Writing Papers

Why do we write papers in Shakespeare?

  • To learn more about Shakespeare’s plays, characters, ideas
  • • To develop skills of analyzing his plays
  • • To learn to communicate well

What’s a paper? A piece of writing that makes an interesting point. What does this mean you need in order to write a paper? An interesting point or idea! It’s called a thesis, and I’ll give a more complete definition in a minute. If you don’t have one, what happens? No paper,  a blank paper, or aimless writing that makes no point. How do you come up with them? Well, you need a system for coming up with them, kind of like a tree that you grow that bears fruit. The system we use, is Response Journals, Class discussions, thinking. The system is that by doing those things, your head will be filled up with ideas to write about.

Response Journals

The purpose of the Response Journals is to encourage you all to get more involved with what Shakespeare wrote. Ask questions, look up words, think of ideas. And to help you come up with ideas for discussion and papers. For examples, you can see some great Response Journals written by my students here.

Thesis Statements

What’s a Thesis statement?  A thesis statement is a sentence that states an idea that you want the reader to understand after reading your paper that you can defend.  It’s the most important step in writing a paper. In our class, we have a deadline before the paper for handing in thesis statements.

Why do you need one?

  • Can’t write without one.  If you have no point, writing will be really hard, if not impossible.
  • Random sentences.  If you can write, it will likely be a random bunch of sentences with no point.  You’ll feel like you don’t have much to say or don’t know what the next sentence should be.
  • Gives you a goal. A point, the thesis, is great because it tells you what you have to do – show it’s true!  You can keep asking yourself, will the reader understand my point by the end of the essay?  It’s not a certain length. It’s as long as it has to be to seem convincing to you.
  • Gives the reader directions so they don’t have to read your mind to figure out your point!

Can it change a thesis statement as you write?  Sure, just start with one.

So, how do you get started writing one?  

  1. Ask an interesting question, Every thesis statement should be able to be stated as the answer to a question.  Use one of the questions we pose in class, but make sure it interests you in some way bc it’s hard to write on something you don’t care about!  Where do you come up with questions?  As you read, write them!
  2. Reread the part of the play that will help you answer the question and think about the answer.  Jot down thoughts that come to you, underline quotes, don’t worry about complete sentences.
  3. Brainstorm answers, and write all of them down.  There may be more than one answer. Consider all of them, or as many as you can.  Once you have your brainstorms on paper, look them over and see what’s there.  Maybe they’re all over the place.
  4. Decide which ones you can argue  I can’t argue these all equally well, and not all of them seem true to me.
  5. Look for a unifying idea  Some of these sound the same, and maybe I can find a unifying idea.
  6. If you’re having trouble, write out two opposing points of view If you’re having trouble deciding which side to take on a controversial issue, write your thesis statement from two different points of view. Then decide which one better represents your opinion or a more persuasive argument.
  7. Notes: See if other questions are raised  
  8. Rough Draft Now you’re ready to write some rough drafts of your thesis statement.


Here are a few examples from Richard III of how you might think through a thesis statement.

What does Richard think explains his behavior?

  • He wants the crown.
  • He can’t enjoy life the way others can.  He feels left out of things.  Prince even rejects him!
  • He enjoys seeing what he can get others to do.
  • Because he can. He’s got the skills to do it.
  • He doesn’t pay attention to his conscience
  • He’s an outsider

What’s Margaret’s idea of justice?

  • What is justice?
  • Revenge and causing suffering in her enemies
  • No sense of mercy or forgiveness of anyone, including those who did her no wrong but have benefited from her loss.
  • If you don’t agree with her, she curses you.
  • She believes that revenge is the best form of justice.

Who do you think has true remorse in this play?

  • What is remorse?  Feeling of deep regret
  • What’s the difference between guilt and remorse? I’m sorry I hurt you, versus I feel bad or I’m mad at myself.
  • Shows care for others
  • Doesn’t involve revenge or holding others accountable
  • Doesn’t involve blame or resentment
  • Involves acknowledging and owning your behavior
  • Cares about how you hurt others
  • Sometimes involves making things right
  • Doesn’t try to explain or make excuses to get out of it
  • Involves transformation – learning or realizing something new.
  • Choose a character, look at his words
  • What is it in the words that shows you he has remorse?
  • Although Clarence has done many bad things in his life, he has true remorse.

How does Richard achieve his goals?

  • Lies,
  • Blames
  • Flatters
  • play acts

What makes a good thesis statement?  

    • Simple – Short, not complicated and to the point.
    • Specific – Richard is an interesting character is so general it won’t guide you at all about what to say! Yes: Richard became a bad man because he could not enjoy life the way others could.  No:  There are many reasons why Richard acted the way he did.  
    • One Point – Richard is a man with no conscience and his wife Anne has a conscience.  This doesn’t mean you can only make one claim in your essay, but all claims need to fit together and lead to a single point.
    • Complete Sentence – It’s a sentence, not “yes” or “I don’t think so”
    • Make an Interesting point – Interesting points mean they interest you, and you think they’ll interest a reader.
    • Answer a Question not give a topic  Good thesis statements can always be understood as the answer to an interesting question about your subject. “I am going to write about…”  or “the topic of my paper is.”
    • Declarative – It declares your answer, doesn’t ask another question or hem and haw about your answer, “I’m not sure but maybe”  “It might be that…”
    • Shouldn’t restate the question  This paper examines why Hastings’ realization at the end of his life.
    • Shouldn’t argue both sides  Hastings may feel remorse at the end of his life, but he also may not.    
    • It should not say in my opinion, I think, I believe, etc. However, it may be helpful to begin the rough draft of the thesis statement with these words, and then eliminate those phrases after you’ve written your paper.
    • Defensible – You have evidence to support it.
    • Don’t let loaded language make your argument for you.    Power-hungry Richard kills everyone because he’s just a self-centered bloody maniac.

Writing the paper

  1. Write an introduction
    • Setup the context for your question
    • Encourages the reader to read your paper
    • Tells why the question is interesting, or a puzzle, or different than what he might think, or you thought
    • Grabs the reader
  2. Put your evidence into sentences and paragraphs  Put your thesis and evidence into sentences and paragraphs.  Link the quotes together by sentences explaining what they say and how they support your idea.


In the play, Richard III, the number of evil deeds done by the main character is astonishing.  He kills so-and-so, etc..  It seems like he’s doing these things to get the crown.  That’s what everyone in the play seems to think.  But, he never actually says this in the play.  Everything he tells us points to the fact that Richard is doing what he’s doing because he feels he doesn’t fit in with the world around him. He feels like an outsider.  

Body of paper.

Conclusion.  In the play, Richard may seem like he’s out for the crown, but his words say something else.  It seems he’s out to get the attention he can’t seem to get any other way.  

Why Write?

Writing develops many important skills:

  • Learn more about Shakespeare
  • Learn to think more about what you’ve read
  • Learn to ask questions, draw conclusions
  • Learn to see new things
  • Learn to construct arguments – and collect evidence, not just form
  • Opinions, support your argument
  • Learn to tell a story
  • Learn to communicate and persuade others

These things take practice, you have to practice training your eye to read the words, to develop arguments, to tell stories.

Mark Twain:

“The time to begin writing a paper is when you’re finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time, you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.”  

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