Comparative Literature 30B: Topics for the Second Essay

Due Date: September 4, in section.

General Instructions: Write a five-page (1400-1600 word) essay on a topic related to any of the works we have read by Lope de Vega, Shakespeare, Descartes, Swift, or Mozart/da Ponte. This essay should have a clear, unified topic and an identifiable, arguable thesis statement backed by solid evidence. Your personal response to the material can guide your thoughts, but you must use evidence and argumentation considered valid within the disciplines of literary criticism or literary history. If you use secondary sources, make sure they are of reasonable quality (no personal web sites, Wikipedia, Cliff Notes, or Encarta) and cite them properly. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, make sure you narrow its focus and make a strong thesis.


  1. Peasant Revolt: In both Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna, members of the nobility abuse their power to satisfy their desires, requiring lesser-ranked people to organize against them. Either choose one work to examine in detail or compare the two works in order to discover what concept of social order these works promote. When may servants rise against their master? When may peasants overthrow their lord? What obligations do these groups have toward each other?
  2. The Soul and the Mind: Descartes claims to have proven the existence of the soul, a theological entity, but he may have instead proven the existence of the mind, a philosophical entity. Using either Descartes’ Meditations or another work, or both, establish the difference between the soul and the mind and whether one can exist without the other. Which model of human self-awareness does the work in question promote? How?
  3. Clever Servants and Free Intellectuals: Over the centuries covered by the course, the fourteenth through the eighteenth, skilled artisans gradually assert themselves as independent intellectuals, eventually freeing their minds from service to either political or religious rulers. Examine one or two works which demonstrate this transformation, and show your readers how it occurred.
  4. Honor and the Law: In several works, especially de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna and Mozart’s Figaro, codes of honor come are juxtaposed with the requirements of the law. Choose one or two of these works and reveal how these two concepts of justice interact, and what that means for an idea of social order. Does every society require both honor and the law? Can they coexist without conflict?
  5.  Your own topic having to do with one or two of the works listed above. Your topic must meet the following requirements:

·        approval by your teaching assistant

·        no more than two works covered

·        close reading of the text or texts

·        literary criticism or literary history as the primary purpose

·        proper citation style, either MLA or Chicago