I have provided a list of topics below. You must develop your own thesis statement for the paper, using these topics as spring-boards. You should choose one topic and then refine it into a specific, coherent thesis regarding the texts on which you have chosen to write. Avoid excessive plot summary.
Write a coherent, well-supported literary analysis, with properly cited quotations from the texts. You are not required to read any secondary critical sources. However, should you choose to consult such sources, those sources must be cited properly in MLA style (in-text and in a Works Consulted page).
1. Unruly Widows. Consider the representation of widows and womanly authority in the Wife of Bath’s “Prologue” and The Duchess of Malfi. Are these women merely misogynist stereotypes of widows? Or are they self-possessed individuals examining and rejecting male authority and the patriarchal images which have oppressed them, and women? Both? Do we sympathize with them or revile them?
2. The Sacred Compare and contrast the representation of the crucifixion in The Dream of the Rood and The York Play of the Crucifixion. How is the “act” of crucifixion itself depicted? How is Christ portrayed in each text? What aspects of Christ’s death seem most important to the author of each text? What is implied about our role as audience in each text? etc.
3. Desire & Moral Restrictions Discuss the tension between personal (and/or sexual) desires and social and moral rules/restrictions in The Duchess of Malfi and either Gawain and the Green Knight or The Faerie Queen, Book 2, “Bower of Bliss.” How do these texts ‘stage’ or depict this conflict? Do personal desires or social and moral restrictions win out in the end?
4. Final Battles Compare the final battle Beowulf faces to the final beheading challenge that Gawain faces. How are both battles a reflection on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death? What purpose do these final episode serve? What is the Dragon’s symbolic significance? How do these final battles differ from earlier battles or tests faced by each hero? Does the final battle alter our understanding of the overall story?
5. Writing Women The Wife of Bath comically ventriloquizes at enormous length the conventional misogynist accusations against women in her “Prologue.” To what extent do characters such as Wealhtheow and Grendel’s mother (Beowulf), Gill (The Second Shepherds’ Play), Guinevere, Morgan Le Fay, and the Host’s Wife (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), or the Duchess (The Duchess of Malfi) fulfill or defy these stereotypes. Write on at least two authors and two to three female characters from the above list. Choose your examples carefully in order to illustrate a distinction that is the focus of your thesis. You might want to consider the representation of these women in relation to the central messages of their texts or the target audience of these texts, etc.
6. Motif The arming of the hero for battle is a traditional motif. Discuss the thematic significance of the arming and/or disarming of the hero in three of: Beowulf, “The Dream of the Rood,” Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Faerie Queene “Bower of Bliss”.
7. Didactic verses Entertainment In The Canterbury Tales’ tale-telling competition, the pilgrims must strive to tell the tale of “best sentence and most solas,” i.e. the tale that is most uplifting/instructive and which gives the most pleasure. We have seen this tension between didacticism and entertainment in many of the works we have studied this semester. Pick two works (by two different authors) and discuss the ways in which didacticism and entertainment are in conflict and/or are balanced or blended successfully? How does entertainment value help to further didactic intent? Is one work more successful at blending these two elements than the other?