Students complete three forms of written assignments during the term.


You will write three short (two-page) plot summaries of one of texts (or a portion thereof) that we have read in class. The purpose of these assignments is to improve the clarity, correctness, concision, and elegance of your written expression. Frequently with longer essays, both students (in writing) and professors (in grading) focus so exclusively on argument and analysis that actual prose — word choice, sentence construction, and the like — receives almost no attention. Yet the effectiveness of one's prose crucially affects the effectiveness of one's arguments; these assignments will give us a forum for discussion of the former in preparation for (and in conjunction with) discussions of the latter.

Close Reading Exercise

This short (four-page) exercise designed to teach you the basics of what "close reading" is, and how to make it the foundation of arguments about literary texts. This will involve precise attention to diction, syntax, tone, image, metaphor, and specifically poetic devices like enjambment, rhyme, and assonance. You will also begin to move from noticing and writing about these details to using them as a way of making arguments about their significance to the themes and characters of the text itself. Close readings of this sort will form the basis of your larger essay (see below), so time spent here is a very sound investment.

Close reading exercise description (PDF)

Elements of close reading (PDF)

Techniques of close reading (PDF)

Literary Essay on Homer/Virgil

This substantial (eight-page) literary essay will make a detailed, textually based argument about one of the many ways in which Virgil's Aeneid enlarges upon, revises, or suggestively ignores prominent themes, images or characters from either or both of Homer's epic poems. Within this broad topic, you will have complete freedom to choose your specific area of focus and textual examples, although you should steer clear of aspects that have received more than passing attention in class discussion.

Homer/Virgil essay prompt (PDF)