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This assignment is a formal, multiple-draft, and thesis-driven essay in response to a chosen prompt. The work should be the product of considerable thought, several drafts, substantive revision, and careful editing and proofreading.


Download and read the directions for this final essay assignment:


Read the list of provided topics:


Additional information: R E A D C A R E F U L L Y


Choose from one of the four essay topics that are PROVIDED HERE.Click to download this TOPIC LIST)

TOPIC … TO THESIS … TO ESSAY… These topics are broad and should be used only as starting points. Read through all four of them carefully. Choose one as the basis for your essay, and then sharpen your focus. In response to issues raised by the topic, formulate your thesis position – one that will allow you to make your literary analysis / argument. Your thesis should be specific, committed to a point of view about something, and allow you to integrate some insights from the play and other sources, in order to shape and drive and shape a full-length essay.


As support (or counter evidence) for your thesis, your primary source will be the text of Othello, but you should also integrate relevant insights and/or quoted material from 2 or more additional sources so that you have a minimum of 3 sources total. See below:

  • Your first required source is the text of the play, Othello

  • At least one other source must be from the course’s Othello Critical Database.

  • Your other, additional sources may be any of the following:

    • Additional readings from the Othello Critical Database

    • Other assigned external readings (not Canvas lectures) in drama unit modules

    • Assigned video clips – find links to all of them here

    • Theoretical readings from the Donald Hall text, Cultural and Literary Theory

All sources must be credited accurately and cited correctly in MLA format.

  • Again: The play itself must be cited correctly and included as a source in your Works Cited. Do not cite from the SparkNotes (“No Fear Shakespeare”), and do not cite from alternative publications in which the play appears.

About the Critical Database of Othello Readings:

These are all scholarly, analytical essays that consider the play from various angles, focused on specific aspects or concerns. They should be very useful to you as sources of insight, but also as models of critical writing and academic tone. Choose a minimum of one to use with your essay. This will be your second source, after the play itself. Your third (and optional fourth) source may also be database readings, but this is not required.

You will complete at least one database reading (of your choosing) as part of a separate assignment in Module 6, and if it’s relevant, you may use the same one as one of your sources in your formal essay (or choose not to).

TIP: As you skim the database, don’t choose readings based solely on title – many of these essays end up going into surprising directions, or examine a range of topics – race, gender, language, irony, symbolism, and so on. Skim as many as you can as you progress from general prompt to thesis idea to the formulation of your argument.


RESOURCES for developing a point of view can be found by reviewing the material on different critical literary models you’ve read so far, and by consulting the relevant links in the Othello Essay Planning Guide.

Begin drafting your paper only after you have revised your thesis multiple times.

The literary research essay is a critical analysis resulting from a close examination of of Shakespeare’s Othello. The subject, focus, approach, and shape of the essay will be determined by your thesis – a specific, substantive, and arguable claim that should be clearly articulated and established in the introduction to your paper. The thesis must be sufficiently narrow and suitably challenging.

Spend time revising it and reviewing the thesis-related readings, then revising it again. The success of your paper will depend largely on the strength of your thesis. Write multiple drafts of the thesis. statement, until you arrive at one that is no longer general, no longer a statement of the obvious, wordy, compromised by vague language, unfocused, or that sounds like plot description masquerading as argument and analysis.

Challenge yourself to revise until your topic, position and rationale (three necessary elements in any thesis) are suitably complex and well articulated.

Voice, voice, voice: Sound like yourself! Maintain a formal, academic approach but don’t write stuffy, dry, sentences. Be imaginative and descriptive. Take the time to explain your ideas and your reasoning.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

Remember the importance of a focused claim; within the constraints of an essay, you cannot write about everything. Do not attempt to tackle every subject, insight, or observation that occurs to you.

Nor should you spend your time retelling the play, or explaining the most obvious conclusions one might draw from it, even after the most casual reading.

Commit to thoroughly exploring your claim. Learning how to zero in on a sharply defined area of interest is a key skill you’ll need to complete this assignment; develop a narrow, specific claim that you examine and defend in depth, rather than a vague or overly general claim that you end up exploring only superficially.



This is not a giant five-paragraph essay, so do not approach it that way.

While that rigid model may have served you in earlier classes or in high school, it is too constraining and formulaic to be useful in this context. Your thesis should articulate a college-level, arguable claim (not name three ‘things” as a way to set up a paragraph sequence), your paper will require more paragraph breaks than only five, and you will need to develop a more thoughtful organizing principle and chain of transitions from paragraph to paragraph than the basic formula of:

AVOID THIS TIRED FORMULA: Introduction (three items are listed) + 3 paragraphs + conclusion = 5 paragraphs = paper

It is not suitable for this assignment, or this course level. Your essay should, however, still contain the basic essay components: introduction, body and conclusion, just not arranged according to this rigid formula.


You must include in the course of your argument, your examination and evaluation of a valid counterargument to your thesis claim. Valid counterarguments are not contrived, wholly invented or lacking in credibility – they are viable challenges to your own argument that, presented and responded to properly, will strengthen your own position. Where to place your counterargument(s)? There is no one answer to this question. You might decide to address challenges to your thesis throughout the body of your essay or devote one section to the counterclaims. It’s strongly recommended you visit the writing links in your Student Support Guide which address this matter specifically.

Your topic sentences are critical for shaping your essay and advancing your focused argument. Your paragraphs should cohere and be sequenced logically. For guidance in developing the body of your essay, use the writing links in the Student Support Guide and in the Othello Essay Planning Guide.


In the course of your paper, aim to explore potential counter-evidence to your claim, or an alternative (valid) interpretation to your point of view about some or all your evidence. Incorporate a reasoned, relevant counterargument, however narrow or limited.

Your counterargument:

  • Should not seem contrived or strain credulity – don’t invent some kind of “some people say…” counterargument.
  • It does not have to be a direct disagreement with your conclusions or interpretation, but could represent an alternative interpretation or a position that differs from yours in emphasis.
  • The counter-argument (or challenge) should be valid – a challenge that complicates some or all aspects of your thesis, in order to invite your response, thereby giving your own argument more depth and nuance.
  • As a challenge to your point of view, the counter-argument doesn’t necessarily have to absolutely reject your claim – it could a subtler challenge than that.

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