Paper Topics

Ideally, you should learn something about a work by writing on it; my subjects are therefore geared to make you reread and think. You are strongly encouraged to choose your own subject (i.e., I would prefer it), but you might want to clear it with me if you do, to prevent unforeseen suicides.

Bear in mind that this is not a long paper. The first impulse of most students is to pick the largest possible topic and deal with it superficially (that takes the least thought--and gets the least grade).

I expect a topic that is not too large (i.e., narrowly focused), dealt with in detail (analyze both the problem and the poem), with specific references to the work(s).
Waffle doesn't make it.
Neither does retelling the story (for help on this, see me).

The writing guidelines available here on this home page are law; transgress them at your peril.

There are rich possibilities for comparisons and/or contrasts using Beowulf, Gawain, and/or The Faerie Queene. If you have never been taught how to write a comparison/contrast paper, be sure you (1) find out or (2) see me before you embark on one (the comparison must have a point and it must be made item by item). I have had heaps of poor comparison papers and am tired of reading them. If you think you know what you are doing, go to it.

You could compare Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and/or the Redcrosse Knight (the men, not the poems) on the basis of: their ideas of honor, their success (or lack of it) at. . .what?, as heroes?, as honorable men?, their estimations of themselves, their motivations (insofar as we can figure them out), or any other comparable (or contrastable) trait, idea, behavior, etc. What constitutes success in two of the three works you have read? Do not try to deal with three characters or poems; two is more than enough.

In Sir G and FQ you have two romances that differ in tone, in ideals, in the purposes for which they were written. There is a basketful of topics here. I have described Gawain as essentially comic; what about FQ? What causes the profound difference in the tone of the endings? How about the relation of the secular and the religious in the two poems? Etc., etc.

If you don't like those, you could compare two characters: Grendel and the Green Knight, or either one and Archimago or Duessa, or Bercilak's wife and Duessa, for instance; or you could compare two settings: Hrothgar's court with Arthur's (or Bercilak's); Beowulf's adventures with RC's; the "rules" of the societies; the narrators' commentaries on the action; or Beowulf's dragon with Spenser's. You can undoubtedly think of other possibilities.

Go back into the poems themselves and survey the material carefully and gather details before you write your paper; do not try to write from memory.

If you do not want to write a comparison paper, try one of these:

We talked in class about a number of themes in the works you have read that you might deal with: games, honor, trawthe, i.e, loyalty or keeping one's word, courtesy, "love," deception, courage, agreements and oaths, generosity, etc. (Almost any abstract noun naming a virtue or vice is a potential theme.) Check "theme" in your dictionary of literary terms and see if you can find a theme yourself that you'd like to deal with. Once you think you have one, don't forget to formulate a thesis based on it before you turn in your paper.

You could write about an image (check your dictionary of literary terms), like the Green Knight or Gawain. In such a paper, you would discuss what you see when you look at a character and how what you see tells you something about the personality/intentions of the character and perhaps about the intentions of the author (i.e., his standards of behavior, his values).

Why does the Beowulf poet choose first a monster/man to test Beowulf and then a dragon as the ultimate adversary? (Do not use the term "monster/man" in your essay.)

Provide an interpretation of the ending of Sir Gawain. What is going on and how should we judge (or should we not judge) Gawain? Put another way, whose judgment should we trust? (I would expect you to go beyond what was said in class on this subject. There is plenty that was left unsaid.)

If anyone feels up to it, she might tackle the role of women in romance. Bercelak's wife seems to wield a lot of power in the bedroom, but she acts on her husband's scheme--or is it the scheme of her aged companion, Morgan la Fay? Una seems to play an extremely passive role, yet without her help the Redcrosse Knight would never succeed--would he? Duessa/Fidessa embodies two ideals of womanhood, one her real nature and one her pretended nature. (A little like the old and young ladies of the Gawain-poet?)
You could deal with either of the works. No need to deal with both.

The best idea is the idea you want to write on. Think of your favorite work, then your favorite character, incident, relationship, irony, or whatever. That is what you ought to write on.

Not sure what you want to write on or how to tackle the subject you've chosen?

See me.

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Rev 2/98