Comparative Literature 186RR: Topics for the First Essay


Due in class, Tuesday, July 5: Write a 1000-1200 word essay that involves a close critical examination of at least one of the works we have studied so far. You may choose your own topic or use one of the following topics as a starting point. Use MLA citation style for quotations of both primary and secondary sources.  The essay should prove an arguable thesis, that is, a position that a reasonable person could oppose. Feel free to use appropriate secondary sources when necessary, but only if necessary.


Suggested Topics on Mozart’s Don Giovanni :


1.       Opera as historical drama: What does Mozart and da Ponte’s Don Giovanni have to say about Enlightenment philosophy, libertinism, the approaching French Revolution, or eighteenth-century notions of social order?

2.      Music as character: What do the overt references to music in Don Giovanni mean?  How does music enable one character or another to take control of the situation?

3.      Words and music: How do the musical structures of Don Giovanni —overture, arias, duets, trios, chorus, dances, etc.—enhance the significance of the words, and vice versa?


Suggested Topics on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience:


1.      Children in Blake’s Songs: How does Blake’s representation of childhood depend on the forms of children’s poetry?  What do the Songs have to do with nursery rhymes?

2.      Blake and the Industrial Revolution: What evidence of the industrial revolution does Blake present to his audience? What problems, and what solutions does he present?

3.      Blake’s Radicalism: How does Blake present his political views in these poems?  What are the “mind forg’d manacles” and what does Blake want us to do about them?


Suggested Topics on Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France:


1.      The Force of the Past: What claim does the past make on the people of the present, in Burke’s view, and what benefit do we derive from the bargain?

2.      Burke’s critics: Examine the exchange between Burke and one of his critics—whose opinion appears stronger, in strictly argumentative terms?

3.      Burke and the French Revolution: Were Burke’s characterizations of the French Revolution fair, or distorted?  If distorted, in what ways, and why?


Suggested Topics on David or Goya:


1.      Artist and Patron: What does an artist owe to the patron, and how did this relationship change over time for David, Goya, or both artists? How did the artist cope with changes in power and politics?

2.      Idealism and Realism: When do David or Goya show things as they are, and when do they show them as they should be? What relation does appearance and inner reality have in visual art? What principles does the artist employ in deciding what a painting can and should depict?