interpretation seems to make most sense of the rest of the story in Book Eight?
6. Three Styles. We spoke about three major styles of writing and reading. The appositive style of Old English, the allegorical style of Middle English, and the associative style of the Renaissance. In your paper, take a very short passage from one of our poems and interpret it in each of the three styles. For your conclusion, try to discover what changed for you when you read the poem in three different ways.