ENGL 204: Renaissance Literature
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

Paper 1 Guidelines
(due day 2 of week 5)

Choose one question from the list of suggested PAPER TOPICS below and use it to formulate a thesis to argue in this paper.  (Note: while you should think about all parts of the prompt as you plan your essay, you will not necessarily answer every part of the question as you construct your argument.)  Paper should be 3-4 double-spaced, typed pages in a 10-pt. or 12-pt. font, with 1" margins on all sides.  Number all pages after page 1.  Your paper should NOT be significantly longer than these limits; grades are based in part on how well you adhere to the parameters of the assignment.  Beware: I will notice over-sized (or under-sized) fonts and extra-large (or teeny-tiny) margins!! 

Please follow the guidelines provided here (NOT what you have been asked to do in another class) for correct line spacing, indentation and documentation. Be sure to PROOFREAD for spelling, punctuation, and basic grammatical errors, as well as for clarity (clearly stated thesis; logical development of argument; adequate and relevant textual support; solid conclusion.)  Consult the ESSAY EVALUATION CHECKLIST both BEFORE and AFTER completing your first draft, and make sure you do not commit the sort of mechanical and stylistic errors listed on the checklist!

Remember that your paper should be textual analysis, not summary:  you will cite carefully chosen examples from the reading(s) in order to support a specific argument about it/them. The best analogy to writing a good analytic paper is a lawyer arguing a case in court. Both lawyer and paper writer must build a carefully constructed argument to prove the validity of a debatable point. Your client is analogous to your text and/or general topic; your client's "plea" -- guilty or innocent of what specific charges -- is analogous to your thesis. Like a good lawyer, you should begin with an opening statement (the introductory paragraph) which fully articulates your thesis and suggests how you will structure your argument. While your opening paragraph should not get into the specific examples you will discuss in the body of your paper, it should indicate what kinds of evidence you will use to make your case. You will support your thesis in the body of your paper (approximately three pages independent of your introduction and conclusion) by citing carefully chosen examples from the primary text(s) to demonstrate the validity of your thesis. 

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Preliminary Remarks

1) The paper you write for this class is not a reaction paper -- don't use it to express your personal opinion about a reading, to criticize or praise it.  Instead, it should demonstrate your understanding of the reading on its own terms, in its literary and historical context -- what it meant to its original author and audience (whether or not you happen to agree is a fascinating topic for discussion over coffee -- but it's irrelevant to this assignment!). 

2) The paper you will write in this class is not a research paper.  DO NOT CITE ANY SECONDARY SOURCES! 

3) The paper which you will write in this class is an exercise allowing you to demonstrate your understanding of an assigned work while practicing your analytic writing skills. Don't feel compelled to dazzle me with something new and original (qualities that weren't highly valued in the Renaissance!)  Instead, concentrate on dazzling me with how attentive you are to the details and nuances in the text you are considering, and on constructing a logical argument about that text which is based upon close reading (careful analysis of specific passages in the primary text). Your paper should demonstrate your ability to: 

  • understand "what's going on" in an early-modern work, including as appropriate attention to its specific literary and historical context;
  • articulate that understanding in an interpretive thesis;
  • construct a logical argument in support of that thesis (i.e. paragraph order should be carefully thought out);
  • support that argument with well-chosen textual passages which you have documented correctly; and
  • write clear, correct prose, following the stylistic guidelines on the the ESSAY EVALUATION CHECKLIST.
4) The paper you will write in this class may not resemble any paper you have written in the past.  PLEASE READ THROUGH AND TAKE CARE TO FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES BELOW in preparing this assignment.  It is not as simple as it may initially seem.

5) Finally, please note that although this assignment teaches skills that you should master as a Cal Poly English major, it is not a formula for "the right way" to write about literature -- because there IS no one "right" way to write about literature.  In subsequent classes, you will do many different types of writing; the challenge is always to understand and adhere to the parameters of the assignment.  But while you may never write another paper in precisely this way, the skills I am asking you to practice should prove useful to you in other contexts (e.g. on essay exams, where it is essential to think through your argument before you begin to write).

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The Introductory Paragraph

The first paragraph of your paper should not only identify your topic, it should make clear precisely what you will argue ABOUT that topic.  This information is your thesis, the central message of your paper.  A thesis is not simply descriptive (a statement of facts) -- it takes a position on a debatable point based on textual interpretation which could conceivably be argued another way.  For example: "Maternal imagery in the poetry of Mary Wroth" is a fine TOPIC for a paper.  But simply stating that Mary Wroth uses maternal imagery in her poems is descriptive (there is no debatable point, and thus no thesis).  To move from a topic to a thesis, you must explain what message that imagery communicates and/or why she may have chosen to use that imagery; this "what" and "why" are the interpretive thesis you will argue in your paper. To account for the "why," your introductory paragraph should include any background information which is essential to your argument (but do not pad it with random "factoids" -- accurate facts that are not directly relevant to what you will argue in your paper).

A good introduction sketches out the parameters (but not the details) of the argument you will make in support of your thesis. (Save specific examples and quotation for the body of your paper.)  TIP: it can be particularly helpful to include this initial "roadmap" of where your essay is going on an in-class writing exercise (e.g. the essay portion of an exam), since doing so forces you to think through the logical structure of your argument before you rather than charging off in a wrong direction. Even if you do not include this information in your introductory paragraph, thinking through where you are going before you write will add clarity to your paper, helping you to set up a paragraph structure dictated by the logic of your argument (rather than e.g. the order in which textual evidence occurs in the text you are writing about).  It can also help your reader to see where your paper is going. 

Do NOT begin your paper with truisms, statements of personal philosophy, generalities, or examples from modern life; get to your point, which is an interpretation of the primary texts. You have a limited amount of space in which to make your case; don't waste it on a "hook."  (You already have my full attention.)  Avoid using the first or second person (I, we, you) in constructing your argument, which should be presented as objectively as possible.  The implication of first-person references is that your paper is just a statement of  personal opinion, and thus no more valid than opposing opinions; why should the reader care what you think?  Instead, aim for a tone of objective neutrality, which is rhetorically more effective than a statement of opinion ("I believe"; "I think") in convincing the reader of the objective validity of your argument.


The body of your paper (approximately three pages independent of your introduction and conclusion) provides textual support and analysis to demonstrate the validity of your thesis.  Be sure to keep your paper analytic rather than descriptive. A summary of events or list of examples is NOT textual analysis; you must have something to say ABOUT the examples you cite. 

Provide a separate paragraph for each step in your argument, with appropriate transitions between them.  Order paragraphs according to the logic of your argument (not the order in which the citations occur in the primary text you are analyzing).  Or, if your paper requires the analysis of different kinds of textual evidence that do not have obvious logical connections between them, start with the most general, simple, obvious or concrete points and examples and move to the most specific, complex, subtle or interpretive ones. 

Provide three to four pieces of carefully chosen textual evidence per paragraph (i.e.  in support of each step of your argument). Follow up on your citations with a line or two of interpretation before moving on to a new example or a new idea (and before opening a new paragraph).  Be sure to explain the relevance of the material you quote to your argument -- don't just stick it in and expect it to speak for itself. Textual evidence must be interpreted for the reader.

To return to the lawyer analogy, citations from the text are like testimony, the evidence you must interpret for the judge and jury.  Your analysis of those citations is the cross-examination of witnesses and/or interpretation of the evidence -- what will make or break your case. If you don't make your points explicitly, they are not entered into the court record and cannot be considered by the jury (your professor) in deciding whether or not you have successfully defended your client (proven the validity of your thesis) -- nor can they be considered by the judge (also your professor) who assigns the final grade.

The Concluding Paragraph

The least important part of an effective paper, the final paragraph can be short and sweet.  Use it to sum up your argument without going into so much detail that you repeat the body of the paper.  Remind the reader of the debatable point you set out to prove and of the steps in the argument you have made.  The best conclusions also offer some final insight or twist, a new thought that  grows out of what you argued in the paper -- but avoid assertions that are so unconnected as to require a whole new paper to back them up.  Don't end your essay with a quotation -- it's your paper, so you, not someone else, should have the last word.

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Documentation Guidelines

Include ONE foot- or endnote the first time you quote from your primary source.  I ask you to use a note rather than ending your paper with a list of Works Cited for several reasons:  first, because a note allows you to explain how you will document the citations from the primary text you are analyzing in your parenthetical references. For instance, will numbers in parenthetical references refer to pages, lines (of a poem), or acts, scenes and lines (for a play)?  What abbreviated title will you use?  Second, you don't need a list of Works Cited when you are citing ONLY from the primary text(s).  When writing a research paper, secondary sources should be documented in a list of Works Cited at the end of your paper.  But THIS ASSIGNMENT IS NOT A RESEARCH PAPER.  I do NOT want you to include ANY quotations of research material or other secondary sources (not even the Norton Anthology).  You do NOT need a list of Works Cited when you are citing only from primary texts and have provided documentation for them in note form. 

In your note, refer to the primary work(s) you are discussing by AUTHOR and SPECIFIC TITLE (NOT simply as Norton Anthology); include name of editor and/or translator of text, as applicable (found on title page, in introductory headnote, and/or in first footnote); and give full bibliographic information (THIS is where you refer to the Norton Anthology; include edition and volume numbers; editor[s] of the specific volume; publisher, place and date of publication). Also provide inclusive page numbers for the full text of the specific primary work quoted (e.g. Book I of Spenser's Faerie Queene is found at NA 714-856).  Present this information according to MLA format for a first reference in note form -- check for correct order of elements, punctuation, etc. The note should also explain the system used for parenthetical references (more on this below).

An EXAMPLE of a first note reference  is found below:

1All quotations are taken from Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, ed. Roma Gill, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. George M. Logan, et al., 8th ed., vol. 1b (New York: Norton, 2006) 1022-55, and will be indicated by the letters DF followed by specific scene and line numbers quoted.

The above example provides full bibliographic information for the cited text, eliminating the need for a Work Cited entry at the end of the paper. Please note that the specific editor of the text of Dr. Faustus printed in the Norton Anthology is Roma Gill (this information is found at the end of the headnote, NA 1023).  Also note that our text is taken from vol. 1b of the Norton Anthology, which covers ONLY the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  The editors of this volumes are listed below "VOLUME B" on the title page; they are George M. Logan, Stephen Greenblatt, Barbara K. Lewalski, and Kathatrine Eisaman Maus.  Unless you wish to list all four of them, the proper notation is to include the first named editor only, followed by "et al."  (Do NOT list Stephen Greenblatt and M.H. Abrams as the editors; they are the General Editors for the whole anthology (comprising medieval to contemporary literature), but not for volume 1b, of which the primary editor is Logan.  The remainder of the publication publication information for the Norton Anthology (edition and volume number, publisher, place and date of publication) is found on the front and back of the title page.  Page numbers indicate where in the NA the complete text of Dr. Faustus is found; remember that your note should give inclusive page numbers for the whole primary text (not just the page where a specific passage you have quoted is found).  The note above also explains the system used in parenthetical references:  the abbreviated title"DF" will be followed by numbers which refer to  scenes and lines in the text (not page numbers).

After the initial foot- or endnote, you will NOT use a note for each subsequent quotation.  Instead, provide parenthetical documentation in the body of your paper immediately following each quotation.  Parenthetical documentation should provide enough information to make clear exactly what you are quoting.  Include the abbreviated title of the specific work you are citing (not the anthology in which it appears) plus inclusive page, line or other numbers necessary to locate the specific passage quoted (may include numbers of lines, section, stanza, act, scene, canto, etc., as applicable). 

Please note that ONLY works in prose are quoted by page number.  All works in verse should be quoted by inclusive line numbers (e.g. for a lyric poem such as a sonnet) and by sections as applicable (e.g. by canto AND inclusive line numbers for Spenser's Faerie Queene; by scene AND inclusive line numbers for Dr. Faustus). When documenting more than one type of number (e.g. book, canto and line; act, scene and line) use periods between numbers for each type, e.g. "FQ 1.3.65-70" = Faerie Queene, Book I, canto 3, lines 65-70. If you are quoting only from Book I of the Faerie Queene, say so in your initial foot- or endnote and do not include book number in parenthetical references (e.g. FQ 3.65-70). Inclusive line (or page) numbers means ALL lines (or pages) included in a given quotation.


Dr. Faustus refers to Helen of Troy as "the face that launched a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium" (DF 12.80-81).

This parenthetical reference means that the quoted passage is from lines 80-81 of scene 12 of Dr. Faustus, publication information for which you provided in the initial foot or endnote (see above).

PUNCTUATION WITH PARENTHETICAL REFERENCES: note that in the above example, final punctuation for the quotation is placed after the parenthetical reference, rather than before the closing quotation mark. An exception: question marks or explanation points which are part of the quoted passage remain within the quotation marks; in that case, the parenthetical reference would still be followed by whatever punctuation is appropriate to the construction of your sentence (period, colon, semicolon, comma). 


Faustus asks himself, "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" (DF 12.80-81).

Here, the question mark is part of the quoted material and precedes the quotation mark, while the period is the punctuation appropriate to the construction of your sentence and follows the parenthetical quotation.

In the above examples, note use of capitalization and slashes to indicate lines of verse. Place a slash mark between lines of verse that are not presented as an indented block quotation, and use a capital letter for the first word of new line. 

PUNCTUATION FOR BLOCK QUOTATIONS A quotation of more than three type-written lines (or more than three full lines of verse) should be set off as a single-spaced block quotation (note how example looks below): double indent (two tabs) and omit quotation marks. In this case, final punctuation of the quoted material precedes the parenthetical reference, which is not followed by punctuation. Quotations of more than three lines of verse are treated as block quotations: set them out in verse, as they are on the page in your text (do not run them into paragraphs of prose). If you are quoting less than three full lines of verse, you may run them together, but mark the end of each line with a slash (/). 

EXAMPLE: [note that paper is double-spaced prior to and following the single-spaced, indented block quotation] 

Helen of Troy, "the face that launched a thousand ships" (DF 12.81), is Faustus's downfall.  He implores her, 

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:    [double indent; no quotation mark]
Her lips sucks forth my soul, see where it flies!   [single-spaced indented citation]
Come Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips.   [final punctuation included; no quotation mark]
               (DF 12.82-84)     [no punctuation after parenthetical reference]
Faustus prefers the transitory "heaven" of Helen's embrace to the eternal bliss of his immortal soul. . . 

[continue your essay, using double spacing and regular margins]

Your analysis then continues, double-spaced, below the indented, single-spaced quotation. Note that for indented block quotations, final punctuation precedes the parenthetical reference; for quotations within the body of your text, final punctuation of quotation follows the parenthetical reference. 


Be sure to consult the ESSAY EVALUATION CHECKLIST (which I will use in grading your papers) both BEFORE AND AFTER writing your first draft.  Proofread carefully, and be sure that you do not make the errors included on the checklist!

Don't forget to give your paper a title which identifies the authors or work(s) discussed and gives your reader some idea of what you are arguing (your thesis). Your paper title should not be underlined or placed in "quotation marks"; by contrast, the title of the work you are analyzing must be appropriately indicated.  Remember that titles of longer works or collections are underlined (e.g. Dr. Faustus; Astrophil and Stella; Sonnets; The Faerie Queene), but the titles of individual lyric poems are enclosed in "quotation marks" (e.g. "My Galley," "Sonnet 12," or "There is a Garden in Her Face").

Avoid using the first or second person (I, we, you).  The implication of first-person references is that your paper is just a statement of  personal opinion, and thus no more valid than opposing opinions; why should the reader care what you think?  Instead, aim for a tone of objective neutrality, which is rhetorically more effective than a statement of opinion ("I believe"; "I think") in convincing the reader of the objective validity of your argument.

Use the present tense in writing about literature.  The past tense is appropriate for discussion of historical context or to refer to events that occur before those recounted in the text, but keep discussion of what occurs in the text in the present tense. 

As necessary, modify citations so that the quoted passages fit smoothly into the syntax of your sentences.  Be sure to indicate any changes in the citation using [square brackets], not (parentheses), since parentheses could be part of the material you are quoting.  Indicate any omitted words or lines with ellipses [. . . ].

This essay is NOT a research paper. (The research exercises which you complete for this class have no connection to this writing assignment).   Do not cite any secondary sources.  As appropriate, you may bring in information from lecture, the Norton Anthology introductions and the study guides without documentation.  To avoid plagiarism, be sure to state this information in your own words -- do not quote from the study guides or Norton Anthology introductions directly.

While it is true that italics and underlining: are functionally interchangeable, I ask that you use ONLY UNDERLINING for all work submitted in this class. NO ITALICS!

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Suggested Topics for Paper 1

Remember: these are ONLY topics; you need to say something ABOUT the topic to develop a good thesis. The list is broad enough that you should be able to find a topic that interests you. Papers on other topics will be accepted ONLY IF PREAPPROVED (i.e. worked out with me in conference).

1. Write an analysis of a sonnet showing how its formal characteristics contribute to its meaning. You may choose any one sonnet assigned on the syllabus, with the exception of Shakespeare's sonnet 29, which we analyzed together in class. Before you begin to write, you should consider as many formal elements as you can think of, e.g. rhyme scheme, stanzaic structure, meter, sound patterns (rhyme words, alliteration, assonance), use of figurative language, diction (i.e. word choice), repetition, grammatical construction and syntax, etc. (refer to "An Approach to Reading and Writing About Poems" for some ideas about how to begin). NB: all of these elements will not necessarily make it into your paper. Just because you have noticed a given detail is an insufficient reason to include it; comment only on those details which you can show contribute to the message conveyed by the poem. Your paper should not simply catalogue the various formal devices used by the poet (a paragraph on alliteration, a paragraph on rhyme scheme, etc.) -- your observations need to add up to something. By themselves, they are mere "factoids" (OK, there is alliteration in the poem -- so what?) You need to show how the details of formal structure which you note help the poet to get his/her meaning across to the audience. In other words, your observations must be subordinate to a thesis which explores the meaning, central idea or thematic significance of the poem.  Final tip:  while going through the poem line by line is a great way to make notes for yourself, a line-by-line reading is NOT usually the most effective way to organize your argument!

2. Compare and contrast the episodes of the House of Pride and the House of Holiness in The Faerie Queene, including some attention to the various levels of allegory; explain briefly what lesson the contrast between these two Houses is meant to convey. Do NOT simply compile a list or catalogue of allegorical figures/episodes and their "meaning"; your examples and analysis should be subordinate to a thesis which explores the central idea or thematic significance of the contrast between the episodes and figures you are discussing.

3. Discuss Spenser's literary ambitions in writing The Faerie Queene. What classical and vernacular writers/works were his literary models? What English writer read in this course inspired him? What was he trying to do, and how did he set out to accomplish his goal? In your response, discuss specific passages which explain or illustrate his appropriation and use of prior literary tradition (e.g., the references to classical literary figures such as the Muses, explicit statements about his literary models or goals, or other clear instances of literary "borrowing"). You may wish to consider such passages as the letter to Sir Walter Raleigh; the four opening stanzas preceding Canto 1; the descent(s) into the underworld; the comparison of the "highest Mount" in Canto 10 (The House of Holiness) to Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Parnassus; or any other passage in which you find a good illustration of Spenser's literary ambitions.  Be sure to include a thesis which explains just what Spenser apparently thought he was doing when he set out to write The Faerie Queene.

4. Can Dr. Faustus be considered a "Renaissance morality play"? Why or why not? Compare/contrast with the medieval morality play Everyman. (Note: BOTH responses could be argued plausibly; you will be graded upon the solidity of your argument and awareness of key differences e.g. in the purpose for which each work was written, the target audience, and medieval versus Renaissance world views.) Be sure to include SPECIFIC REFERENCES to episodes/elements in each play to illustrate your response; be sure that essay is structured so that examples "add up" to a coherent demonstration of the validity of your thesis.  (NOTE: To write on this topic, you MUST read the full text of Everyman, not just the excerpt distributed the first day of class.)

5. Discuss ways in which Dr. Faustus reflects Renaissance ideals of humanism. Is Dr. Faustus a humanist hero? Why or why not? Identify characteristics of Faustus that correspond to certain humanist ideals, and show where and how Faustus violates those ideals. You may find it useful to discuss imagery in the play that points to humanist or reformation themes (responsibility of individual in his own salvation; power of human mind; use of imagery or episodes from classical literary tradition; theme of human power in relationship to conquest, i.e. the discovery of the new world). Be sure that you essay is structured in such a way that each paragraph is a logical step in the demonstration of the validity of your thesis.

6. Renaissance poets were typically well read in classical (Latin and Greek) literature, and many writers learned their craft by imitating classical (as well as vernacular) models.  At the same time, poets choosing to write in English struggled to elevate English literature to the same level of prestige enjoyed by Latin. Discuss the ways in which Renaissance attitudes towards literature written in the vernacular are reflected in several readings/authors assigned for this class. Which Renaissance poet, in your opinion, is most successful in establishing the literary legitimacy of English, and how does s/he achieve that goal? You may wish to consider some of the following: the significance of vernacular translations of the Bible; the influence of humanist grammar school; explicit statements by writers concerning vernacular literature; implicit attitudes toward vernacular literature as shown in the works of Renaissance poets (these may include e.g. the use of vernacular sources or models, statements concerning the power of poetry; etc.). Be sure that your essay is structured in such a way that the examples chosen "add up" to something -- demonstrating a coherent and argumentative thesis which you have stated clearly in your opening paragraph. Do NOT simply list examples of various statements about vernacular literature without linking them together in some logical, analytical way; each work discussed should be in its logical place in an argument that builds toward the demonstration of the validity of your thesis.

7. Discuss the impact of gender on the poetic voice of a woman poet read in class.  You may want to consider the treatment of erotic love, the themes of public vs. private, the use of maternal imagery (e.g. in the sonnets of Mary Wroth), or any other issues you find pertinent.  If you wish, you may contrast a work by a female poet with a logically chosen comparison work (which may be written by a male poet).  Be sure that your essay clearly articulates a thesis concerning the impact of gender expectations on the feminine poetic voice and is structured in such a way as to logically demonstrate the validity of that thesis. Do NOT simply present a catalogue of the way in which various poems by men and women poets are similar or differ.

REMINDER: don't forget to consult the ESSAY EVALUATION CHECKLIST (which I will use in grading your papers) both BEFORE AND AFTER writing your first draft.  Be sure that you do not make the sort of errors included on this checklist!

Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1997-2007

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