Comparative Literature 186RR: Topics for the First Essay
Due in class, Thursday, June 30: Write a 1000-1200 word essay that involves a close critical examination of at least one of the works we have studied so far. You may choose your own topic or use one of the following topics as a starting point. Use MLA citation style for quotations of both primary and secondary sources. The essay should prove an arguable thesis, that is, a position that a reasonable person could oppose. Feel free to use appropriate secondary sources when necessary, but only if necessary.
Suggested Topics on Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro or Beehtoven’s Fidelio:
- Opera as historical drama: What does Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro have to say about Enlightenment philosophy, the approaching French Revolution, or eighteenth-century notions of social order? How does Beethoven’s Fidelio comment on freedom, love, and early nineteenth-century European politics?
- Music as character: What do the overt references to music in Figaro mean? How does music enable one character or another to take control of the situation? How does music participate in the action or thematic content of Beethoven’s Fidelio?
- Words and music: How do the musical structures of Figaro or Fidelio—overture, arias, duets, trios, chorus, dances, etc.—enhance the significance of the words, and vice versa?
Suggested Topics onBlake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience:
- Children in Blake’s Songs: How does Blake’s representation of childhood depend on the forms of children’s poetry? What do the Songs have to do with nursery rhymes?
- Blake and the Industrial Revolution: What evidence of the industrial revolution does Blake present to his audience? What problems, and what solutions does he present?
- Blake’s Radicalism: How does Blake present his political views in these poems? What are the “mind forg’d manacles” and what does Blake want us to do about them?
Suggested Topics onBurke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France:
- The Force of the Past: What claim does the past make on the people of the present, in Burke’s view, and what benefit do we derive from the bargain?
- Burke’s critics: Examine the exchange between Burke and one of his critics—whose opinion appears stronger, in strictly argumentative terms?
- Burke and the French Revolution: Were Burke’s characterizations of the French Revolution fair, or distorted? If distorted, in what ways, and why?
Suggested Topics on David or Goya:
- Artist and Patron: What does an artist owe to the patron, and how did this relationship change over time for David, Goya, or both artists? How did the artist cope with changes in power and politics?
- Idealism and Realism: When do David or Goya show things as they are, and when do they show them as they should be? What relation does appearance and inner reality have in visual art? What principles does the artist employ in deciding what a painting can and should depict?
Suggested Topics on European Slavery and Women’s Rights:
- Equiano and Wollstonecraft: Describe how Equiano’s Narrative demonstrates the political point he is trying to make about the essential humanity of Africans. How does it suggest parallels with other autobiographical texts—especially conversion narratives—in order to persuade its audience that he is a human being capable of development and salvation? Does this implicit argument correspond to Wollstonecraft’s explicit assertion
- Jacobus: Examine the theoretical basis for Mary Jacobus’s argument regarding the relationship between Wordsworth and the slave trade.