Assignments and Guidelines

Final Blog post: performance

Hamlet is a play about acting. Hamlet himself adopts an “antic disposition,” while Polonius seeks to stage various scenes that will reveal the truth behind the prince’s supposed madness. At the end of Act 2, real actors show up in the Danish court, and, in Act 3, Hamlet has them perform a play in order “to catch the conscience of the king.” Acting, here (like storytelling in the 1001 Nights!), always has a purpose: it is aimed at finding out the truth, or concealing villainous motives, or catching someone else in a lie.

For this assignment, you will all be actors. Choose a speech from Hamlet (not “to be or not to be”). The first step is to paraphrase that speech–make sure you know what every word and phrase means. You should be able to reproduce the speech, perfectly accurately, in contemporary English. The next step is to think about the emotional and social content of the speech–how is the character feeling? Is he or she hiding or revealing those feelings? Is he or she alone? If so, why talk at all? If not, why talk, in this way, to the other characters in the scene? Finally, you will record yourself, on video, speaking the speech. (Extra points for memorization, though this is not required. Be familiar enough with the speech that you are looking down at the paper less than half the time!). Post your video to our vocat page–login at .

Before Thursday’s class, comment on one other person’s video. In your comment, explain what the performance revealed about the speech–what did it make you see, with fresh eyes, or hear, with fresh ears?

NOTE: If you want to perform a short scene, rather than a speech, and you have a partner to work with, that’s fine, too!

Blog post #13

Hamlet‘s vocabulary! Due Tuesday, 11/29 by 9 pm. Comment on at least one other post before class on Thursday, 12/1. For guidelines, see the attached .pdf: hamlet-vocabulary-assignment-guidelines

OPTIONAL Blog post: paper headstart

By Wednesday (11/16) at 9 pm, post a draft, an outline, an introduction, a thesis statement, or just some freewriting/brainstorming on the essay topic of your choice. I will offer feedback in the comments. If you take advantage of this–and I strongly encourage you to do so!!–please offer serious commentary on at least one other person’s post by Friday (11/18) at 9pm. Prompts are here:


Blog post #11: Paper topics

Paper 2 is coming up! For this blog post, write two or three substantial essay prompts. These prompts should invite intellectual engagement with two (or more) works from the syllabus. While you do not need to exclude the Odyssey, emphasis should be placed on works we have read since then: Antigone, Tang poetry, the Thousand and One Nights, and the Inferno. (This is because, in your papers, you will have to write on at least two of these other works; you may include the Odyssey, but only as a third text).

Sample prompts:

  1. Narrative form: Many of the texts we have read this semester incorporate inset stories in a frame structure. Consider the relationship of frame to inset story in two texts–for example, The Thousand and One Nights and the Inferno. Write an analytical essay that crafts an account of how narrative form–the structure of each text–produces meaning.
  2. Woods made of words: Wang Wei’s poetry often describes natural settings; indeed, some of his poems are (or seem to be) pure description. The opening of the Inferno also involves a representation of nature: Dante’s “dark wood.” Write an analytical essay addressing the (very different!) treatment of nature–of forests, valleys, hillsides, woods–in the work of Wang Wei and Dante.

NOTE: This week, you do not need to comment on each other’s posts. DO READ THEM. If a prompt seems, to you, particularly inspiring, feel free to tell me that over email.

Blog post #10: Infernal justice 

For this week’s blog post, choose a damned soul–or pair of souls, or group of souls–and consider how the punishment, in Hell, fits the sin, in life. What model of justice is at work here? Use textual evidence to support your point. Roughly 400 words.

Blog post #9: The Thousand and Second Night

Reading The Thousand and One Nights, it is impossible not to notice the multiple ways in which stories fit together. The frame story–of Sharazad’s tale-telling to avoid death–generates story, after story, night after night. Many of these are “nested” inside of other stories: Sharazad’s characters, often at moments of great suspense or crisis, pause to tell one another tales. Even the frame story itself contains multiple stories; Sharazad’s father tries to thwart her plan by telling her several cautionary tales. Moreover, tales fit together thematically, as well as structurally–many are stories of avoiding death through cleverness (as Sharazad does), or about what it is to rule well or badly (issues relevant to her audience, King Shahrayar).

For this blog post (300-500 words), add a tale to The Thousand and One Nights. Follow these directions carefully:

Choose the point in the narrative when your tale will appear, and include a few sentences (or even a paragraph) from the original above your post. Then, seamlessly tie your story to Sharazad’s–link your text to hers. Your story may imitate the style of the tales told here. Or it may deviate from that style–but if it does, some other connection (of theme, content, or purpose) should be evident.

Creative imitation–imitatio in Latin–is a process by which authors take previous materials, and build on them, both “digesting” previous authors’ work and augmenting it with their own inventions. This assignment asks you to perform just such a dual task: of absorbing the original, and creating something new.

Blog post #8: Translation

Read the attached short book by Eliot Weinberger. Read all of the text–the translations, and the accompanying notes!


As Weinberger’s text suggests, translation itself is a creative practice, with varying aims, goals, and principles. Some translators aim to capture the literal sense of an original. Others privilege the ‘spirit’ of the text over the ‘letter,’ choosing to overlook the literal in favor of phrasing that gets at some kind of inner truth about the original. Still others ‘update’ the texts they translate, re-purposing them for new audiences, cultures, and readers.

For your blog post, choose a short text–a poem, a paragraph of prose, a verse or refrain from a song–in a language of your choosing. (You can choose something in English, though be aware you will be ‘translating’ it!). Include this text, in the original language, in your post. Then, include two different translations, each constructed around a different principle. You may have (for instance) one extremely literal translation, and one translation into super-contemporary slang. Or one loose translation that gets at the ‘feeling’ of the original, and one that seeks to replicate its rhythms and sounds in English. At the end of each translation, include some notes on what your principle of translation is, and how this principle led to specific choices in your new, translated text.

Blog post #7: Antigone

Choose one of the following questions, and answer it in a 300-500 word post, using evidence from the text to support your point.

1) What law? Whose law? What is “law” in Antigone? Whose authority determines law–the gods? Kreon? Family ties? Who has the final say in what actions must (and must not) be performed, and why? Are there multiple, competing definitions of the law at work, or does one model prevail? Be as clear and specific as possible.

2) What’s the Chorus talking about? The Chorus, in Antigone, is made up of older, male Athenian citizens who comment on the action. At several points, however, their attention seems to shift from the immediate problems at hand to broader, more philosophical concerns. Starting at line 365, they deliver an ode to man. Starting at line 629, they discuss family curses. And starting at line 861, they speak of love. Choose ONE of these speeches by the chorus, and discuss its relation to the play in general. Why is this speech here? What does it add to Antigone?

Blog post #5: Essay intros plus outlines

Write a strong, clear introductory paragraph and an outline (or a full draft, if you want!) of your essay. Post on Tuesday. Comment (on ALL your group members drafts!!) before we  meet for Oedipus on Thursday.

Blog post #4: Essay prep (1)

Use your next blogpost to brainstorm for your essay. Identify your topic, and narrow it down. Write out a (potential) version of your main claim, or thesis. What do you hope to argue? What do you hope to demonstrate, in your paper? How do you plan to make the reader see the Odyssey in a new way? Then, identify at least three passages that will be crucial for your paper. Type these out, and jot a few notes on how you plan to use each to support your claim.

In other words: use this blog post to sketch out your central, driving idea (which may change, over time!) and to start gathering evidence from the text.

Post your brainstorming by Tuesday, 9 pm.

By Thursday, class time, you must comment on all the posts in your group. MAKE SURE YOUR POST IS IDENTIFIABLE BY FIRST NAME (put your  name in the title/header). Groups are as follows:

  1. Lillian, Fean, Steven, Regina

2. Delsy, Syed, Alex-Nicole, Chatherine

3. Chao, Deborah, Jomaris

4. Viviana, Maya, Patrick

5. Kimberly, Michael, Vitoria

Essay topics can be found here: paper-1-topics-and-guidelines

Blog post #3. Passage analysis: Identifying (and collapsing!) binaries (roughly 400 words by Tues 9/13, 9 pm).

Binaries often seem, at times, to structure the world of the Odyssey. Oppositional pairs (male/female, fate/free will, land/sea, memory/oblivion, home/not-home, pain/pleasure, allies/enemies, life/death) inflect the lives of the characters, the shape of the narrative, and particular episodes within the Odyssey.

For this blog post, choose a short passage–between 2 and 10 lines, ideally–that epitomizes a large, structuring binary. Let the reader know what the binary is, and how you see it working in the passage. Then, explain how the binary opposition you see at work breaks down or is made more complicated by the passage you’ve chosen. For example, if you were writing on Odysseus’ tears at the end of Book 8, you might claim that here, he brings together masculine and feminine elements: hearing the tale of his manly, heroic exploits, he weeps–and his weeping links him both to Penelope, and to the defeated, suffering women of Troy.

Some ideas include (feel free to use one of these, or to come up with your own!)

  • Heroism (having a famous “name”) and anonymity in the Polyphemus episode (Book 9)
  • The dividing line between the living and the dead in book 11
  • Male versus female (or perhaps memory versus forgetting) in the episode of the Sirens
  • The distinction between home and foreign lands, when Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca

NOTE: This is a tough assignment–and one I think you can rise to! Feel free, however, to include a mini-paragraph or set of questions at the end of your post, expressing linger doubts, confusions, or ideas that don’t “fit” the main thrust of your reading.

NOTE 2: The blog is formatted to push older posts onto a different page; when reading through each other’s posts, don’t forget to check for any that have drifted off the main page.

Blog post #2: Passage analysis (400-500 words by Tues 9/6, 9 pm)

This week, as you read books 5-8 of the Odyssey, keep your eye open for passages that are stylistically, sonically, thematically or otherwise striking. Choose one passage on which to focus. Your passage might represent a deviation from Homer’s typical narrative strategies and stylistic tendencies. Or it might deploy familiar strategies to startling effect. In a blog post of 400-500 words, analyze the passage in-depth.

Your analysis should have two parts (and may break, neatly, into two paragraphs!):

  1. The close-up view. Observe the passage in detail, up close, and share your detailed observations with your reader. (Observation is the first step in analysis. Pay attention to the most minute features of the text). How is the passage constructed? What’s striking about the imagery? The diction (word choices)? Is the passage straightforward and literal, or does it use figurative language to add to its meaning?
  2. The zoomed-out view. Relate your passage to the work as a whole. How does it engage the broader themes of the work (the relationship of mortals to gods, for example; or the complicated gender dynamics among the Greeks)? What does this passage embody, in miniature, about the entire epic? Or, if the passage is a true outlier, what does its difference from the rest of the narrative tell us?

This post asks you to do something really complex, which is also fundamental to literary criticism: to locate an arresting detail, and to link that detail to the whole.


Blog post #1: Everyday odyssey (300-500 words by Sunday 9/3, 9 pm)

The Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of the noun “odyssey.” The first definition is of the Odyssey itself: “One of two great hexametric epic poems of ancient Greece traditionally attributed to Homer… which describes the ten years’ wanderings of Odysseus (Ulysses) on his way home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy.” The second offers a later and more generalized use of the word:a long series of wanderings; a long adventurous journey.” The Odyssey is the story of a particular journey. An odyssey is a journey—any journey—rife with incident, adventure, wandering, error.

For your first blog post, write your own odyssey, from life. On a trip that you take between now and Sunday, record details of what you see, hear, smell (maybe even touch and taste), and of what you think and feel as you travel. Observe the world around you—ordinary or unexpected—closely. Observe landscape, other people (fellow travelers?), events, weather; make note of the feel of the air and the texture of the buildings, the sidewalk, the ground. Jot your observations these in a notebook, on a napkin, on your phone, as you travel. Then, use these notes as the basis for a 300-500 word blog post, bringing the trip vividly to life on the page (and in the mind of your reader). Post this to the course blog by 9 pm, Tuesday, 9/30.

Your odyssey can be on foot, in a vehicle, or on public transit. It can be your daily commute, or a less usual trip. What matters is bringing this journey, in vivid detail, alive to the readers of your post. Make us see what you see, feel what you felt, as you travel. Give us vicarious access to your trip.