Twelfth Night

English World Literature

Essay #1 Assignment

Shakespeare Essay (Close Reading Essay)

Twelfth Night, or What You Will


1. Choose a passage of between 4-10 lines from anywhere in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and create a thesis that is both specific and original (we will discuss this further in class). 

2. You will then support your argument with a close analysis of the quote you’ve chosen. NOTE: You can introduce other quotes from the play (you won’t be required to do this), but your main focus should be on the passage you chose initially. 

3.The length of your essay should be 3 pages (roughly 750 words). You should include a Works Cited page (not included in the page count) that lists the play, but you may not use or cite other sources.

4. The essay and Works Cited should be formatted according to MLA Guidelines and use Times New Roman in a 12pt font.  

5. If you have questions or would like me to read a draft, you must meet with me in my office hours or arrange an appointment.


The point of any literary scholarship is to add your voice to the ongoing conversation around a text. In order to do this, you must examine the text closely. In this case, you will seek to produce an original argument about Twelfth Night by analyzing 4-10 lines from a passage that you think is particularly interesting or important to understanding the play as a whole. In other words, what do you think this moment reveals about the play that another reader may have missed?

Remember that your original interpretation of the text is what will add to the overall discussion. Repeating someone else’s ideas regarding what the text is about will likely not produce great results, as the point of the scholarship is to create something original to you as a reader.

To do a close reading, you choose a specific passage and analyze it in fine detail. Close reading is important because it is the building block for larger analysis. The more closely you can observe, the more original and exact your ideas will be. To begin your close reading, ask yourself several specific questions about the passage. The following questions are not a formula, but a starting point for your own thoughts. 

If you need help getting started:

  • Ask yourself, what does this passage mean? In other words, what does the play seem to be saying about something within the text? e.g. What might it mean that Olivia is reluctant to lift her veil when meeting with Viola (Cesario)? What is the play saying about identity? or not revealing your true self?
  • Why might this passage be important to understanding the play in a new way (one that might not be immediately evident)?
  • How does this passage connect to others in the play? Why might that be important?
  • Does an image here remind you of an image elsewhere in the play? Where? What’s the connection?
  • How might this image fit into the pattern of the play as a whole?
  • Could this passage symbolize the entire work? Could this passage serve as a microcosm—a little picture—of what’s taking place in the whole work?
  • Are there metaphors (words that represent something else without using like or as)? What kinds?
  • Is there one controlling metaphor? If not, how many different metaphors are there, and in what order do they occur? How might that be significant?
  • How might objects represent something else?
  • Do any of the objects, colors, animals, or plants appearing in the passage have traditional connotations or meaning? What about religious or Biblical significance?
  • If there are multiple symbols in the work, could we read the entire passage as having deeper moral or spiritual meaning beyond the literal level?

Some Keys to a Strong Thesis:

Your argument should be comprised of these elements that make up a strong scholarly argument:

1. An original idea based on your own particular observation of some pattern, imagery, technique, piece of content, etc. in the text.

2. Consideration of what this might mean in terms of a new understanding of the work. In short: state as part of your thesis what your observation means.

3. An acknowledgment of why your argument might be important. In other words, inherent in your argument should be a consideration of how your insights will provide a reader of the text with a new understanding of that text that the reader might not have had otherwise.


  • Format your paper according to MLA style guidelines (see if you need help). Double space; Times New Roman; black ink; 12-point font.
  • Select a passage no longer than 10 lines to analyze; for this first essay, if it helps you to keep your thoughts clear, you can place this quotation at the top of the page in MLA format (but it should not be included as part of your page count). Include the parenthetical citation information for all quotes. 
  • Compose a 3-page close reading on your passage.
  • You may use the first person, but only on a limited basis. Though it’s not strictly prohibited, it should be rare that you need to use “I” in a paper like this. Most of the time, if you’re using “I,” you are taking up unnecessary space because the entire paper is your opinion to begin with.
  • If you would like feedback, you must meet with Dr. Armstrong during his office hours and set up an appointment early enough to give yourself time to implement this discussion into your paper.
  • You will be submitting your paper via Blackboard. A hard copy of your thesis, and possibly your paper, will be required in class if we discuss them before the due date. Bringing drafts and lead-in assignments to class will count as assignment grades.
  • No outside resources should be or may be used in this particular analysis.

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