Writing Instruction (Week 5, Spring ’21)

Hello again! Your homework this week is a little different: I’d like you to watch my video below, in which I review the basics of composing a good paper (a lot of this will sound familiar to you from WRT 101); download and read the accompanying handouts, which contain more detailed instructions regarding paper structure, close reading, developing a topic, and handling Shakespeare’s language; and write a post about your paper-in-progress in the comments section below. For the first paper required in this class, everyone will be writing about The Merchant of Venice; for the second paper, you will get to choose between Othello and The Tempest.

Here are the handouts that I’d like you to read:

1.) First, here is a simple one-page handount outlining the component parts of a successful paper (this closely follows what I say in my video):

2.) Second, here is a handout explaining how to do close reading. The speech I use as my example comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but everything I say applies equally well to The Merchant of Venice and other Shakespeare plays:

3.) Third, here is a handout explaining how to develop a paper topic. The paper assignments for this course are open-topic, meaning that I won’t be giving you pre-packaged topics to write about; instead, you can write about anything you want (pertinent to the play, of course!). Once again, I use examples from A Midsummer Night’s Dream here, but my advice will apply equally well to The Merchant of Venice:

4.) Fourth, here is a handy list of “do’s and don’ts” that I’ve compiled for this class:

5.) Lastly, here is a short guide that explains some of the harder features of Shakespeare’s language.  You may find that this answers some of your questions when close reading:

Discussion Board

I’d like you to compose a discussion board post this week that contains two things:  (1) the paper topic that you’re thinking of writing on (I expect this to be on The Merchant of Venice), and (2) at least one quote from the play (this might be a speech, an excerpt of a speech, or exerpts of multiple speeches) that justifies your topic, along with a brief explanation of why.

Don’t worry if your topic isn’t yet fully settled:  this is meant to be a prewriting exercise that just gets you thinking constructively about your paper.  If you need to modify or switch topics later on, that’s OK.

I encourage you to reply to your classmates’ posts if you want to.  Also, feel free to ask questions that I can answer when we meet over Zoom.

30 thoughts on “Writing Instruction (Week 5, Spring ’21)”

  1. For my paper, I’m going to explore the topic of character development. My argument is that Portia is the most transformed character within the play because of her love for Bassanio. One quote that I am going to use in support of my thesis is, “This house, these servants, and this same myself / Are yours, my lord’s” (Shakespeare III.2 170 – 71). This is the first time in the play that Portia has had to share something, or give up any of her riches to someone else. Up until now, Portia has been stuck up and selfish. I feel like it is important to include this quote because it is like a wake up call to Portia. If she wants to be with Bassanio, she is going to have to be selfless because that’s what happens when you fall in love. This is a good foundation to my argument because it is something that happened for the benefit of Portia’s character development, and it was out of her control.

  2. My topic for this essay will focus on if Shylock is a villain or a victim in the story. One quote that I can use that justifies my topic is found in Act III, Scene 1 when he says, “If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? . . . If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

    This quote supports my topic because here we can see that Shylock is fed up with the mistreatment he gets. He comes up with a plan to get revenge. This supports the idea that he in fact is a victim of mistreatment from Christians and he is perceived by them as evil. He is not a villain and in fact has suffered a lot of mistreatment from them.

  3. For my paper, I plan to explore the theme of money in the play the Merchant of Venice; specifically I want to argue whether the play has the message that money buys happiness as I believe there are great arguments on both sides of this question. While I have not decided officially which side I will be arguing, I’m leaning towards arguing that in the Merchant of Venice, money does buy happiness. To argue this point, I plan on interpreting the fall of Shylock as he loses all of his money. A quote I am thinking of using is “My daughter, O my ducats, O my daughter!” from Act 2 Scene 8 as Shylock is seemingly equally as upset that he lost his money and that he lost his daughter.

  4. My thesis for this paper will center around the idea that the choices of casket by each of the suitors of Portia relates to their inward personalities. For example, in one of Morocco’s lines he states,” I’m telling you, madam, my skin color has made brave men fear me and Moroccan girls love me.” In this excerpt from the text, the Prince of Morocco is expressing how his outward appearance has influenced his life. We know that later this prince chooses the gold casket solely because of its appearance, therefore suggesting that he himself is a shallow person who looks only upon outward appearance. When we relate the nature of the casket to the all of the suitor’s nature, striking similarities can be drawn.

  5. For my paper I am planning on making the argument that Antonio and Bassanio are not in a homosexual relationship. I find it unlikely that Shakespeare would have made his two main characters gay in a time when homosexuality was not at all accepted. The love language between the two of them is just how men would talk to each other at that time, “To you, Antonio. I owe the most in money and in love,” (Act 1 Scene 1 lines 130-131). Men who are not in homosexual relationships rarely speak to each other like this anymore but I think it was normal at the time. Reading the play in the context of our time period it may seem like they are gay but I don’t think that is Shakespeare’s intention.

  6. For my paper, I plan to write about the language of money and how the meaning behind it for the main characters evolves throughout the play, contradicting the primary focus of (strictly) money. I am going to use the following excerpt: (Act 3, Scene 2, lines 174-178)

    This house, these servants, and this same myself
    Are yours, my lord’s. I give them with this ring,
    Which, when you part from, lose, or give away,
    Let it presage the ruin of your love,
    And be my vantage to exclaim on you.

    Growing up in a rich and lavish household, Portia did not think highly of the value of money, and her views on money were not similar to, for example, Bassanio. This can be seen when Portia, without hesitation, straightforwardly offers Bassanio the six thousand ducats, as if it were worth very little to nothing, in order to help free Antonio. On the contrary, she does acknowledge that her beauty and virtue would not be worth as much if she were not rich; she states this in her (love) speech when speaking to Bassanio. At the end of her speech, she hands him a ring. Unknown to its value in monetary terms, Portia tells Bassanio what comes with the ring and how much it is worth to her.

  7. In my paper I would like to focus on Jessica and her loyalty towards her father versus her loyalty towards Lorenzo. Throughout the play Jessica has exhibited internal conflict as she is torn between family and love. Jessica imparts, “Alack, what heinous sin is it in me / To be ashamed to be my father’s child? / But though I am a daughter to his blood, / I am not to his manners” (II.iii.16-19). Her character also portrays a divide between Christianity and Judaism. Jessica runs away not to distance herself from her father, but to distance herself from Judaism. Jewish people during this time period are treated very poorly so it would make sense that Jessica is trying to avoid future hate she would inevitably receive. Her actions throughout the play are justified as she is looking out for herself. Though she is trying to fit in at heart, I think Shakespeare is showing that relationship through blood is deeper than the relationship of love. The quote I stated above is contradicted later in the play as it is shown that Shylock and Jessica share some mannerisms such as a distaste for music.

  8. For my paper, I am going to analyze the character of Shylock. It has been debated for many years whether Shylock is a victim or villain in this play. I am going to argue that Shylock portrays both a combination of victim and villain throughout the play. One quote that shows Shylock’s villainy and how he is obsessed with money is “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter / Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice, the law, my ducats, and my daughter!” (Act II, Scene 8, Lines 15-18) This quote shows that Shylock seems to be almost more concerned with losing his money rather than his daughter. Another quote that displays Shylock’s victim side is from his speech in Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 67-70; “If a Jew wrong a Christian, / what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong / a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian / example? Why, revenge!” This quote then displays that Shylock is mistreated by the Christians solely based on his religion.

  9. For my paper on The Merchant of Venice, I would like to analyze Portia’s character development. More specifically I would like to discuss how she is compared to all the other male characters in the play. As well as how she changed after being with Bassanio and how that changed her for the better (in my opinion). One quote that I will use in this essay would be, “How all the other passions fleet to air, As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair, And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! O love, be moderate. Allay thy ecstasy. In measure rein thy joy. Scant this excess. I feel too much thy blessing. Make it less, For fear I surfeit. (Act 3 Scene 2 110-116). This was said by Portia after Bassanio had chosen the correct casket. She was filled with joy and excitement for a love that she wasn’t expecting.

  10. For my paper I would like to look at the anti-semitism within the play and how that plays a role in why Shylock is considered the villain in the Merchant of Venice. I will also discuss why he is also a victim in the play because of anti-semitic views. A quote that will help argue this is “Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last…You call’d me dog; and for these courtesies
    I’ll lend you thus much moneys’?” (act I, scene III) This quote is showing that christians treat him badly for his religion but then expect him to just do what they ask of him.

  11. In my paper I will explore the idea of mercy and revenge within the trial scene between Shylock and Antonio. I will also discuss how Shylock’s role in this scene further paints him out to be a villain. During the trial see both Shylock and Antonio being placed in a situation where they have the power to grant each other mercy or implement their revenge on one another. We watch as Shylock decides to chase his revenge against Antonio even after Portia asks him if he will show mercy. “If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them. I would have my bond.” (act IV, scene I, lines 86-88). This quote will support my argument because it shows that Shylock has no interest in the money, because he will not take the six thousand ducats that Bassanio offers. Shylock will only be satisfied when he is granted the 1 pound of flesh the bond promises him.

  12. For my paper, I would like to generally analyze the three caskets subplots and argue that Shakespeare is perhaps portraying a tragedy for the characters who choose wrong and is not just highlighting their faults. For example, the Prince of Morocco is often seen as obsessed with appearance for choosing the gold casket, but perhaps he has learned this behavior due to others disliking him for his own appearance. Indeed, the first line the Prince says in the play is “Mislike me not for my complexion.” (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 1).

  13. The topic of my paper that I am thinking of writing about would be the parallel of Portia and Nerissa’s relationship with that of Bassanio and Antonio. This could have a counterargument portion to it because the two are from contrasting places (Belmont and Venice) with different values. For one of my body paragraphs I want to tie the idea of the close friendship between Portia and Nerissa. For another of my body paragraphs I want to describe the friendship of Bassanio and Antonio. One quote from the play I want to explore that shows Bassanio and Antonio’s relationship is in Act IV, I, when Bassanio tells Antonio:

    Good cheer, Antonio! What, man, courage yet!
    The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all,
    Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.

    In these lines, Bassanio is telling Antonio to cheer up and that he is willing to give Shylock his flesh instead before Antonio loses any of his flesh. This shows the unbreakable bond between the two and how they are willing to sacrifice their lives for one another. Another quote from the play that I want to discuss in my paper is in Act I, II, lines 3-10:

    You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries
    were in the same abundance as your good fortunes are.
    And yet for aught I see, they are as
    sick that surfeit with too much as they that
    starve with nothing. It is no mean happiness,
    therefore, to be seated in the mean.
    Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency
    lives longer.

    Nerissa listen’s to Portia and gives her advice throughout the play. In these lines she is telling portia what the best way to be happy is. She is very close to Portia and cares about her well-being. The two share a bond similar to the bond between Antonio and Bassanio. Each of these quotes justify my topic, as they show the similarities and characteristics of the friendships between the characters in The Merchant of Venice.

  14. For my paper, I’m going to analyze the character based on the environment and how each of the environments impacts the character’s beliefs and morals. More specify bassino and porticas relationship. I’m going to use the following quote in act one, scene one
    “In Belmont is a lady richly left;
    And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
    Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes.”
    The reason why I chose this quote was because the first time we are introduced to portia bassino revels her in the form of her being wealthy

  15. For my paper I am going to write about the three caskets and how they helped me, the reader understand the different types of wealth. All three men who had to choose the casket with Portia’s picture were wealthy and well respected men but they all view the idea of love differently. So, I am going to talk about the Scenes with the three casket and really look into the views of the three men. When I do that I also want to take into consideration the background of where each men came from. Also, I will be discussing briefly on how Portia feels about each men and how she introduces the idea of the three caskets. In Act 2 Scene 7, Portia says, ” The one of them contains my picture, Prince. If you choose that, then I am yours withal” (lines 11-12). This helped myself the reader and also the characters of the three men understand the “game” that Portia is playing with the casket and her love. Lastly, one thing that I keep asking myself was this all luck that Bassanio chose the right casket or was it planned. I just feel like the motive in the beginning of the play was for Bassanio to get money from Antonio so that he can travel to meet Portia.

  16. Through out the entirety of The merchant of Venice we notice the references to money and there for we see wealth as the main characteristic of the characters them selves. I would like to write my essay on the topic being the uneven distribution of wealth between the characters along with a focus on what the characters have been able gain and loses from wealth. For example stated by portia “You shall have gold, To pay the petty debt twenty times over” Act 3 scene 2 p.62. Portia’s wealth allows her to help resolve a dangerous situation. I think through out the acts wealth has always been a focus and it has helped me develop a better image of each character.

  17. For my paper, I am writing why The Merchant of Venice was more of a tragic story than a comic. I feel like this topic will talk about how the audience saw the play vs. we see it in the modern and explain the differences we both had when looking at this play. “You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog, And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine.” I feel there is a tragedy because of the hate towards the Jewish people, racism, and the class status are portrayed and how the comic is towards laughing at the lower class and religion.

  18. For my paper I’m going to be writing about the three caskets and how each of them reflect characteristics of the characters that choose them; for example I believe that the King of Morocco chose the gold casket because he has had to rely on his fortunes for people’s approval. When meeting Portia he says to her,
    “Mislike me not for my complexion,
    The shadowed livery of the burnished sun,
    To whom I am a neighbor and near bred.”
    This shows that he is insecure about his looks and feels the need to mask his own appearance with flashy things to make up for it.

  19. For my paper I plan to write about the complexity of Shylock’s role in The Merchant of Venice. For the most part, Shylock is considered the antagonist in this story; however, there are many times where Shylock is shown as a victim at the hands of antisemitism coming from the Christians of the story. One quote that shows Shylock as a victim is from Act IV, scene I, line 372 “Nay, take my life and all…whereby I live.” This occurs after it is realized that Shylock cannot get the pound of flesh. He attempts to accept the repayment of the ducats he was owed, but Portia claims that he cannot do that and because of what has happened he owes a large sum to Venice and Antonio, in which Shylock responds by saying that he would rather be executed than have his means of life taken from him. Through this he becomes a victim.

  20. For my paper I am going to discuss and prove that without a doubt Shylock was more of a victim than a villain throughout the course of the play. In the beginning of the play, Shylock is seen as a villain compared to a man like Antonio, but throughout the rest of the play he has everything taken from him and he is hated and feared by everyone else in the play. Gratiano says, “O, be thou damned, inexorable dog, And for thy life let justice be accused! Thou almost mak’st me waver in my faith, To hold opinion with Pythagoras that souls of animals infuse themselves into the trunks of men: thy currish spirit governed a wolf, who hanged for human slaughter, Even from the gallows did his feet soul fleet, And whilst thou layest in thy unhallowed dam, Infused itself in thee; for thy desires are wolvish, bloody, starved, and ravenous” (The Merchant of Venice; Act 4, Scene 1; Lines 128-138). This quote said by Gratiano is just one of the many harsh things said to Shylock just because he is a Jew and cares for his wealth and his daughter.

  21. For my paper, I plan to evaluate two different themes, namely love and hate, and decide which theme is the stronger one in developing the central message of the play. I will evaluate several love connections throughout the play such as the one between Bassanio and Portia as described when Portia exclaims “How all the other passions fleet to air, / As doubtful thoughts and rash embraced despair, / And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! / O love, be moderate, allay thy ecstasy, / In measure rain thy joy, scant this excess! / I feel too much thy blessing. Make it less, / For fear I surfeit” (III,ii,111-117). Hate, though, is shown equally as strong and as often throughout the Merchant of Venice. This is exceptionally apparent in the relationship between Shylock and Antonio in which they hate each other because of each other’s religion. This is shown especially when Shylock explains his relationship with Antonio to his daughter. Shylock says “I am bid forth to supper, Jessica. / There are my keys. — But wherefore should I go? / I am not bid for love. They flatter me. / But yet I’ll go in fate, to feed upon / The prodigal Christian” (II,v,12-16). Both the themes of love and hate grow and evolve throughout the play, however it is unclear to me at this point which theme is more important than the other, and my paper will aim to answer that question.

  22. My essay topic will focus on claiming that Shylock is the victim rather than the villain. A quote that I will use to support this argument is Shylock’s speech from Act 3, Scene 1, lines 1289 – 1295:

    If we are like you in the rest, we will
    resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
    what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong
    a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian
    example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I
    will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the
    instruction.

    His monologue in this scene perfectly demonstrates how the way he has been treated all these years has brought him to his breaking point. He has endured nothing but hate from his fellow Christians, and that would naturally drive anyone to be spiteful.

  23. My tentative essay topic is going to be on the three caskets scene and how the character’s choices reflect who they are as a character. More specifically, I’m going to talk about the tendencies and personalities of the characters to show why they chose the specific casket. For example, Bassanio chooses the lead casket because he enjoys taking risks and like the excitement of it. A quote I will use is Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 106-109:

    ‘Tween man and man. But thou, thou meagre lead,
    Which rather threaten’st than dost promise aught,
    Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence,
    And here choose I. Joy be the consequence!”

  24. For my paper, I’m thinking about exploring the relationship between Antonio and Bassiano and how it interferes with Bassiano’s relationship with Portia. A quote that could help support my topic is:
    “Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, my
    creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, my bond to
    the Jew is forfeit, and since in paying it, it is impossible
    I should live, all debts are cleared between you and I if
    I might but see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use
    your pleasure. If your love do not persuade you to
    come, let not my letter.”
    This is from the letter that Bassiano reads to Portia in Act 3 Scene 2. I think it will help me explore the relationship between Antonio and Bassiano because as a newlywed, Bassiano is quick to leave Portia’s side to go help Antonio.

  25. For my paper I am going to discuss the three caskets scene and how the character’s choices reflect who they are as a person. For example Bassanio, he chose the lead casket because it said “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” He knows that true worth lies inside, even if the outside doesn’t look like much. I feel that Bassanio isn’t a flashy person but has a lot of good inside and sees beyond what is on the exterior of a person. I feel as though the caskets represented the characters that chose them. Morocco chooses the gold casket, showing he is brave, superficial and materialistic. Arragon chooses silver , showing his proud and arrogant nature. Bassanio chooses lead, showing he is clever and down to earth. Bassanio was just like the lead casket, even if the outside doesn’t look like much it’s what is inside that counts.

  26. My essay topic will be on Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship and how their relationship reveals them as characters. A quote from the play that will support my topic is when Bassanio seems to choose Antonio over Portia in Act 4, Scene 1, Line 280:

    “Antonio, I am married to a wife
    Which is as dear to me as life itself;
    But life itself, my wife, and all the world
    Are not with me esteemed above thy life.
    I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all
    Here to this devil, to deliver you”.

  27. So I think I’m going to focus on the nature of Bassanio and Antonio’s relationship. I think I’m going to try and prove or at least point out that there relationship is a bromance and not a romance. “I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself, but life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteemed above thy life, I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all here to this devil, to deliver you” (Act IV, Scene I). This quote right here can be used to sway to the side of a romantic relationship between them, but I feel like it could be used to point out the brotherly bond between the two. Some of us have friends that are like family, that we would do anything to protect and I feel like this may be that sort of relationship they have.

  28. For my paper I will explore the issue of justice in the play. I’ll admit that I do not know what my thesis is yet. One point of interest is Portia’s speech in Act IV, scene I:

    But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
    When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
    Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
    That, in the course of justice, none of us
    Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
    And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
    The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
    To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

  29. My essay topic is about the presence of homoerotic subtext and that Antonio and Portia both can be interpreted as being queer. Antonio has some kind of romantic feelings for Bassanio, whether they are reciprocated or not. Portia is incredibly picky towards the men that are presented to her for marriage

    “I saw Bassanio and Antonio part./ Bassanio told him he would make some speed/ of his return…/ and even there, his eye being big with tears/ turning his face, he put his hand behind him,/ and with affection wondrous sensible/ he wrung Bassanio’s hand-and so they parted.” [lines 39-51, Act 2, Scene 9]

    “Why shall we turn to men?” while Portia’s response is; “Fie what a question that.” [Lines 82-84]

    “Give me your hand, Bassanio; Fare you well. Grieve not that I am fall’n to this for you, Commend me to your honorable wife. Tell her the process of Antonio’s end. Say how I loved you. Speak me fair in death. And when the tale is told, bid her be judge Whether Bassanio had not once a love I’ll pay it presently with all my heart.” (4.1.256-270)

  30. For my essay, I will be focusing on whether or not Shylock is defined by his Jewishness throughout the play. For example, Antonio is one character that continuously mistreats Shylock as the play develops and Shylock has become fed up with his treatment even when Shylock has tried to assist him with lending money. In one scene where Shylock is lending money to Bassanio, he recalls the many previous times how he was treated by Antonio in Act 1, Scene 3, Line 105-108:

    You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
    And spit upon my Jewish gabardin,
    And all for use of that which is mine own.
    Well then,it now appears you need my help.

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