Thursday, June 22, 2006

"William Shakespeare's Discovery"

'Intellectual Voyages of Self-Discovery'
(Image Borrowed from Wikipedia)

I sometimes complain here in Gypsy Scholar about students who don't heed my advice on how to write an expository essay, so I ought to praise those who pay attention and follow through.

In the middle of marking -- and marking all over -- final essays, I came to one with a good introduction:

The Elizabethan Era (1158-1603), the peak of the English Renaissance, is often called the "Age of Discovery." The individuals were encouraged to discover themselves and the world. The perspective had an influence on many Elizabethan intellectuals. William Shakespeare was one of the intellectuals in this period. Then, what did he discover? Considering that literature can reflect a writer's intellect, we might be able to find his discovery reading his poems and plays although his life is obscure. Of his masterpieces, The Sonnets are still arousing various critical attention. Due to this fact, it is hard to assert the theme of The Sonnets in a single phrase. Here, I only focus on the poet's view of eternity. The view of eternity presented in Shakespeare's Sonnets reflects Renaissance Humanism because it emphasizes human ability to keep valuable things eternally in earthly existence in spite of human's mortality.
While this introductory paragraph has its flaws, some due to the student using English as a second language, it flows nicely enough. It begins broadly but not too broadly with the Elizabethan Era and by successively narrowing the focus leads smoothly to the crucial point: Shakespeare's view of eternity. I especially like the move from Burckhardt's thesis that the spirit of the Renaissance encouraged individuals "to discover themselves and the world" to my student's question about Shakespeare: "Then, what did he discover?" That's nicely done.

Some things could have been better. For instance, Burkhardt could have been acknowledged for the insight about Renaissance individuals discovering themselves and the world, but that has perhaps reached a level of common knowledge among the educated by now, so let it pass.

As for the ability that Shakespeare discovered within himself, namely, the power to achieve something for an earthly eternity, we know already that the student is thinking of "Sonnet 18":

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The student may have been spinning ideas from off a blog entry that I posted some weeks back, or from one of my class lectures touching on the same topic, but the student's insights have sufficient originality that there's no need to footnote me.

If every undergraduate student would achieve this level of sophistication, grading would be a whole lot easier ... until time for setting the curve.

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