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The Research Essay

Due date:Friday 14 November
Length:1000-1100 words
On this page:


Your final written assignment for the course will be a short research paper on the Renaissance background, using the Internet site Shakespeare's Life and Times (or the CD ROM A Shakespeare Suite) as a starting point for exploration of your topic.

The topic you choose should demonstrate how the context you research illuminates a particular passage, character, scene, or issue in one of the works you are studying. Remember that this is a research essay; you will be expected to include a list of Works Cited and, if necessary, a Bibliography. Be sure to follow the conventions of citation in the text of your essay as outlined in the Writer's Guide.

Note: You must submit a proposal for the topic you choose by email at least two weeks before it is due. Essays that have not been approved in advance will not be accepted.

Using the Internet Site Shakespeare's Life and Times.

Shakespeare's Life and Times is designed to allow you to explore the Renaissance context of the literature of the time. The emphasis is on Shakespeare, but you will find that the topics covered can be applied to all the writers in the period. Sections of the site deal with Shakespeare's life, the stage he and his contemporaries wrote for, and the social, intellectual, political, literary, and artistic background to the literature of the period. You should spend at least half an hour simply exploring the range of subjects available in the site before choosing what you want to write about (I recommend this even if you have a strong interest in a particular area already). Go to Shakespeare's Life and Times.

There are a number of ways in which you can begin your exploration:

As you explore, you will realize that there are three kinds of links embedded in the text of the site:

  1. Links marked with an asterisk provide further information on the same topic and remain on the same "page."
  2. Normal links without the asterisk will take you to a different section of the site where the subject indicated is dealt with more fully.
  3. Links coloured green will take you to related sites on the Internet, external to Shakespeare's Life and Times.

The result is that you can explore widely, and perhaps find an area that you had not thought about researching as you browse. Once you have found a topic that particularly interests you, you can click on the icon of the book; you will be taken to a bibliography that gives you information on conventional research material in the Library where you can continue your study. You can print out the bibliography. There is an on-line "help" section of the site. Just click on the icon of a question mark.

You will also find many links to sites external to the Life and Times–increasingly the Internet is providing excellent material on Renaissance topics, though it is important to be critically aware of the quality of the various sites, since they are far more uneven than the print materials you will find in the Library. You will also find the list of relevant sites maintained on the site of the Internet Shakespeare Editions useful ().

In your Bibliography or list of Works Cited, you should include both print and Internet resources.

Organizing Your Essay

A research essay should demonstrate a high quality of writing, especially in the organization of your thoughts. You would be well advised to consult the Department's Writer's Guide for advice on matters of detail (sentence structure, paragraphing) and overall organization. Be sure to follow the conventions of citation and recording your entries in the Bibliography and Works Cited. One common error in this kind of essay is to create what in effect are two mini-essays, one on the Renaissance context and one on the work you are discussing; you should make sure that you integrate both components of the essay effectively.

What I Will Look for in This Assignment

I will be looking for

You will be graded on these specific points, and (as in all English courses) on your general command of written English. Marks will be deducted for major or continuing problems in expression.


The percentages here are intended to give you a clear sense of the emphasis I will put on the various components of your work. I will not actually break the mark down mechanically by each category, but will consider the assignment as a whole, with these categories in mind.

Component Weight
  • Research
  • Critical discussion of the work
  • Accuracy of conventions


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This page last updated on 11 September 2003. © Michael Best, 2003.