Tutor profile: Nia W.
What tips do you have for writing?
Writing papers can be a stressful process, especially if your mind is blanking, you're under a tight deadline, or you really need a good grade. Here are my 5 top tips: 1. Don't get bogged down outlining and researching. There is always one more book you could reference, one more quote you could pull. At some point, you have to start turning your notes into full sentences and paragraphs. 2. Getting the first draft on paper is always hard because it's your first attempt at articulating your thoughts in a linear fashion. Set yourself a time limit. If you're an anxious perfectionist, challenge yourself to write the worst possible draft in 45min. 3. Editing is 75% of the work. Identify your strongest arguments and make sure that the structure of your paper clearly highlights and connects your key points. Your intro paragraph should communicate your overarching argument and prep the reader for how you are going to lay out your evidence. Make sure you have clear topic sentences for each paragraph so that each paragraph makes a discrete sub-argument. 10-20% of what you write will be repetitive or extraneous to your main argument. Cut it. 4. Proofread. Take a break after finishing your final draft if you can (a day, an hour, 10min). Any sentences or paragraphs that should be broken up into multiple sentences or paragraphs? Reading your paper out loud will help you get a sense of the flow of your writing. Don't forget to check for spelling and grammar mistakes. 5. Cite properly. Easybib and Zotero are lifesavers.
Why should we study Shakespeare today?
Shakespeare's body of work is a key part of the English literary canon, and as such, shares many of The Canon's postcolonial, feminist, and queer critiques. Shakespeare as a cultural institution -the mythic treatment of the genius playwright, the widespread circulation of his characters and plots in theatre, film, literature, graphic novels, etc. -can make overly self-important claims to universality and promote a rose-tinted affection for British culture that obscures the real and extensive violence wrought by British Imperialism. Fortunately, the meaning created in reading or performing Shakespeare exceeds authorial intent and the limits of his playtexts. Shakespeare's work has been translated, adapted, reclaimed, and rebuked by writers and theatremakers from all over the world. What Hamlet means to a mostly upper-class British audience at The Barbican is vastly different from what Hamlet means in Egypt, where the character Hamlet was commonly framed as a revolutionary leader against the colonial rule (see Hamlet in the Arab World by Margaret Litvin). One might swoon at the poetry of Shakespeare's monologues or bristle at Shakespeare's treatment of women, people of color, or religious minorities, but Shakespeare remains a global phenomenon worth analyzing to better understand how different cultures interact with Shakespeare and the white, male, colonial power he represents.
Analyze the following quote from The Master and Margarita: ‘A cat is not supposed to wear trousers, Messire,’ the cat replied with great dignity. ‘You’re not going to tell me to wear boots too, are you? Puss-in-Boots exists only in fairy tales, Messire. But have you ever seen anyone at a ball without a bow-tie? I do not intend to put myself in a ridiculous situation and risk being chucked out! Everyone adorns himself with what he can. You may consider what I’ve said as referring to the opera glasses as well, Messire!
During the preparations for the Devil’s midnight ball, Woland (Satan in disguise) pokes fun at Behemoth (a demonic cat) for his over-the-top fashion choices. Behemoth responds indignantly that he does not wear trousers as a cat, but wishes to comply with the appropriate ballroom dress. He lays out a parody of the social conventions we have seen in other novels (Jane Austen’s novel of manners for instance): failing to follow a dress code is cause for shame and social sanctioning. This points to the importance of physical appearance in enforcing social order and also reflects the superficiality of the bourgeoisie of Moscow. The humorous image of a large cat dressed in a bow-tie with gilded whiskers and a pair of opera glasses critiques the absurd decadence of high society, but there is also a darker undertone to keeping up appearance in a state of surveillance. Thus, Behemoth’s opera glasses become a complex symbol of the synthesis of the watcher and watched: they are a finely-made adornment signifying the owner’s belonging to high society, a tool with which to watch others, and a reminder that everyone knows they are being watched. This passage exemplifies the playful illogic of The Master and Margarita. Consider the two conflicting “social codes” Behemoth invokes: first, that cats do not wear trousers, and second, that bow-ties and opera glasses are required ballroom attire. Behemoth has the option of becoming a human (in which case he could wear trousers) or staying a cat (and not going to the ball). Instead, he conflates his identity as cat and ball-goer to absurd effect, made more absurd by his attempts as a fictional demonic cat to reject “boots-wearing” as a fairy tale trope with no relation to reality. The ludicrousness of the situation is further exacerbated by the fact that this is the Devil’s ball. There is no dress code: Margarita, the hostess, wears nothing at all. I would argue that these conflicting layers of nonsensical social codes are part of a greater literary strategy within The Master and Margarita. If the Stalinist communist regime was a regime of rationality (consider the argument about atheism which opens the novel), perhaps the best response was to reveal the irrational behavior of people within the regime and to counter the regime with a world of total irrationality.
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