Advanced Placement English

Research Topics

  1. Beowulf: compare and contrast the pagan and Christian elements of the epic.  Why and when were the Christian elements added?  Some critics hold that the Biblical elements were super-imposed while others maintain that the poem is essentially Christian.  Is this epic essentially a pagan or Christian poem?  See Beowulf web site.
2. Beowulf:  compare and contrast John Gardner's Grendel (1971) which tells the story from the monster's viewpoint.  What are the major differences and similarities between the two stories?  Why did Gardner focus on Grendel rather than on the hero?
3. Beowulf: compare and contrast Richard Wilbur's Beowulf (1950) that questions the standing of Beowulf as an epic hero.  Why is the poem concerned with the difference between illusion and reality?  Why is Wilbur so selective in his choice of events from the original epic?
4. The Arthurian Legend:  compare and contrast one of the modern versions of the Arthurian Legend of Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur.  Read one of the books from the tetralogy of T. H. White's The Once and Future King (1958) which became the basis for Camelot.
5. The Arthurian Legend:  compare and contrast Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1875) and Le Morte D'Arthur of Malory.  Why does Tennyson emphasize Lancelot's adulterous love of Guinevere and the eventual demise of Camelot?
6. Shakespeare:  Who is the "dark lady" in the sonnets?  To what extent can the identity of this mysterious woman be determined?  See the Shakespeare Web Site.
7. HAMLET:  Why did Hamlet wait so long to avenge his father's murder?  Survey the critical response to this basic question that has concerned critics for four hundred years.  Conclude with a judgment about which interpretation seems to be plausible to you based on your interpretation of the play.
8. HAMLET:  Compare and contrast Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967) with the play.  Is Stoppard "retelling" the story of Hamlet through the eyes of two minor characters or is Hamlet incidental to the plot of Stoppard's play?
9. HAMLET:  How does each of Hamlet's seven major soliloquies reveal the stages of his eventual downfall?  IS indecision Hamlet's "tragic flaw"?
10. HAMLET:  Research one of the seminar basic questions:  (1) Is Hamlet troubled more by his father's murder or by his mother's hasty marriage to Claudius? (2) Is Hamlet mad? (3) Does Hamlet love Ophelia?
11. HAMLET in film:  Begin with the A & E "Biography" (1994) of Hamlet, a survey of the most famous actors who have played Hamlet during the last one hundred years.  Why have these actors all found this play so difficult to interpret and perform?  Why do these actors regard playing Hamlet as a crowning achievement of their careers?
12. HAMLET:  With copious textual examples, agree or disagree with Helen Uendler's argument that Hamlet is "our preeminent post - Christian poem", refusing both the redemptive linear plot of Christianity -- by which God brings good out of evil -- and the stable political hierarchy implicit in the Christian belief that regal authority is derived from God... Hamlet believes only in death -- not in the Christian afterlife that was part of the ideology of his century.
13. MACBETH:  According to the eminent Chicago University Shakespearean scholar, David Bevington, "Macbeth is NOT a conventional morality play (even less so than Doctor Faustus) and it is NOT concerned primarily with preaching against sinfulness or demonstrating that Macbeth is finally damned for what he does." How many critics share this view?  Why?  How many disagree?  If this is what Macbeth is NOT about, what IS it about?
14. MACBETH in film:  Orsen Welles' Macbeth (1948) supports the psychological interpretation that much of Macbeth's imagining is delusion, NOT illusion.  In contrast, Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971) revels in graphic and sensational violence that film can exploit (unlike the theater) to reveal its profound pessimism.  Yet other critics contend that the greatest film version of Macbeth is Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957) which relates the story of Macbeth in the context of Japanese warlord history. Compare and contrast these film versions to determine which is the most faithful to the plot and theme of the original play.
15. MACBETH:  Research one of the four seminar basic questions of interpretation: (1) Does Lady Macbeth urge Macbeth to kill Duncan because she cannot do it herself or because she thinks that he must do it himself? (2) Why does the relationship between Macbeth and his wife change after Duncan's murder? (3) Does Shakespeare want us to believe that the witches are real, supernatural, or projections of Macbeth's imagination? (4) Why is Macbeth unable to save himself?
16. MACBETH:  Why does Thomas De Quincey, in his classic essay, "On Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth" reject the simplistic interpretation that Shakespeare placed the porter's scene (2.3.1-45) immediately after Duncan's murder to provide "comic relief"? Does DeQuincey's interpretation of this scene apply also to the scene preceding the slaughter (4.2)?
17. MACBETH:  How does each of Macbeth's seven soliloquies reveal the stages in the process of his final downfall?
18. MACBETH:  "Tomorrow and tomorrow, and so forth." Conduct a textual analysis of this best-known soliloquy of Macbeth and John Updike's short story. Explain why Marc Prosser was unable to teach his class anything about Macbeth's final soliloquy.
19. MACBETH: Compare and contrast through a textual analysis Lady Macbeth's two major soliloquies: "Come, spirits. . . unsex me" and "Out, out damned spot."
20. Charles Dickens:  A Tale of Two Cities.  The novel begins and end with one of the great recurring themes of literature--resurrection.  To which of the four major characters does the "recalled-to-life" them most apply?  To Dr. Manette?  Charles Darnay?  Sydney Carton?  Jerry Cruncher?  After surveying critical opinion, arrive at your own conclusion based on your reading of the novel.
21. A TALE OF TWO CITIES in film: Compare and contrast the 1935 MGM (Ronald Coleman) version of the novel with the Master Piece version (1989).
22. A TALE OF TWO CITIES:  Is Sydney Carton too flawed to be considered a Christ figure? Why does Sydney Carton sacrifice himself for a married woman who cannot return his love?
23. Mary Shelley, FRANKENSTEIN:  A Modern Prometheus.  Was it Shelley's intention to leave her reader with ambivalent feelings for her nameless monster? If so, what was her purpose in setting this tone for her story?  See also Stephen King's Danse Macabre ( 1981).
24. FRANKENSTEIN:  Why does Stephen King (Danse Macabre, Ch. III) believe that the continued popularity of the Frankenstein myth cannot be explained by the many movies that have been based on it?  What does explain the continued fascination with the Frankenstein story?
25. FRANKENSTEIN in film:  Of the many film versions of Shelley's novel, which one is most faithful to the plot and them of the original story?  Compare and contrast the so-called classic film version that stars Boris Karloff (1931) and two contemporary films by Bergin (1993) and Branagh (1994).
26. FRANKENSTEIN:  According to Shelley, was Victor's tragic flaw usurping power that belongs only to God or his failure to assume responsibility for his creation after endowing it with life?  Does Shelley want us to believe that Victor became as bad as his monster's degeneration into evil?
27. FRANKENSTEIN:  Agree or disagree with critic Harold Bloom's view that "The monster is at once more intellectual and more emotional than his maker; indeed, he excels Frankenstein. . . The greatest paradox and most astonishing achievement of the novel is that the monster is more human than his creator."
28. FRANKENSTEIN:  To what degree is Victor Frankenstein a romantic?  What elements of romanticism appear in the story?  For example, why does Shelley have nature sometimes act as a therapeutic physician for Victor?  Why is Shelley unconcerned with the plausibility of her story?  What are the didactic aspects of the novel?  Most importantly, why is the theme of undying love integral to the story?
29. FRANKENSTEIN: Given the six elements of classical tragedy, illustrate Stephen King's view that after Victor's rejection of his monster at the moment of its creation, "the remainder of Shelley's story is a Shakespearean tragedy."
30. FRANKENSTEIN:  Explain the structural integrity of the novel.  Why is Victor's story set within the framework of Robert Walton's story?  What is similar about Walton's and Victor's quest?  Why is the monster's long narrative (Ch. 11-16) book ended between Victor's narrative?  Why is the monster's entire narrative uninterrupted?  Why does the novel end with the monster leaping onto an ice raft rather than with its proclaimed incineration? See the Mary Shelley Page.
31. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness:  To what extent is the theme and plot structure of Conrad's novel similar to its contemporary movie version, Apocalypse Now?  Has moving the setting of the story to the Vietnam War improved or diluted Conrad's original theme?
32. George Orwell, 1984. Illustrate how 1984, published in 1948, is the mature statement of George Orwells' inditement of Fascism and Communism portrayed first in his fable, Animal Farm (1945).
33. George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion:  Why would Shaw have emphatically disapproved of the musical version of his play, My Fair Lady?
34. William Golding, Lord of the Flies:  Which of the two modern movie versions of Golding's novel have remained faithful to the theme and plot of the original story?
35. H.G. WELLS, The Time Machine:  Why is Wells ambivalent about the future of mankind?  On one hand, he is fascinated with the prospects that science and technology seem to offer for the betterment of the human race and yet, on the other hand, he is not nearly as certain that mankind's progress is either unlimited or inevitable.  In short, unlike so many other sanguine 19th Century Victorians, why is Wells skeptical about "the myth of progress"?

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