Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example

Looking for the Hamlet analysis essay? Read this drama analysis essay example and get an insight into Hamlet themes and characters.

Introduction to the Drama Analysis Example

Hamlet themes, analysis of characters in hamlet, conclusion of the hamlet analysis essay.

In the play Hamlet, William Shakespeare who is one of the most influential writers in history has elaborated the contemporary themes in society into a piece of literature as revealed in the drama. Due to his universal way of creating themes, he has been able to influence the western literature. In the contemporary theatre of the western, they still view Shakespeare’s work being relevant.

Shakespeare therefore uses the stylistic device of a play within a play to pass his information to the audience as well as helping him develop his plot. Shakespeare has in this case therefore used the main actor Hamlet in portraying this device. Hamlet who is a character in the play is again seen in another play within the play, which he acts in order to be in a position to kill Claudius.

Hamlet is a play that depicts a vivid drama of melancholy and insanity as well as famous of its ghostliness. In this play, Shakespeare has used various elements of literature to develop the plot of the play. In this case, the writer has used characters, settings, symbols, themes, characterization and other elements of literature in the development of the plot. The writer has used these elements correlatively to achieve his plot.

Themes are used to develop characters in the play. For instance, the writer has used the theme of betrayal to develop the main character Hamlet in the play hence the development of the plot. The writer used the name of the play as the name of the main actor while other characters in the play helped in development of the predominant theme in the main character.

Therefore, four main characters have greatly contributed by playing major roles. Hamlet experienced character development through the betrayals of Ophelia with whom he is romantically involved. Gertrude is his mother and Claudius’ wife while Gildernstern and Rosencrantz were his friends from the University of Wittenberg.

When the scene begins, there is a very close relationship between Hamlet and the mother, which later fades off when Gertrude remarries his uncle Claudius two months after his father’s death. This culminated the distrust in women since his mother was the most important female in his life.

He therefore uses mockery phrases like “such dexterity to incestuous sheets” and “frailty, thy name is woman”. Such phrases illustrated how disgusted and disappointed he was towards his mother and women as well as depicting how isolated he was as a young man.

The theme of madness has also played major role in the development of the plot. Insanity was used in many revenge tragedies like in the first revenge tragedy of Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus. Unlike in the case of Hamlet where the madness is ambiguous, other revenge tragedies in the character have been unambiguous.

In the source of Shakespeare’ plot in Hamlet, the main protagonist feigns his madness to be in the position to revenge without being suspected by the king (Claudius) whom he plots to kill. In the play, Hamlet’s madness tends to distract him from accomplishing his mission as it is depicted in the play as being with very little interest in accomplishing the mission of the ghost even after proving that Claudius is guilty (act 4 scene 2).

Hamlet therefore acts like a mad person in the play since he is aware in a bizarre manner that he should act as a mad man to accomplish the role of revenge in Hamlet. He knows the role that he is supposed to play even though to some extent he does not attain it satisfactorily.

This in return built Hamlet as a character who wants to revenge. Ophelia is another character who plays the part of a mad person but in her case, she is innocently mad. Ophelia loses her senses of self-knowledge and composure completely and therefore insane.

Suicide is another theme that has been used by Shakespeare to develop the plot in Hamlet. The play has been shaped using Ophelia as well as Hamlet. Hamlet deeply contemplates about the issue of suicide and this is seen in his soliloquies. He keeps on asking himself questions about the act of murder.

Hamlet had the fear to kill because of his social as well as religious morals. He views suicide as a crime in the societal view and even before God who gives life. He also had the fear of what happens to the person after he has departed from this world and going to the world of the deaths.

Ophelia’s death also arouses many issues where some people say that she died a natural death while others say that she committed suicide. According to Hamlet’s mother, Ophelia’s death was accidental because she drowned while on the other hand, the priest and the gravediggers said it clearly that Ophelia killed herself. This therefore left the people feeling that Gertrude’s narration was just a story to cover up the whole issue of murder since it was viewed as an immoral act in the society (act 5).

In Hamlet, Shakespeare has used women characters in the development of the plot. In the play, women are seen to play minor roles but very essential in development of the plot. In the play, Gertrude and Ophelia are the two women in direct relationship with the main protagonist. The writer develops the theme of love in the play using Gertrude who is the main protagonist’s mother. This is seen when Gertrude tries to stop the death of his son because Hamlet never loved her as a mother.

This is because; he felt that her mother was involved in the murder of his father. She is concerned about the well-being of her son, which proves the reason why Claudius could not inform her about the plot of killing his stepson. Ophelia is portrayed as loving because after the death of her father she became insane.

This is evident when she started using abusive language in public without fear as she used to behave in the previous scene, where Hamlet could abuse her and she could not respond due to the fear she had as woman who was under the power of a man.

The theme of patriarchal is built around the two women to show how they were not allowed to make decisions on their own. For example, in the case of Ophelia, she is forced by the father (Claudius) and her brother Laertes not to love Hamlet because the brother feels that Hamlet is playing with her feelings.

Trying to satisfy the wants of the father and brother, Hamlet blames her and even insults her, but since Ophelia does not have power to explain to him what was underlying the whole issue, she ends up suffering. The husband on the other hand see Gertrude as a less repressed person but Claudius married her so that he can be able to promptly take over the throne after Hamlet’s death and pretend that he is good just like the previous king by remarrying his wife.

Ophelia has been used to develop the stylistic device of symbolism in the play towards the development of the plot. The symbolism of her language in the play increases the range of meanings depicted in the play.

For example, Ophelia is emotional after hearing about the death of her father and throws flowers in every place around her as a sign of purity (act 4 scene 4). On the contrary, this symbolizes her deflowering as a person, on the other scene of her madness.

Lastly, the two characters have contributed in the development of the plot and again helped the writer to portray the fate of his heroes in the play. When Ophelia rejects Hamlet, Hamlet’s disgust his mother’s remarriage, taints the opinion about all women hence making him an isolated man. The madness death of Ophelia fortifies her brother’s determination of revenging on Hamlet, which results to the final catastrophe in the play. Gertrude cared for his son but could not control the tragedy from taking place.

The writer has used Hamlet who is the main character in the play to build other themes hence the development of the plot. After the death of Hamlet’s father, Hamlet plots on how to kill Claudius after the spirit confirmed to him that Claudius is the one who killed his father.

However, in the play Hamlets avenge on Claudius. “… I, his son, do this same villain send to heaven, why, this is hire and salary, not revenge” (Act 3 scene 3 78-84).

Honor is another theme portrayed through Hamlet the main protagonist. This theme is best depicted when Hamlet takes order from the ghost to revenge on Claudius as if the order came from God. “… With wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love may sweep to my revenge” (1.v.35-37).

The writer develops the plot using Claudius, Hamlet’s brother the king who later marries Gertrude his brother’s wife. In the play, he is Hamlet’s major avenger who is portrayed as lustful because he took his brother’s wife, Shrewd. He takes the throne that does not belong to him and allows his son revenge on Hamlet.

Due to these characters, he stands out as a man with contrasting characters from other men in the play. The ideas of Hamlet are just, honest and full of revenge but Claudius ensures that his power is maintained. In conclusion, the writer has also used other elements in correlation like the setting of the play to bring out the meaning in Hamlet.

Shakespeare therefore does not present various elements of literature as single entities in the play but he uses his concept of unity to express them as a single entity. Therefore, in this case, he uses characters in the play to develop themes and stylistic devices as well as using the themes to create the characters hence the clear development of the play.

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IvyPanda. (2018, June 26). Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example. https://ivypanda.com/essays/drama-analysis-of-hamlet-by-shakespeare/

"Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example." IvyPanda , 26 June 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/drama-analysis-of-hamlet-by-shakespeare/.

IvyPanda . (2018) 'Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example'. 26 June.

IvyPanda . 2018. "Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example." June 26, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/drama-analysis-of-hamlet-by-shakespeare/.

1. IvyPanda . "Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example." June 26, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/drama-analysis-of-hamlet-by-shakespeare/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Hamlet Analysis Essay: Shakespeare’s Play Analysis Example." June 26, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/drama-analysis-of-hamlet-by-shakespeare/.

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Humanities LibreTexts

12.14: Sample Student Literary Analysis Essays

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  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

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The following examples are essays where student writers focused on close-reading a literary work.

While reading these examples, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the essay's thesis statement, and how do you know it is the thesis statement?
  • What is the main idea or topic sentence of each body paragraph, and how does it relate back to the thesis statement?
  • Where and how does each essay use evidence (quotes or paraphrase from the literature)?
  • What are some of the literary devices or structures the essays analyze or discuss?
  • How does each author structure their conclusion, and how does their conclusion differ from their introduction?

Example 1: Poetry

Victoria Morillo

Instructor Heather Ringo

3 August 2022

How Nguyen’s Structure Solidifies the Impact of Sexual Violence in “The Study”

Stripped of innocence, your body taken from you. No matter how much you try to block out the instance in which these two things occurred, memories surface and come back to haunt you. How does a person, a young boy , cope with an event that forever changes his life? Hieu Minh Nguyen deconstructs this very way in which an act of sexual violence affects a survivor. In his poem, “The Study,” the poem's speaker recounts the year in which his molestation took place, describing how his memory filters in and out. Throughout the poem, Nguyen writes in free verse, permitting a structural liberation to become the foundation for his message to shine through. While he moves the readers with this poignant narrative, Nguyen effectively conveys the resulting internal struggles of feeling alone and unseen.

The speaker recalls his experience with such painful memory through the use of specific punctuation choices. Just by looking at the poem, we see that the first period doesn’t appear until line 14. It finally comes after the speaker reveals to his readers the possible, central purpose for writing this poem: the speaker's molestation. In the first half, the poem makes use of commas, em dashes, and colons, which lends itself to the idea of the speaker stringing along all of these details to make sense of this time in his life. If reading the poem following the conventions of punctuation, a sense of urgency is present here, as well. This is exemplified by the lack of periods to finalize a thought; and instead, Nguyen uses other punctuation marks to connect them. Serving as another connector of thoughts, the two em dashes give emphasis to the role memory plays when the speaker discusses how “no one [had] a face” during that time (Nguyen 9-11). He speaks in this urgent manner until the 14th line, and when he finally gets it off his chest, the pace of the poem changes, as does the more frequent use of the period. This stream-of-consciousness-like section when juxtaposed with the latter half of the poem, causes readers to slow down and pay attention to the details. It also splits the poem in two: a section that talks of the fogginess of memory then transitions into one that remembers it all.

In tandem with the fluctuating nature of memory, the utilization of line breaks and word choice help reflect the damage the molestation has had. Within the first couple of lines of the poem, the poem demands the readers’ attention when the line breaks from “floating” to “dead” as the speaker describes his memory of Little Billy (Nguyen 1-4). This line break averts the readers’ expectation of the direction of the narrative and immediately shifts the tone of the poem. The break also speaks to the effect his trauma has ingrained in him and how “[f]or the longest time,” his only memory of that year revolves around an image of a boy’s death. In a way, the speaker sees himself in Little Billy; or perhaps, he’s representative of the tragic death of his boyhood, how the speaker felt so “dead” after enduring such a traumatic experience, even referring to himself as a “ghost” that he tries to evict from his conscience (Nguyen 24). The feeling that a part of him has died is solidified at the very end of the poem when the speaker describes himself as a nine-year-old boy who’s been “fossilized,” forever changed by this act (Nguyen 29). By choosing words associated with permanence and death, the speaker tries to recreate the atmosphere (for which he felt trapped in) in order for readers to understand the loneliness that came as a result of his trauma. With the assistance of line breaks, more attention is drawn to the speaker's words, intensifying their importance, and demanding to be felt by the readers.

Most importantly, the speaker expresses eloquently, and so heartbreakingly, about the effect sexual violence has on a person. Perhaps what seems to be the most frustrating are the people who fail to believe survivors of these types of crimes. This is evident when he describes “how angry” the tenants were when they filled the pool with cement (Nguyen 4). They seem to represent how people in the speaker's life were dismissive of his assault and who viewed his tragedy as a nuisance of some sorts. This sentiment is bookended when he says, “They say, give us details , so I give them my body. / They say, give us proof , so I give them my body,” (Nguyen 25-26). The repetition of these two lines reinforces the feeling many feel in these scenarios, as they’re often left to deal with trying to make people believe them, or to even see them.

It’s important to recognize how the structure of this poem gives the speaker space to express the pain he’s had to carry for so long. As a characteristic of free verse, the poem doesn’t follow any structured rhyme scheme or meter; which in turn, allows him to not have any constraints in telling his story the way he wants to. The speaker has the freedom to display his experience in a way that evades predictability and engenders authenticity of a story very personal to him. As readers, we abandon anticipating the next rhyme, and instead focus our attention to the other ways, like his punctuation or word choice, in which he effectively tells his story. The speaker recognizes that some part of him no longer belongs to himself, but by writing “The Study,” he shows other survivors that they’re not alone and encourages hope that eventually, they will be freed from the shackles of sexual violence.

Works Cited

Nguyen, Hieu Minh. “The Study” Poets.Org. Academy of American Poets, Coffee House Press, 2018, https://poets.org/poem/study-0 .

Example 2: Fiction

Todd Goodwin

Professor Stan Matyshak

Advanced Expository Writing

Sept. 17, 20—

Poe’s “Usher”: A Mirror of the Fall of the House of Humanity

Right from the outset of the grim story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe enmeshes us in a dark, gloomy, hopeless world, alienating his characters and the reader from any sort of physical or psychological norm where such values as hope and happiness could possibly exist. He fatalistically tells the story of how a man (the narrator) comes from the outside world of hope, religion, and everyday society and tries to bring some kind of redeeming happiness to his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, who not only has physically and psychologically wasted away but is entrapped in a dilapidated house of ever-looming terror with an emaciated and deranged twin sister. Roderick Usher embodies the wasting away of what once was vibrant and alive, and his house of “insufferable gloom” (273), which contains his morbid sister, seems to mirror or reflect this fear of death and annihilation that he most horribly endures. A close reading of the story reveals that Poe uses mirror images, or reflections, to contribute to the fatalistic theme of “Usher”: each reflection serves to intensify an already prevalent tone of hopelessness, darkness, and fatalism.

It could be argued that the house of Roderick Usher is a “house of mirrors,” whose unpleasant and grim reflections create a dark and hopeless setting. For example, the narrator first approaches “the melancholy house of Usher on a dark and soundless day,” and finds a building which causes him a “sense of insufferable gloom,” which “pervades his spirit and causes an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart, an undiscerned dreariness of thought” (273). The narrator then optimistically states: “I reflected that a mere different arrangement of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression” (274). But the narrator then sees the reflection of the house in the tarn and experiences a “shudder even more thrilling than before” (274). Thus the reader begins to realize that the narrator cannot change or stop the impending doom that will befall the house of Usher, and maybe humanity. The story cleverly plays with the word reflection : the narrator sees a physical reflection that leads him to a mental reflection about Usher’s surroundings.

The narrator’s disillusionment by such grim reflection continues in the story. For example, he describes Roderick Usher’s face as distinct with signs of old strength but lost vigor: the remains of what used to be. He describes the house as a once happy and vibrant place, which, like Roderick, lost its vitality. Also, the narrator describes Usher’s hair as growing wild on his rather obtrusive head, which directly mirrors the eerie moss and straw covering the outside of the house. The narrator continually longs to see these bleak reflections as a dream, for he states: “Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building” (276). He does not want to face the reality that Usher and his home are doomed to fall, regardless of what he does.

Although there are almost countless examples of these mirror images, two others stand out as important. First, Roderick and his sister, Madeline, are twins. The narrator aptly states just as he and Roderick are entombing Madeline that there is “a striking similitude between brother and sister” (288). Indeed, they are mirror images of each other. Madeline is fading away psychologically and physically, and Roderick is not too far behind! The reflection of “doom” that these two share helps intensify and symbolize the hopelessness of the entire situation; thus, they further develop the fatalistic theme. Second, in the climactic scene where Madeline has been mistakenly entombed alive, there is a pairing of images and sounds as the narrator tries to calm Roderick by reading him a romance story. Events in the story simultaneously unfold with events of the sister escaping her tomb. In the story, the hero breaks out of the coffin. Then, in the story, the dragon’s shriek as he is slain parallels Madeline’s shriek. Finally, the story tells of the clangor of a shield, matched by the sister’s clanging along a metal passageway. As the suspense reaches its climax, Roderick shrieks his last words to his “friend,” the narrator: “Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door” (296).

Roderick, who slowly falls into insanity, ironically calls the narrator the “Madman.” We are left to reflect on what Poe means by this ironic twist. Poe’s bleak and dark imagery, and his use of mirror reflections, seem only to intensify the hopelessness of “Usher.” We can plausibly conclude that, indeed, the narrator is the “Madman,” for he comes from everyday society, which is a place where hope and faith exist. Poe would probably argue that such a place is opposite to the world of Usher because a world where death is inevitable could not possibly hold such positive values. Therefore, just as Roderick mirrors his sister, the reflection in the tarn mirrors the dilapidation of the house, and the story mirrors the final actions before the death of Usher. “The Fall of the House of Usher” reflects Poe’s view that humanity is hopelessly doomed.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” 1839. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library . 1995. Web. 1 July 2012. < http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/PoeFall.html >.

Example 3: Poetry

Amy Chisnell

Professor Laura Neary

Writing and Literature

April 17, 20—

Don’t Listen to the Egg!: A Close Reading of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”

“You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,” said Alice. “Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called ‘Jabberwocky’?”

“Let’s hear it,” said Humpty Dumpty. “I can explain all the poems that ever were invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet.” (Carroll 164)

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass , Humpty Dumpty confidently translates (to a not so confident Alice) the complicated language of the poem “Jabberwocky.” The words of the poem, though nonsense, aptly tell the story of the slaying of the Jabberwock. Upon finding “Jabberwocky” on a table in the looking-glass room, Alice is confused by the strange words. She is quite certain that “ somebody killed something ,” but she does not understand much more than that. When later she encounters Humpty Dumpty, she seizes the opportunity at having the knowledgeable egg interpret—or translate—the poem. Since Humpty Dumpty professes to be able to “make a word work” for him, he is quick to agree. Thus he acts like a New Critic who interprets the poem by performing a close reading of it. Through Humpty’s interpretation of the first stanza, however, we see the poem’s deeper comment concerning the practice of interpreting poetry and literature in general—that strict analytical translation destroys the beauty of a poem. In fact, Humpty Dumpty commits the “heresy of paraphrase,” for he fails to understand that meaning cannot be separated from the form or structure of the literary work.

Of the 71 words found in “Jabberwocky,” 43 have no known meaning. They are simply nonsense. Yet through this nonsensical language, the poem manages not only to tell a story but also gives the reader a sense of setting and characterization. One feels, rather than concretely knows, that the setting is dark, wooded, and frightening. The characters, such as the Jubjub bird, the Bandersnatch, and the doomed Jabberwock, also appear in the reader’s head, even though they will not be found in the local zoo. Even though most of the words are not real, the reader is able to understand what goes on because he or she is given free license to imagine what the words denote and connote. Simply, the poem’s nonsense words are the meaning.

Therefore, when Humpty interprets “Jabberwocky” for Alice, he is not doing her any favors, for he actually misreads the poem. Although the poem in its original is constructed from nonsense words, by the time Humpty is done interpreting it, it truly does not make any sense. The first stanza of the original poem is as follows:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogroves,

An the mome raths outgrabe. (Carroll 164)

If we replace, however, the nonsense words of “Jabberwocky” with Humpty’s translated words, the effect would be something like this:

’Twas four o’clock in the afternoon, and the lithe and slimy badger-lizard-corkscrew creatures

Did go round and round and make holes in the grass-plot round the sun-dial:

All flimsy and miserable were the shabby-looking birds

with mop feathers,

And the lost green pigs bellowed-sneezed-whistled.

By translating the poem in such a way, Humpty removes the charm or essence—and the beauty, grace, and rhythm—from the poem. The poetry is sacrificed for meaning. Humpty Dumpty commits the heresy of paraphrase. As Cleanth Brooks argues, “The structure of a poem resembles that of a ballet or musical composition. It is a pattern of resolutions and balances and harmonizations” (203). When the poem is left as nonsense, the reader can easily imagine what a “slithy tove” might be, but when Humpty tells us what it is, he takes that imaginative license away from the reader. The beauty (if that is the proper word) of “Jabberwocky” is in not knowing what the words mean, and yet understanding. By translating the poem, Humpty takes that privilege from the reader. In addition, Humpty fails to recognize that meaning cannot be separated from the structure itself: the nonsense poem reflects this literally—it means “nothing” and achieves this meaning by using “nonsense” words.

Furthermore, the nonsense words Carroll chooses to use in “Jabberwocky” have a magical effect upon the reader; the shadowy sound of the words create the atmosphere, which may be described as a trance-like mood. When Alice first reads the poem, she says it seems to fill her head “with ideas.” The strange-sounding words in the original poem do give one ideas. Why is this? Even though the reader has never heard these words before, he or she is instantly aware of the murky, mysterious mood they set. In other words, diction operates not on the denotative level (the dictionary meaning) but on the connotative level (the emotion(s) they evoke). Thus “Jabberwocky” creates a shadowy mood, and the nonsense words are instrumental in creating this mood. Carroll could not have simply used any nonsense words.

For example, let us change the “dark,” “ominous” words of the first stanza to “lighter,” more “comic” words:

’Twas mearly, and the churly pells

Did bimble and ringle in the tink;

All timpy were the brimbledimps,

And the bip plips outlink.

Shifting the sounds of the words from dark to light merely takes a shift in thought. To create a specific mood using nonsense words, one must create new words from old words that convey the desired mood. In “Jabberwocky,” Carroll mixes “slimy,” a grim idea, “lithe,” a pliable image, to get a new adjective: “slithy” (a portmanteau word). In this translation, brighter words were used to get a lighter effect. “Mearly” is a combination of “morning” and “early,” and “ringle” is a blend of “ring” and "dingle.” The point is that “Jabberwocky’s” nonsense words are created specifically to convey this shadowy or mysterious mood and are integral to the “meaning.”

Consequently, Humpty’s rendering of the poem leaves the reader with a completely different feeling than does the original poem, which provided us with a sense of ethereal mystery, of a dark and foreign land with exotic creatures and fantastic settings. The mysteriousness is destroyed by Humpty’s literal paraphrase of the creatures and the setting; by doing so, he has taken the beauty away from the poem in his attempt to understand it. He has committed the heresy of paraphrase: “If we allow ourselves to be misled by it [this heresy], we distort the relation of the poem to its ‘truth’… we split the poem between its ‘form’ and its ‘content’” (Brooks 201). Humpty Dumpty’s ultimate demise might be seen to symbolize the heretical split between form and content: as a literary creation, Humpty Dumpty is an egg, a well-wrought urn of nonsense. His fall from the wall cracks him and separates the contents from the container, and not even all the King’s men can put the scrambled egg back together again!

Through the odd characters of a little girl and a foolish egg, “Jabberwocky” suggests a bit of sage advice about reading poetry, advice that the New Critics built their theories on. The importance lies not solely within strict analytical translation or interpretation, but in the overall effect of the imagery and word choice that evokes a meaning inseparable from those literary devices. As Archibald MacLeish so aptly writes: “A poem should not mean / But be.” Sometimes it takes a little nonsense to show us the sense in something.

Brooks, Cleanth. The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry . 1942. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1956. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass. Alice in Wonderland . 2nd ed. Ed. Donald J. Gray. New York: Norton, 1992. Print.

MacLeish, Archibald. “Ars Poetica.” The Oxford Book of American Poetry . Ed. David Lehman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. 385–86. Print.

Attribution

  • Sample Essay 1 received permission from Victoria Morillo to publish, licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International ( CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 )
  • Sample Essays 2 and 3 adapted from Cordell, Ryan and John Pennington. "2.5: Student Sample Papers" from Creating Literary Analysis. 2012. Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported ( CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 )

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Introduction

Analyzing dramatic texts is very similar to analyzing any other piece of literature. You can certainly talk about plot, character, theme, or historical context just like you can with any other text we’ve discussed.

However, with dramatic texts, it is important to keep in mind what distinguishes them and makes them different from other kinds of literature. Language and text, is obviously a key component for a piece of literature, but for dramatic literature, there are actually three texts that all come together in performance. These are: spoken text, physical text, and subtext. The spoken text is the dialogue, or what the characters actually say to each other according to the script. This stays the same for every performance, however the physical text and the subtext often change based on the choices and interpretations by the actors and director. The physical text, which is created either through stage directions or by the director and actors, generates a physical story for the play. This performed text can also contribute to the meaning of the play, our understanding of characters, and sometimes tell a story different from the one being spoken. Subtext is the characters thoughts and feelings that are not spoken out loud but that motivate the characters.

Analyzing Dramatic Texts

Analyzing Drama

What is drama and how do you write about it.

When we describe a situation or a person’s behavior as “dramatic,” we usually mean that it is intense, exciting (or excited), striking, or vivid. The works of drama that we study in a classroom share those elements. For example, if you are watching a play in a theatre, feelings of tension and anticipation often arise because you are wondering what will happen between the characters on stage. Will they shoot each other? Will they finally confess their undying love for one another? When you are reading a play, you may have similar questions. Will Oedipus figure out that he was the one who caused the plague by killing his father and sleeping with his mother? Will Hamlet successfully avenge his father’s murder?

For instructors in academic departments—whether their classes are about theatrical literature, theater history, performance studies, acting, or the technical aspects of a production—writing about drama often means explaining what makes the plays we watch or read so exciting. Of course, one particular production of a play may not be as exciting as it’s supposed to be. In fact, it may not be exciting at all. Writing about drama can also involve figuring out why and how a production went wrong.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PLAYS, PRODUCTIONS, AND PERFORMANCES?

Talking about plays, productions, and performances can be difficult, especially since there’s so much overlap in the uses of these terms. Although there are some exceptions, usually plays are what’s on the written page. A production of a play is a series of performances, each of which may have its own idiosyncratic features. For example, one production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night might set the play in 1940’s Manhattan, and another might set the play on an Alpaca farm in New Zealand. Furthermore, in a particular performance (say, Tuesday night) of that production, the actor playing Malvolio might get fed up with playing the role as an Alpaca herder, shout about the indignity of the whole thing, curse Shakespeare for ever writing the play, and stomp off the stage. See how that works? Be aware that the above terms are sometimes used interchangeably—but the overlapping elements of each are often the most exciting things to talk about. For example, a series of particularly bad performances might distract from excellent production values: If the actor playing Falstaff repeatedly trips over a lance and falls off the stage, the audience may not notice the spectacular set design behind him. In the same way, a particularly dynamic and inventive script (play) may so bedazzle an audience that they never notice the inept lighting scheme.

A FEW ANALYZABLE ELEMENTS OF PLAYS

Plays have many different elements or aspects, which means that you should have lots of different options for focusing your analysis. Playwrights—writers of plays—are called “wrights” because this word means “builder.” Just as shipwrights build ships, playwrights build plays. A playwright’s raw materials are words, but to create a successful play, he or she must also think about the performance—about what will be happening on stage with sets, sounds, actors, etc. To put it another way: the words of a play have their meanings within a larger context—the context of the production. When you watch or read a play, think about how all of the parts work (or could work) together.

For the play itself, some important contexts to consider are:

  • The time period in which the play was written
  • The playwright’s biography and his/her other writing
  • Contemporaneous works of theater (plays written or produced by other artists at roughly the same time)
  • The language of the play

Depending on your assignment, you may want to focus on one of these elements exclusively or compare and contrast two or more of them. Keep in mind that any one of these elements may be more than enough for a dissertation, let alone a short reaction paper. Also remember that in most cases, your assignment will ask you to provide some kind of analysis, not simply a plot summary—so don’t think that you can write a paper about A Doll’s House that simply describes the events leading up to Nora’s fateful decision.

Since a number of academic assignments ask you to pay attention to the language of the play and since it might be the most complicated thing to work with, it’s worth looking at a few of the ways you might be asked to deal with it in more detail.

“Drama.” Licensed under CC BY SA 4.0 http://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/drama/

“Analyzing Drama.” Licensed under Standard Youtube License https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V–P3hWzXY

There are countless ways that you can talk about how language works in a play, a production, or a particular performance. Given a choice, you should probably focus on words, phrases, lines, or scenes that really struck you, things that you still remember weeks after reading the play or seeing the performance. You’ll have a much easier time writing about a bit of language that you feel strongly about (love it or hate it). That said, here are two common ways to talk about how language works in a play:

HOW CHARACTERS ARE CONSTRUCTED BY THEIR LANGUAGE

If you have a strong impression of a character, especially if you haven’t seen that character depicted on stage, you probably remember one line or bit of dialogue that really captures who that character is. Playwrights often distinguish their characters with idiosyncratic or at least individualized manners of speaking. Take this example from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest:

ALGERNON: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane? LANE: I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir. ALGERNON: I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately—anyone can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life. LANE: Yes, sir. ALGERNON: And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell? This early moment in the play contributes enormously to what the audience thinks about the aristocratic Algernon and his servant, Lane. If you were to talk about language in this scene, you could discuss Lane’s reserved replies: Are they funny? Do they indicate familiarity or sarcasm? How do you react to a servant who replies in that way? Or you could focus on Algernon’s witty responses. Does Algernon really care what Lane thinks? Is he talking more to hear himself? What does that say about how the audience is supposed to see Algernon? Algernon’s manner of speech is part of who his character is. If you are analyzing a particular performance, you might want to comment on the actor’s delivery of these lines: Was his vocal inflection appropriate? Did it show something about the character?

HOW LANGUAGE CONTRIBUTES TO SCENE AND MOOD

Ancient, medieval, and Renaissance plays often use verbal tricks and nuances to convey the setting and time of the play because performers during these periods didn’t have elaborate special-effects technology to create theatrical illusions. For example, most scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth take place at night. The play was originally performed in an open-air theatre in the bright and sunny afternoon. How did Shakespeare communicate the fact that it was night-time in the play? Mainly by starting scenes like this:

BANQUO: How goes the night, boy? FLEANCE: The moon is down; I have not heard the clock. BANQUO: And she goes down at twelve. FLEANCE: I take’t, ’tis later, sir. BANQUO: Hold, take my sword. There’s husbandry in heaven; Their candles are all out. Take thee that too. A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep: merciful powers, Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature Gives way to in repose! Enter MACBETH, and a Servant with a torch Give me my sword. Who’s there?

Characters entering with torches is a pretty big clue, as is having a character say, “It’s night.” Later in the play, the question, “Who’s there?” recurs a number of times, establishing the illusion that the characters can’t see each other. The sense of encroaching darkness and the general mysteriousness of night contributes to a number of other themes and motifs in the play.

PRODUCTIONS AND PERFORMANCES

Productions.

For productions as a whole, some important elements to consider are:

  • Venue: How big is the theatre? Is this a professional or amateur acting company? What kind of resources do they have? How does this affect the show?
  • Costumes: What is everyone wearing? Is it appropriate to the historical period? Modern? Trendy? Old-fashioned? Does it fit the character? What does his/her costume make you think about each character? How does this affect the show?
  • Set design: What does the set look like? Does it try to create a sense of “realism”? Does it set the play in a particular historical period? What impressions does the set create? Does the set change, and if so, when and why? How does this affect the show?
  • Lighting design: Are characters ever in the dark? Are there spotlights? Does light come through windows? From above? From below? Is any tinted or colored light projected? How does this affect the show?
  • “Idea” or “concept”: Do the set and lighting designs seem to work together to produce a certain interpretation? Do costumes and other elements seem coordinated? How does this affect the show?

You’ve probably noticed that each of these ends with the question, “How does this affect the show?” That’s because you should be connecting every detail that you analyze back to this question. If a particularly weird costume (like King Henry in scuba gear) suggests something about the character (King Henry has gone off the deep end, literally and figuratively), then you can ask yourself, “Does this add or detract from the show?” (King Henry having an interest in aquatic mammals may not have been what Shakespeare had in mind.)

PERFORMANCES

For individual performances, you can analyze all the items considered above in light of how they might have been different the night before. For example, some important elements to consider are:

  • Individual acting performances: What did the actor playing the part bring to the performance? Was there anything particularly moving about the performance that night that surprised you, that you didn’t imagine from reading the play beforehand (if you did so)?
  • Mishaps, flubs, and fire alarms: Did the actors mess up? Did the performance grind to a halt or did it continue?
  • Audience reactions: Was there applause? At inappropriate points? Did someone fall asleep and snore loudly in the second act? Did anyone cry? Did anyone walk out in utter outrage?

RESPONSE PAPERS

Instructors in drama classes often want to know what you really think. Sometimes they’ll give you very open-ended assignments, allowing you to choose your own topic; this freedom can have its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you may find it easier to express yourself without the pressure of specific guidelines or restrictions. On the other hand, it can be challenging to decide what to write about. The elements and topics listed above may provide you with a jumping-off point for more open-ended assignments. Once you’ve identified a possible area of interest, you can ask yourself questions to further develop your ideas about it and decide whether it might make for a good paper topic. For example, if you were especially interested in the lighting, how did the lighting make you feel? Nervous? Bored? Distracted? It’s usually a good idea to be as specific as possible. You’ll have a much more difficult time if you start out writing about “imagery” or “language” in a play than if you start by writing about that ridiculous face Helena made when she found out Lysander didn’t love her anymore.

If you’re really having trouble getting started, here’s a three point plan for responding to a piece of theater—say, a performance you recently observed.

  • Make a list of five or six specific words, images, or moments that caught your attention while you were sitting in your seat.
  • Answer one of the following questions: Did any of the words, images, or moments you listed contribute to your enjoyment or loathing of the play? Did any of them seem to add to or detract from any overall theme that the play may have had? Did any of them make you think of something completely different and wholly irrelevant to the play? If so, what connection might there be?
  • Write a few sentences about how each of the items you picked out for the second question affected you and/or the play.

This list of ideas can help you begin to develop an analysis of the performance and your own reactions to it.

The relationship and interactions between spoken text, physical text, and subtext all contribute to the overall meaning of a play and call attention to the individual choices that actors, directors, and designers make for their performances that make each one unique and often generate new meaning and interpretations for the play. Choices about pace of movement for a character crossing the stage, hesitation to speak or say a name, all affect the meaning of the play in performance. As you read and visualize a play in performance, you are making choices and creating your own interpretation of characters that are worth thinking about critically. These choices all contribute to the meaning that gets conveyed through spoken text, physical text, and the subtext of a given piece. As you read a play and analyze the choices that the playwright has made with the spoken text, stop to consider the choices you are making through your visualization of the play about how characters move and deliver lines to create physical texts and subtexts in your own interpretation of the play.

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3.7–Sample Analysis of a Short Story

Travis Rozier and R. Paul Cooper

How to Read this Section

This section contains two parts. First, you will find the prompt. The prompt is a very important element in any writing assignment. Don’t be fooled by the fact it is short! Even though it is a short document, it highlights and makes clear every element you will need to complete the given assignment effectively. When writing an essay, the prompt is where you will both begin and end. Seriously. Before you begin, familiarize yourself with the prompt, and before you submit your final draft, give the prompt one final read over, making sure you have not left anything out. When you visit the University Writing Center and Libraries, they can better help if you bring along the prompt. Both the Writing Center [1] and the Libraries [2] provide indispensable tools to aid students, so take advantage of their services.

The second part of this section contains a simulated student essay—the essay is not an actual student essay, but an essay written to demonstrate a strong student essay. The essay in this section is not meant to represent a “perfect” essay; it has its faults. However, this essay is an effective response to the given prompt. The “student” essay will be represented in a wide column on the left, and the grader’s commentary will be represented in a smaller column on the right. Use the example and the comments to help you think about how you might organize your own essay, to think about whether you will make similar—or different—choices.

Sample Prompt

Assignment Description: For this essay, you will choose a short story and write an analysis that offers an interpretation of the text. You should identify some debatable aspect of the text and argue for your interpretation using your analysis of the story supported by textual evidence.

Content: The essay should have a clear argumentative thesis that makes a debatable claim about the text. When analyzing the text, you should consider the elements of the short story discussed in class (plot, narration, character, setting, tone and style, theme, symbol, etc.). However, you should only analyze those elements that are important to understanding your interpretation of the text. You should also convey the implications of your specific claim about the text for how we might interpret the text as a whole. How does your argument shape the way we read meaning into the text?

Research Expectations: As this is not a research paper, you should use no more than two or three outside, scholarly sources, and these should be confined to historical, biographical, or literary context. In other words, they should not offer any analysis of the text itself. All the interpretative work in this paper should be produced by your own readings of the text in light of relevant contexts.

Format: All citations should adhere to current MLA 8 guidelines, and a Works Cited page including entries for the primary text and any secondary sources is also required. You will also be graded on form and correctness, so make sure you edit and proofread carefully for grammar, punctuation, etc.

Scope/Page Count: Word count should fall between 900–1200 words (3–4 pages).

Short Story Student Essay

Attribution:

Bowling, Hannah Elizabeth. “Short Story: ‘Blood for Blood’: Marital Conflict in ‘A Red Girl’s Reasoning.’” In Surface and Subtext: Literature, Research, Writing . 3rd ed. Edited by Claire Carly-Miles, Sarah LeMire, Kathy Christie Anders, Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt, R. Paul Cooper, and Matt McKinney. College Station: Texas A&M University, 2024. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License .

Rozier, Travis, and R. Paul Cooper. “Short Story: Sample Analysis of a Short Story.” In Surface and Subtext: Literature, Research, Writing . 3rd ed. Edited by Claire Carly-Miles, Sarah LeMire, Kathy Christie Anders, Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt, R. Paul Cooper, and Matt McKinney. College Station: Texas A&M University, 2024. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License .

  • University Writing Center, Texas A&M University, 2021, https://writingcenter.tamu.edu/. ↵
  • Texas A&M University Libraries, Texas A&M University, 2021, https://library.tamu.edu/. ↵

3.7--Sample Analysis of a Short Story Copyright © 2024 by Travis Rozier and R. Paul Cooper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Analyzing Drama

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This chapter aims at introducing exemplary ways of how you can interpret a play. Every drama analysis will have to pay attention to fundamental questions which are outlined in the reader’s toolkit below.

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Further reading.

Asmuth, Bernhard. Einführung in die Dramenanalyse . 7th ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2009.

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Buse, Peter. Drama and Theory: Critical Approaches to Modern British Drama . Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Dollimore, Jonathan. Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries . Brighton: Harvester, 1984.

Jahn, Manfred. “A Guide to the Theory of Drama.” Poems, Plays, and Prose: A Guide to the Theory of Literary Genres . 2 Aug. 2003. English Department, University of Cologne. 20 June 2011 ‹ http://www.uni-koeln.de /~ame02/pppd.htm› .

McEachern, Claire. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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Pfister, Manfred. Das Drama: Theorie und Analyse . 11th ed. Stuttgart: UTB, 2001.

Schößler, Franziska. Einführung in die Dramenanalyse . Stuttgart: Metzler 2012.

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Aristotle. “Book XXX.” Problemata/Problems . Trans. W. S. Hett. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965. 154–81.

Babb, Lawrence. The Elizabethan Malady: A Study of Melancholia in English Literature from 1580 to 1642 . 1951. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1965.

Bright, Timothie. A Treatise of Melancholie Containing the Causes Thereof, & Reasons of the Strange Effects it Worketh in our Minds and Bodies: With the Physicke Cure, and Spirituall Consolation for such as Haue Thereto Adioyned an Afflicted Conscience…. by T. Bright Doctor of Physicke . London: Thomas Vautroll ier, 1586.

Dawson, Lesel. Lovesickness and Gender in Early Modern English Literature . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Freud, Sigmund. “Trauer und Melancholie.” 1917. Gesammelte Werke . Vol. 10. Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 1999. 427–46.

Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” 1917. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud . Ed. James Strachey. Vol. 14. London: Hogarth, 1957. 243–58.

Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers . 1987. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Psychoanalysis and Renaissance Culture.” Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture . New York: Routledge, 1990. 131–145.

Kirsch, Arthur. “Hamlet’s Grief.” Major Literary Characters: Hamlet . Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1990. 122–38.

Lavater, Lewes [Ludwig]. Of Ghostes and Spirites Walking by Nyght and of Strange Noyses, Crackes, and Sundry Forewarnynges, Whiche Commonly Happen before the Death of Menne, Great Slaughters, [and] Alterations of Kyngdomes. One Booke, Written by Lewes Lauaterus of Tigurine and Translated into Englyshe by R. H . London: Henry Benneyman, 1572.

Mazzio, Carla, and Douglas Trevor. “Dreams of History: An Introduction.” Historicism, Psychoanalysis and Early Modern Culture . Eds. Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor. New York: Routledge, 2000. 1–19.

Prosser, Eleanor. Hamlet and Revenge . 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971.

Schiesari, Juliana. The Gendering of Melancholia Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Trevor, Douglas. The Poetics of Melancholy in Early Modern England . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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Wald, C. (2012). Analyzing Drama. In: Middeke, M., Müller, T., Wald, C., Zapf, H. (eds) English and American Studies. J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-476-00406-2_26

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Literary Criticism

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  • thesis examples

SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS

These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc.

In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.

Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith, cunning).

Further Examples:

The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe.

The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God.

The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought.

“The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants: tradition, adaptation, and identity.

Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the essay will discuss.

Further examples:

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision.

A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.

The thesis may draw parallels between some element in the work and real-life situations or subject matter: historical events, the author’s life, medical diagnoses, etc.

In Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul exhibits suicidal behavior that a caring adult might have recognized and remedied had that adult had the scientific knowledge we have today.

This thesis suggests that the essay will identify characteristics of suicide that Paul exhibits in the story. The writer will have to research medical and psychology texts to determine the typical characteristics of suicidal behavior and to illustrate how Paul’s behavior mirrors those characteristics.

Through the experience of one man, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, accurately depicts the historical record of slave life in its descriptions of the often brutal and quixotic relationship between master and slave and of the fragmentation of slave families.

In “I Stand Here Ironing,” one can draw parallels between the narrator’s situation and the author’s life experiences as a mother, writer, and feminist.

SAMPLE PATTERNS FOR THESES ON LITERARY WORKS

1. In (title of work), (author) (illustrates, shows) (aspect) (adjective). 

Example: In “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner shows the characters Sardie and Abner Snopes struggling for their identity.

2. In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to (define, strengthen, illustrate) the (element of work).

Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses foreshadowing to strengthen the plot.

3. In (title of work), (author) uses (an important part of work) as a unifying device for (one element), (another element), and (another element). The number of elements can vary from one to four.

Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses the sea as a unifying device for setting, structure and theme.

4. (Author) develops the character of (character’s name) in (literary work) through what he/she does, what he/she says, what other people say to or about him/her.

Example: Langston Hughes develops the character of Semple in “Ways and Means”…

5. In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to (accomplish, develop, illustrate, strengthen) (element of work).

Example: In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe uses the symbolism of the stranger, the clock, and the seventh room to develop the theme of death.

6. (Author) (shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem, story).

Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of the effect of the selfishness of the grandmother upon the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

7. (Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his/her use of language.

Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A & P” through his use of figurative language.

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What this handout is about

This handout identifies common questions about drama, describes the elements of drama that are most often discussed in theater classes, provides a few strategies for planning and writing an effective drama paper, and identifies various resources for research in theater history and dramatic criticism. We’ll give special attention to writing about productions and performances of plays.

What is drama? And how do you write about it?

When we describe a situation or a person’s behavior as “dramatic,” we usually mean that it is intense, exciting (or excited), striking, or vivid. The works of drama that we study in a classroom share those elements. For example, if you are watching a play in a theatre, feelings of tension and anticipation often arise because you are wondering what will happen between the characters on stage. Will they shoot each other? Will they finally confess their undying love for one another? When you are reading a play, you may have similar questions. Will Oedipus figure out that he was the one who caused the plague by killing his father and sleeping with his mother? Will Hamlet successfully avenge his father’s murder?

For instructors in academic departments—whether their classes are about theatrical literature, theater history, performance studies, acting, or the technical aspects of a production—writing about drama often means explaining what makes the plays we watch or read so exciting. Of course, one particular production of a play may not be as exciting as it’s supposed to be. In fact, it may not be exciting at all. Writing about drama can also involve figuring out why and how a production went wrong.

What’s the difference between plays, productions, and performances?

Talking about plays, productions, and performances can be difficult, especially since there’s so much overlap in the uses of these terms. Although there are some exceptions, usually plays are what’s on the written page. A production of a play is a series of performances, each of which may have its own idiosyncratic features. For example, one production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night might set the play in 1940’s Manhattan, and another might set the play on an Alpaca farm in New Zealand. Furthermore, in a particular performance (say, Tuesday night) of that production, the actor playing Malvolio might get fed up with playing the role as an Alpaca herder, shout about the indignity of the whole thing, curse Shakespeare for ever writing the play, and stomp off the stage. See how that works?

Be aware that the above terms are sometimes used interchangeably—but the overlapping elements of each are often the most exciting things to talk about. For example, a series of particularly bad performances might distract from excellent production values: If the actor playing Falstaff repeatedly trips over a lance and falls off the stage, the audience may not notice the spectacular set design behind him. In the same way, a particularly dynamic and inventive script (play) may so bedazzle an audience that they never notice the inept lighting scheme.

A few analyzable elements of plays

Plays have many different elements or aspects, which means that you should have lots of different options for focusing your analysis. Playwrights—writers of plays—are called “wrights” because this word means “builder.” Just as shipwrights build ships, playwrights build plays. A playwright’s raw materials are words, but to create a successful play, they must also think about the performance—about what will be happening on stage with sets, sounds, actors, etc. To put it another way: the words of a play have their meanings within a larger context—the context of the production. When you watch or read a play, think about how all of the parts work (or could work) together.

For the play itself, some important contexts to consider are:

  • The time period in which the play was written
  • The playwright’s biography and their other writing
  • Contemporaneous works of theater (plays written or produced by other artists at roughly the same time)
  • The language of the play

Depending on your assignment, you may want to focus on one of these elements exclusively or compare and contrast two or more of them. Keep in mind that any one of these elements may be more than enough for a dissertation, let alone a short reaction paper. Also remember that in most cases, your assignment will ask you to provide some kind of analysis, not simply a plot summary—so don’t think that you can write a paper about A Doll’s House that simply describes the events leading up to Nora’s fateful decision.

Since a number of academic assignments ask you to pay attention to the language of the play and since it might be the most complicated thing to work with, it’s worth looking at a few of the ways you might be asked to deal with it in more detail.

There are countless ways that you can talk about how language works in a play, a production, or a particular performance. Given a choice, you should probably focus on words, phrases, lines, or scenes that really struck you, things that you still remember weeks after reading the play or seeing the performance. You’ll have a much easier time writing about a bit of language that you feel strongly about (love it or hate it).

That said, here are two common ways to talk about how language works in a play:

How characters are constructed by their language

If you have a strong impression of a character, especially if you haven’t seen that character depicted on stage, you probably remember one line or bit of dialogue that really captures who that character is. Playwrights often distinguish their characters with idiosyncratic or at least individualized manners of speaking. Take this example from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest :

ALGERNON: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane? LANE: I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir. ALGERNON: I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately—anyone can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life. LANE: Yes, sir. ALGERNON: And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

This early moment in the play contributes enormously to what the audience thinks about the aristocratic Algernon and his servant, Lane. If you were to talk about language in this scene, you could discuss Lane’s reserved replies: Are they funny? Do they indicate familiarity or sarcasm? How do you react to a servant who replies in that way? Or you could focus on Algernon’s witty responses. Does Algernon really care what Lane thinks? Is he talking more to hear himself? What does that say about how the audience is supposed to see Algernon? Algernon’s manner of speech is part of who his character is. If you are analyzing a particular performance, you might want to comment on the actor’s delivery of these lines: Was his vocal inflection appropriate? Did it show something about the character?

How language contributes to scene and mood

Ancient, medieval, and Renaissance plays often use verbal tricks and nuances to convey the setting and time of the play because performers during these periods didn’t have elaborate special-effects technology to create theatrical illusions. For example, most scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth take place at night. The play was originally performed in an open-air theatre in the bright and sunny afternoon. How did Shakespeare communicate the fact that it was night-time in the play? Mainly by starting scenes like this:

BANQUO: How goes the night, boy? FLEANCE: The moon is down; I have not heard the clock. BANQUO: And she goes down at twelve. FLEANCE: I take’t, ’tis later, sir. BANQUO: Hold, take my sword. There’s husbandry in heaven; Their candles are all out. Take thee that too. A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep: merciful powers, Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature Gives way to in repose!

Enter MACBETH, and a Servant with a torch

Give me my sword. Who’s there?

Characters entering with torches is a pretty big clue, as is having a character say, “It’s night.” Later in the play, the question, “Who’s there?” recurs a number of times, establishing the illusion that the characters can’t see each other. The sense of encroaching darkness and the general mysteriousness of night contributes to a number of other themes and motifs in the play.

Productions and performances

Productions.

For productions as a whole, some important elements to consider are:

  • Venue: How big is the theatre? Is this a professional or amateur acting company? What kind of resources do they have? How does this affect the show?
  • Costumes: What is everyone wearing? Is it appropriate to the historical period? Modern? Trendy? Old-fashioned? Does it fit the character? What does their costume make you think about each character? How does this affect the show?
  • Set design: What does the set look like? Does it try to create a sense of “realism”? Does it set the play in a particular historical period? What impressions does the set create? Does the set change, and if so, when and why? How does this affect the show?
  • Lighting design: Are characters ever in the dark? Are there spotlights? Does light come through windows? From above? From below? Is any tinted or colored light projected? How does this affect the show?
  • “Idea” or “concept”: Do the set and lighting designs seem to work together to produce a certain interpretation? Do costumes and other elements seem coordinated? How does this affect the show?

You’ve probably noticed that each of these ends with the question, “How does this affect the show?” That’s because you should be connecting every detail that you analyze back to this question. If a particularly weird costume (like King Henry in scuba gear) suggests something about the character (King Henry has gone off the deep end, literally and figuratively), then you can ask yourself, “Does this add or detract from the show?” (King Henry having an interest in aquatic mammals may not have been what Shakespeare had in mind.)

Performances

For individual performances, you can analyze all the items considered above in light of how they might have been different the night before. For example, some important elements to consider are:

  • Individual acting performances: What did the actor playing the part bring to the performance? Was there anything particularly moving about the performance that night that surprised you, that you didn’t imagine from reading the play beforehand (if you did so)?
  • Mishaps, flubs, and fire alarms: Did the actors mess up? Did the performance grind to a halt or did it continue?
  • Audience reactions: Was there applause? At inappropriate points? Did someone fall asleep and snore loudly in the second act? Did anyone cry? Did anyone walk out in utter outrage?

Response papers

Instructors in drama classes often want to know what you really think. Sometimes they’ll give you very open-ended assignments, allowing you to choose your own topic; this freedom can have its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you may find it easier to express yourself without the pressure of specific guidelines or restrictions. On the other hand, it can be challenging to decide what to write about. The elements and topics listed above may provide you with a jumping-off point for more open-ended assignments. Once you’ve identified a possible area of interest, you can ask yourself questions to further develop your ideas about it and decide whether it might make for a good paper topic. For example, if you were especially interested in the lighting, how did the lighting make you feel? Nervous? Bored? Distracted? It’s usually a good idea to be as specific as possible. You’ll have a much more difficult time if you start out writing about “imagery” or “language” in a play than if you start by writing about that ridiculous face Helena made when she found out Lysander didn’t love her anymore.

If you’re really having trouble getting started, here’s a three point plan for responding to a piece of theater—say, a performance you recently observed:

  • Make a list of five or six specific words, images, or moments that caught your attention while you were sitting in your seat.
  • Answer one of the following questions: Did any of the words, images, or moments you listed contribute to your enjoyment or loathing of the play? Did any of them seem to add to or detract from any overall theme that the play may have had? Did any of them make you think of something completely different and wholly irrelevant to the play? If so, what connection might there be?
  • Write a few sentences about how each of the items you picked out for the second question affected you and/or the play.

This list of ideas can help you begin to develop an analysis of the performance and your own reactions to it.

If you need to do research in the specialized field of performance studies (a branch of communication studies) or want to focus especially closely on poetic or powerful language in a play, see our handout on communication studies and handout on poetry explications . For additional tips on writing about plays as a form of literature, see our handout on writing about fiction .

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Carter, Paul. 1994. The Backstage Handbook: An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information , 3rd ed. Shelter Island, NY: Broadway Press.

Vandermeer, Philip. 2021. “A to Z Databases: Dramatic Art.” Subject Research Guides, University of North Carolina. Last updated March 3, 2021. https://guides.lib.unc.edu/az.php?a=d&s=1113 .

Worthen, William B. 2010. The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama , 6th ed. Boston: Cengage.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Drama Analysis: Explanation, Structure & Examples

Whether «Hamlet», «Mary Stuart» or « Fist» , dramas have one thing in common: a deeper meaning. But the main message of a drama is not always immediately recognizable. One method to help you examine and understand drama is drama analysis.

Definition of drama analysis

A drama analysis is one text analysis , which breaks down one or more scenes of a drama into their component parts – content, characters and language – and then analyzes them. The individual analysis results are then put together and placed in the overall context of the work.

Analysis was dated latin word analysis borrowed. This goes on the Greek word ανάλυσις‎ (analysis)‎ back and can go with me «Dissection, investigation « to be translated. In order to write an analysis of a work, one must break down the work at hand into its component parts and examine them.

In addition to the content analysis a scene also the analysis of the language and characters . All drama analysis is also always done in the Present written.

When writing the drama analysis, many students tend to adopt a narrative position and formulate their analysis in the past tense or perfect tense – however, this is not correct. However, an analysis is always formulated in the present tense.

Since drama analyzes are very extensive in terms of content, you usually only analyze scenes under a specific one question . For example, the assignment might require you to analyze a specific setting or character in different scenes. A drama analysis is therefore sometimes also Scene Analysis called.

Nevertheless, you should have read the work completely and be familiar with it, since you have to place the scene and your analysis results in the context of the overall plot.

Basics of drama analysis

In order to analyze a drama, you should first know what special characteristics a drama has, as well as what structure and what forms a drama can have.

characteristics of a drama

The drama belongs to the drama . the drama is one of the three alongside epic and lyric literary genres. The term drama comes from the Greek and means translated « Plot» . Central to a drama is a conflict who either solved will or in a catastrophe ends.

If you would like to learn more about the three literary genres, then take a look at the explanations for «Epic», «Drama» and «Lyric Texts».

In a drama there is no narrator who comments on the plot or provides additional information. Instead, the entire storyline consists mainly of dialogues and monologues of figures. Monologues are particularly good at conveying the feelings and thoughts of a character to the audience. Dialogues, on the other hand, are suitable for driving the plot of a drama forward.

A dialog is a conversation between two or more people.

A monologue on the other hand, is a monologue, ie only one person is speaking. What is said can be perceived by other people, who in turn can react to it. In literary works sometimes the so-called inner monologue on. This one can be different from the other figures Not be heard. In the inner monologue, a character expresses their thoughts and feelings in the first person.

If you want to learn more about the inner monologue, read the related explanation «Inner Monologue».

Since dramas are primarily written to be performed on stage, they also include stage directions. These provide both the actors and the readers with information about the facial expressions and gestures of the characters, about the characters present and the locations.

structure of a drama

For later analysis of the drama, it is important that you first structure a drama get to know and understand. A drama is in several file assigned. An act represents a specific section of a drama and consists of several pictures . One picture equals one scene i.e. a constant stage design and consists of several scenes .

Because dramas were originally performed on the stage, the end of an act was marked by the falling of the theater curtain. The next act begins with the curtain going up. An act is therefore sometimes also Elevator called. Sometimes acts and pictures are mixed up, as the curtain can also close when the set needs to be remodeled.

A drama can be in either one closed or in one open form be constructed. Below you will find out how the two forms differ.

closed drama

The closed drama represents the classic form of a drama and opens up Aristotle return. It will therefore also Aristotelian drama called. Every closed drama follows a very specific structure that is laid down in advance. This means that the closed drama – hence its name – is not very flexible in its design.

Aristotle is a significant one philosopher of antiquity. His teachings continue to influence science, physics, biology, ethics, philosophy and logic to this day. He lived from 384 BC to 322 BC.

The closed drama points entirely certain characteristics on. So there is in a closed drama only few characters and locations .

In a closed drama, the status clause complied with. This means that the figures belong to the nobility. This is intended to drop height be guaranteed: Something tragic can happen especially to members of the higher social class, as they can fall the deepest.

The language in a closed drama is elevated and in verse form written. In addition, the closed drama has a self-contained, logically structured and coherent plot. Here the three play Aristotelian units a role:

  • Unit of space: The entire story takes place in one place.
  • Unit of action: There are usually no subplots. If there is a subplot in a play, it must be of use to the main plot. Also, all scenes follow a very specific order and are not interchangeable.
  • unit of time: There are no time jumps. In addition, the playing time should be limited to a maximum of 24 hours.

the played time refers to the time frame spanned by the action presented (e.g. the action of a drama could begin in the morning and be completed by the evening of the same day). the game time a drama, on the other hand, is the entire duration of the stage performance.

The structure of the closed drama consists of five acts.

  • Exposure: Figures are introduced and the initial situation is explained.
  • Rising action with exciting moment: A conflict is built up and comes to a head towards the climax.
  • Climax (climax)/ turning point (peripetia): The climax of the plot and the turning point of the drama are reached. However, the climax and twist can also occur one after the other.
  • Falling plot with retarding moment: The retarding moment means that the end of the plot is delayed and a different outcome is implied than expected.
  • Disaster/Solution: The plot ends in disaster or the resolution of the conflict.

An example of a closed drama is «Maria Stuart» by Friedrich Schiller, which premiered in 1800. Take a look at the explanation «Maria Stuart Schiller».

An open drama differs from a closed drama in several features and is more freely structured than a closed drama. Modern pieces are often designed in an open form. In the 20th century in particular, different forms of open drama developed, for example this epic theatre and the absurd theatre .

In an open drama there is no unity of time, space and action . In an open form drama there is several main plots and subplots such as many figures and many locations . Besides, it can time jumps and plot jumps give. The style of speech can also vary in an open drama and for example dialect and slang include. Figures from different social classes appear and interact with each other.

An example of an open drama is «Woyzeck» by Georg Büchner from 1836. Check out the explanation on .

However, the characteristics mentioned do not have to appear in every open drama. Often are dramas mixed forms from the closed and open drama.

types of drama

Drama analysis can be applied to different types of drama. In order to analyze a drama, you should first deal with what kind of drama the work you are analyzing is about.

One differentiates two main types of dramas from each other: tragedies and comedies . While tragedies end in catastrophe, for example the hero often dies at the end, comedy ends with the conflict being resolved.

Tragedies are often about characters who embody a hero or heroine and came from the nobility or upper class. Linguistically, the tragedy is written in a sophisticated language. According to Aristotle’s theory of drama, at the end of a tragedy the catharsis be reached. This means the purification of the audience’s soul through the experience of strong emotions. Mainly the audience should feel fear and pity for the characters.

Well-known examples of tragedies are e.g. B. «Romeo and Juliet» by William Shakespeare from 1599, «Woyzeck» by Georg Büchner from 1879 and «Faust» by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from 1808.

If you’re interested in learning more about tragedy, check out the «Tragedy» explanation on .

the comedy has a cheerful plot and does not end in a catastrophe, but in a positive way resolution of the conflict. In contrast to tragedy, comedy also features characters from the lower classes of society. The comedy is often characterized by a greatly exaggerated presentation of the weaknesses of the characters. A well-known example of a comedy is Friedrich Schiller’s «William Tell» from 1804.

If you’re interested in learning more about comedy, check out the comedy explanation on .

Other types of drama

Besides tragedy and comedy, there are other types of drama, including the tragicomedy the epic drama and the bourgeois tragedy .

the tragicomedy is, as its name suggests, a mixture of tragedy and comedy. Most of the time it doesn’t end in disaster. An example of a tragic comedy is Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 work «The Visit of the Old Lady».

You can find out more about the «tragicomedy» in the appropriate explanation.

That bourgeois tragedy deals thematically with conflicts between different social classes. The focus is on the fate of characters who belong to the bourgeois class…

drama analysis essay example

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How to write a good drama essay?

Essay paper writing

drama analysis essay example

Thinking about the cultural heritage of a country, people usually remember music, paintings, costumes, and even cuisine, but often forget about drama. This art has taken various forms in different countries, and most nations have a great history of its development.

For ages, it has evolved from being merely entertainment for masses to something a lot bigger and more valuable. It started reflecting the real life, presenting both beautiful and ugly sides of it, teaching people important lessons, educating them, delivering certain messages, and raising public awareness.

Therefore, if you were assigned a drama essay, you have a wide variety of topics to choose from and viewpoints to consider. While picking the topic might not be the biggest issue, as you likely know a few plays you might want to review, the writing part might be a little tricky. Let us walk you through it though.

Drama essay outline

There is nothing special about the structure of dramatic essays. Its main elements are:

  • Introduction. Start with a hook phrase, provide a few sentences with some background information on the topic, and end the introductory paragraph with a thesis statement showing the purpose of your paper.
  • Body. If you are writing a typical 1-2-page essay, the body will likely consist of about 3-5 paragraphs, each with its own main idea and supporting sentences.
  • Conclusion. The main task of this section is to restate the thesis statement, briefly overview the discussion you had in the body, and leave your readers some food for thought.

Drama essay format

The question of formatting always concerns students because it constitutes a considerable part of the overall grade. If you are a school student, you will likely be asked to use APA or MLA style. But if you study at a university, then the choice of formatting styles can be wider. Therefore, it is better to clarify which one would be the most suitable with your professor before you start working on your essay.

Drama essay help: best tips

Drama studies, the same as numerous other courses, require their students to work on different kinds of tasks, and many of them involve essay writing. Even though you are familiar with various types of papers and have certainly worked on a wide range of topics, the most frequent task you may be assigned is usually an analysis paper. No matter how many essays you have prepared before, drama writing assignments will be a unique, unusual, and unexpectedly enjoyable experience that will fascinate you each time.

As most professors try to help their students relish each drama essay assignment and approach it creatively, they often leave minimum instructions to follow. While some people see it as an opportunity to learn in comfort and recognize the limits of their own perception, others freeze in confusion, having no idea what to do next. It is completely natural to feel baffled when you are used to staying within limits set by teachers but are suddenly given so much freedom for experiments and action. It is just important to come out of this perplexed state and make a clear plan like this one:

Choose a play

Obviously, a drama analysis essay cannot be done if there is nothing to analyze. Therefore, it is important to pick the play first. Teachers can provide their students with a list of plays to choose from, and as you have no time to watch them all and then pick one, read brief descriptions of them on the Web, and go with the play you liked the most.

If you have no list, the situation gets a bit more complicated, but there is no need to worry, as you can create such a list on your own. Focus on the topic you are currently studying on the course, and search for plays that would have the needed time frame, country, exact theatre, or team of actors. Make your own little research on these plays to figure out what they are about and make the final decision on what you are going to analyze.

Think of the assessment criteria

The type of paper you are working on implies that you need to analyze certain aspects of the play you will watch, and it is crucial to decide what those things will be. If you have to focus on technical attributes of the play, then lights, quality of music, costumes, and decorations are the nice assessment choices. However, writing about drama, you will more often be asked to put the emphasis on something spiritual or emotional. In this case, it is better to examine acting itself, as well as the role of crewmembers, their involvement, language, feelings, and contribution to the play. You can always look up the criteria, but it is better to come up with a few on your own, write them all down, and make sure they all will be suitable for your essay on drama.

Outline, write, and revise

When you feel ready for writing about drama, create proper working conditions for yourself, and prepare an outline first. Find a place where nothing will bother you, turn off your phone, and take everything you need for writing. Look up how to structure the work, check out the outline provided above, or find a suitable sample and check how it is organized.

You can either use a similar structure or outline the drama paper on your own using the data you have. Think about the purpose of the work, the information you want to present, and the way you will shape your discussion. Start writing a drama review only when the outline is ready and make sure to proofread it when you finish.

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Home / Essay Samples / Literature / Literary Genres / Drama

Drama Essay Examples

Exploring the themes of knowledge and time in stoppard's 'arcadia'.

Arcadia, a play written by Tom Stoppard, is overwhelmed with futuristic thoughts and ideas that create intricate conflicts between characters. The leading difficulty is how the audience is forced to attempt to understand them. They have to try to grasp ideas from an array of...

The Analysis of Susan Glaspell's Play "Wastes of Time"

Susan Glaspell's play Wastes of time delineates the connection among married couples, with the dedication and loyalty basically in wedded life. As the play opens we see a presuming scene an untidy kitchen that reflects something fishy how the lady are being pushed in the...

The Theme of Justice in the Oresteia by Aeschylus

Throughout the trilogy, The Oresteia, there is a central theme of justice portrayed by Aeschylus. In each of the three plays, justice stems from the ancient guidelines but soon evolves into a more civil justice defined by Athena, with the intention to stop the people...

Comparsion of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Its Film Adaptation by Ralph Fiennes

Although Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus sticks largely to the facts as reported in the original story, it differs noticeably from Plutarch’s Life of Coriolanus in terms of how the play tends to compress some events in order to increase the dramatization. Furthermore,...

Analysis of the Main Themes in the Play Our Town

Our Town is a play that was first published in 1938, set in the early 1900s in Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire. It is centered around a small town of people who are very old-fashioned and set in their ways, going through life without appreciating it....

A Theme of Gender Equality in Trifles by Susan Glaspell

Marie Shear stated, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” There are no truer words when it comes to the story portrayed in the short drama, Trifles, written by Susan Glaspell. This play emphasizes the gender roles placed onto women and illustrates the...

Analysis of the Character of Volumnia in Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

In Coriolanus, Volumnia is a strong, powerful mother who has raised the seemingly perfect soldier. She is constantly talking of the joys of war and how she hopes to see her son wounded. These wounds and the admiration that comes with them are a place...

The Issue of Patriarchy and Gender Inequality in Trifles

During the 20th century, women’s roles were limited marriage and motherhood, and housewives, which caused domestic dependency which resulted in daily lives being rules by patriarchy since men did not see them as equals. During the years leading up women’s suffrage in the United States,...

The Role of Gender in Trifles by Susan Glaspell

In Susan Glaspell’s short play Trifles, the reader is met with the ongoing case of John Wright’s murder. One moral that the play depicts is that women and men see things differently. According to the male characters, the women only care about issues that have...

Review of the Book the Mystery of Flight 2222 by Thomas Neviaser: the Story of Survival, Hunger and Fear

The Mystery of flight 2222 by Thomas Neviaser is a twisted book full of mystery, drama, and action. This book is very interesting and the story keeps surprising you with twists and turns. It’s a story about survival, hunger and fear. The interesting thing about...

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