Assignment Description


The close reading essay is a standard exercise of literary analysis. First, it requires you to examine a piece of writing in detail, noticing how the writer uses language. Then, from these observations, you create an argument (summarized in the thesis statement) and defend it with evidence. The thesis should address how the details of the writing engage with the text’s themes or lead to a new understanding about the work as a whole.


For this assignment, you will answer one of the prompts below about Twelfth Night in a 4-5 page essay. To answer the prompt, you will have to choose a passage (or a set of quotes) and analyze them, paying close attention to literary devices and themes. Your analysis can take any number of directions—you are free to talk about wordplay or literary devices such as metaphors and similes (please see the list of literary devices in “Class Handouts” for definitions of these terms). The key point is to pick out details from the text and explain how they work to address themes in order to answer the prompt.


Your essay must be organized with a thesis and supporting points that include evidence. And your evidence must be blended with your argument: each quote will be preceded by a claim, and then elaborated through commentary. Therefore, the paper should have a main argument (the thesis) supported by smaller points (each paragraph), which are themselves supported by textual evidence (quotations).


To track your progress, I will be collecting two preparatory documents before you turn in the final paper. First, on Monday, February 26, you will submit your topic (the prompt you’ve chosen) with a list of quotes that you might use. Then, on Monday, March 5, you will submit a typed draft, with a minimum of three pages, which your peers will review in class. Your final paper is due, via email, on Thursday, March 8.



Select one of the following essay prompts:


    1. Consider the role of gender subversion in Twelfth Night. Think specifically about character traits, actions, or the use of disguise. Focusing on one or two characters, examine how they subvert traditional gender stereotypes, and what this subversion suggests about the nature of desire or romantic love in the play.
    2. Define the relationship between Sebastian and Antonio. First, explain the dynamic between them. Then, explain what this dynamic says about the nature of love or romantic attraction in the play.
    3. Why might Shakespeare have included Malvolio’s storyline? In answering this question, you might consider whether Malvolio’s fate seems unjust. You might also consider whether his role is appropriate for a romantic comedy.


Submit your Close-Reading draft here:

    Submit your Close-Reading final paper here: