|English 200A F03 > The Explication|
|Friday October 10|
|The assignment should be approximately 800 words in length;
it should on no account exceed 950 words.
You have a choice of two passages from Marowe's Dr. Faustus: either Scene 5, 196-212, or Scene 12, 79-100.
An explication is a very specific kind of exercise, designed to help you read and understand a text fully; it is a kind of training in literary perception where you are asked to consider a single passage in detail. The explication of a passage from a play is rather different from the explication of a poem, however; in a play you will want not only to consider patterns of language and meaning within the passage, but to relate it fully to its dramatic context. In looking intensively at the chosen passage, you will be equipping yourself to discuss and share your response to the play as a whole by understanding and communicating your reasons for feeling the way you do about a specific part of it. In the process you will inevitably find yourself exploring the play's plot, its characters, its language, and so on.
Thus the explication is a close reading of the kind often associated with "New Criticism" -- a critical approach which is now not new at all. The text is where it all starts, and is ultimately more important than any specific interpretation. Of course, as you read more of the plays and of their historical context, your sense of what constitutes the "text" will change.
It is important to realize from the beginning that an explication is not like other kinds of essays you will have written. It is not a biographical study; it is not a historical study; it is not a study of sources; and it is not an exploration of analogies and parallels to be found in other parts of the play or in different plays. All these approaches to the text may be useful for your explication, for they all contribute to our understanding of a given passage, but they must be used sparingly and with caution: the knowledge you have gained of the author, the period, and the plays should remain like an iceberg, nine-tenths submerged, and surfacing only when it can serve the specific purpose of explaining some implication of the passage.
The explication is a detailed analysis of the set passage. You will want to discuss what you learn from the passage about the character who speaks it, the images in it which echo elsewhere in the play, the language it uses, its dramatic impact, and so on. The passage will sometimes be a speech by a single character, sometimes a dialogue; in every case you will find that it involves major characters, important themes, and key situations in the development of the action--so it will not be difficult to write about.
The actual plan of your explication can vary according to the nature of the passage and the things you find most important. You will probably want to begin with a brief paragraph putting the passage in context, and indicating the importance of that context. The simplest organization of the heart of the explication is to discuss the passage systematically from beginning to end--it will usually have a consistent rhetorical unity in any case, which will give your analysis its own unity. Note, however, that the result should not be simply a rewording of your paraphrase; it must focus on discussing, not translating the passage.
LIterature On Line (Chadwyck-Healey), from Chadwyck-Healey, available from the Library Gateway. Look for electronic texts that the Library subscribes to. LION will allow you to look up any word as it was used in drama or poetry before and during the Early Modern period--there is a database of hundreds of early works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. When you make a search on LION, be sure to enter dates near your author's time so that you don't get too many irrelevant references. Be sure to use the advanced search to narrow your search criteria.
You should look up at least two words in the passage to be explicated, one fairly common one, and one you find difficult or unusual, and I will expect you to use what you find as a part of your discussion (you may wish to put additional details in an Appendix to your explication). You can, of course, explore more fully.
When you discuss the language, you should make clear your understanding of the role played by such things as rhythm, metaphor, paradox, understatement--or its opposite, hyperbole--irony, symbol, and so on.
One difference between the explication and the essay is that the explication does not require you to develop a particular thesis. You may wish to conclude with some statement about the importance of the character and the particular passage in the development of the play, or your judgment may be clear from the points you have already developed. It is not necessary, however, to claim that the chosen passage is somehow the most important in the play; rather it is more important to show how it fits organically into the larger scheme.
In general, the explication will be a direct preparation for your final exam, for one of the questions on it will be a choice of passages for you to explicate.