Neko (krazykat_neko) wrote in english_majors,

Paper help

Hi! I'm an English major and I'm currently taking a Studies in Shakespeare class. I have a major paper due tomorrow that I've badly procrastinated on and I need a little help fine tuning my thesis. My paper is comparing/contrasting Ophelia (Hamlet), Lady Anne (Richard III) and Isabella (Measure for Measure) and my thesis is that all of these characters were manipulated in some form by the male characters in the plays. It feels kind of broad to me but I'm kind of scratching my head and trying to think of a way to focus my paper on. This is supposed to be a 6-7 page paper btw.

I know I'm coming off as a bad English major here but I still have trouble coherently forming my thoughts on academic essays. I feel like I'm all over the place when start writing this stuff.
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Do you need to reference three different plays? I wrote an entire 6 page paper just on Ophelia and how she is destroyed by Hamlet, so if you're having trouble focusing, could you write on just one or two of the women? I'm afraid I haven't read Richard III or Measure for Measure, so I don't have a suggestion for fine-tuning the thesis, but I do think narrowing the scope of what you're going to cover may help.

Otherwise, one of my go-to prewriting exercises is just to make lists of what I think I'd want to include in my paper. It's not quite as organized as outlining, but it helps me envision what I'm trying to do. So could you list some things about each character and how she is manipulated, and see if you could strengthen your thesis from there?

Whatever you choose to do, good luck! And speaking of procrastinating, I have SO many papers I've been putting off, and now it's the last week of classes coming up and it's crunch time, so you're not the only one :)
I don't need to reference three plays. My first choice was actually to just do a character analysis of Ophelia but I was worried I wouldn't be able to fill 6-7 pages so I expanded to include the other characters in the plays we've studied this semester.

That's a good idea, thank you! I think one of my big problems is that I'm bad at outlining and any type of pre-writing exercises. We just weren't taught that at my former schools.

Oh man, I have two papers due this week and two more next week. And then finals soon after that. It's madness. Good luck to you as well!
I have a BA in English and I've never written an outline in my life. Just start putting everything you want to say on paper and after you have it all in front of you, start organizing it. You already have your thesis, which is that Ophelia is manipulated by Hamlet. You can easily spend 6 pages talking about how and why.
Ditto the never outlining. It works for a lot of people and that's why it gets pushed so much, but it doesn't work for everyone.

That said, I once spent 15 pages justifying every single death in Titus Andronicus. You can pull 6-7 pages out of Ophelia easily since there's so much out there and so many Academic Papers done on Hamlet alone and Ophelia in particular that you'll have no trouble pulling reference material to back your arguments.
Ditto on narrowing the scope. If you are intent on writing about all three characters, maybe you could focus on a specific behavior that the males in all three plays exhibit toward women (like ordinaryfool, I have not read the other two plays, so I'm no help with details). Narrowing the kind of manipulation used will help put a finer point on your thesis. Doing a five- or ten-minute freewrite where you just lay out all your thoughts on paper always helps me as a pre-writing exercise.
One of the problems that I see with your thesis is that it's just an observation and not really an argument. Rather, you need to turn that observation into an argument by asking yourself what the effect of such manipulation, for it seems that that is what the paper would cover. It's important to have a strong thesis nailed down and to return to the beginning once you've finished writing to make sure your thesis reflects what you've argued.
I've gone back to grad school for English after taking several years off, and this year (my first) has been pretty difficult. I didn't study English in undergrad, and I feel like I missed out on learning a lot of writing tricks other people seem to know. I've been reinventing the wheel all this year trying to figure out how the hell anybody writes a paper. After much agonizing, this is the strategy I've figured out to get started:

1. Write a one-paragraph summary of what you want to say in plain language.

2. Break down that paragraph into a list of questions that you feel comfortable answering (for example, the introduction of the paper I'm currently working on says above it, "How does film noir defy classical narrative conventions?", and then the next paragraph is "How does the narrative structure of 'Double Indemnity' foreground the act of telling?", and then "What concerns does this demonstrate?").

3. Organize your quotes/evidence under each question. If something doesn't fit, get rid of it. This was my biggest problem: trying to fit in quotes and observations that I liked but wasn't sure what to do with. It just ended up making me more confused as to how everything fit together.

4. Start with the question that seems easiest to answer.

5. Once the paper begins to take shape, go back and cut out the questions.

Good luck!

(The deleted posts above are me, sorry, I couldn't edit my comment.)
Whatever you do, make sure to emphasize why your thesis matters. You're right that it's rather broad, and clearly communicating why your argument is important to analysis and understanding of the text is a good way to focus your argument without changing it very much.
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I actually just wrote my final paper for my Shakespeare's Tragedies class on Ophelia and just Ophelia. You can totally get 6-7 pages out of her. I think you could get a whole book out of her. That being said, I think your thesis might be a little obvious. Hamlet manipulates Ophelia, yes, that's the most obvious reading of their relationship. Can you think of any other reading? For instance, my paper argued that Ophelia was complicit in her own victimization. But there are a million more things to say about Ophelia than that she was a victim. Just start listing things about her and something will hit you.