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Graduate Proposals

Page history last edited by Tonya Howe 13 years, 4 months ago

What is a proposal?


A proposal is a prospectus, in prose, of work you plan to do in a future project; it marks your initial substantial articulation of your topic, your goals, your approach, and your research, but it also gives you space to articulate problems you see arising. You might find it helpful to take a look at the MA program guidelines as you begin your proposal. Your proposal for this class should be between 2 and 4 pages, excluding the tentative bibliography (works cited, if you actually cite something!) page. The proposal should be in MLA format. You should use discrete paragraphs for each major part of your proposal; how you divide the paragraphs will be up to you, but they should make sense given the content of the proposal.


Describe your topic in its broadest formfor example, the role of suffering in the poetry of W. H. Auden. Then, describe the question or problem that motivates your inquiry. What don’t you understand or would like to know more about suffering in Auden? You should briefly discuss the problem that interests you, using any primary or secondary resources you've encountered.  In your proposal, you should suggest how you plan to narrow your topic—that is, what argument you will be making about suffering in Auden? Don't forget to sketch out the basics of your argument or some key examples that you'll be working with! Your narrowed argument should be informed by your theoretical approach, which may draw on more than one set of ideas (for instance, feminism and cultural materialism, or postcolonial studies and deconstructionism; you should always have recourse to formalist techniques, though, as the basic tools of close reading). Consider how you will shape your topic with reference to key ideas we’ve discussed or you’ve read about, as this will help you develop your topics and questions.  Most importantly, your proposal should describe what the "stakes" are—what's the significance of your inquiry? Why should anyone care about this issue?


Finally, you should also consider how you're going to go about continuing your research, and how you're going to organize your essay (I will need a section on X, an overview of Y, and an analysis of Z). What else do you want to find (or think would strengthen your argument)? What kind of basic organizational pattern do you want to follow? Please note that a good page of writing should comprise about two strong paragraphs--how many paragraphs will you need for this project? Include a tentative bibliography with your proposal, and don't forget a working title!


Remember, however, that this proposal is not set in stone; it is intended as a way to get you thinking systematically about your topic and your argument in a timely fashion.


Sample Proposal

Adapted from Mount Allison University English Department Website  
Lady Macbeth as Unruly Hero

For my research essay, I want to throw a new light on the role of women in Shakespeare by looking at the heroine in Macbeth with the aid of some recent feminist theory. I believe that the character of Lady Macbeth, for all her strength and passion, has not been given her full credit. For centuries her male counterpart, Macbeth, has won the spotlight, and little concern has been bestowed upon the tragic heroines. I want to open up the possibility that Shakespeare was more aware of the significance of women to society than he has been credited. This would explain why he creates such creatures of monumental capacity as Lady Macbeth--a woman noted for her mental and sexual strength. Lady Macbeth did not succumb to the narrow confinements which her gender dictated, and she displayed great ability to carry her full weight within the plot. I want to show  Lady Macbeth is not always victim or villain, but instead underrated and overlooked in her potential. She offers us a different way of understanding heroism and the gendered constraints of heroism.


I have already read quite a bit about the character of Lady Macbeth, and she will form the centerpiece of my essay. I am particularly intrigued by the idea of the "unruly woman" developed by Penny Gay. In discussions with classmates and my professor, I have decided that I will also need to conduct some research on the concept of heroism in Renaissance drama--it will be interesting to see if female characters fit into Renaissance modes of heroism, or if they explode or undermine those conventions. I have not yet undertaken this research, so that will be my first next step--I hope to find a good general book and perhaps one or two scholarly articles dealing with heroism, gender, and the Renaissance stage. My organizational model will be as follows: first, I will present an overview of the theoretical framework, tying that into current thought about women in Shakespeare's plays. Then, I will offer a close reading of Lady Macbeth, situating her within in the plot, Shakespeare's language, and her reception in literary history. I am particularly interested in looking at her strengths, especially her masculine qualities. Finally, I will present the Renaissance concept of heroism and evaluate the way that Lady Macbeth fits into it and escapes it, in the process, creating an alternate mode of heroism. I am a little concerned about having too much to talk about in six pages; if I have too much, I will probably cut some material on feminism and feminist theory, because that will be implicit in my approach.


This project is important because it suggests the possiblity of a woman--typically, a villainous woman--as a hero.  Further, if the concept of heroism in the Renaissance was capable of expanding to include this alternate form of heroism, my project will help us see some of the hidden and historical aspects of a concept that is still significant to us today.  If we can expand our understanding of heroism here, perhaps we can expand it in other areas of culture, as well.



Bamber, Linda, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1982. 

Callaghan, Dympna, Women and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy. Humanities Press International, Inc.: United States of America, 1989. 

Carlisle, Carole J., "Helen Faucit's Lady Macbeth," Shakespeare Studies, 16 (1983), pp. 205-33. 

Faucit, Helena; Martin, Lady, Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters. London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1885. 

Gay, Penny, As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women. Routledge: London, 1994. 

Kirsch, Arthur, The Passions of Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes. University Press of Virginia: Charlottesville, 1990. 

Loftus, Margaret, Shakespeare and His Social Context. AMA Press, Inc.: New York, 1987. 

Garner, Shirley Nelson, and Madelon Sprengnether. Shakespearean Tragedy and Gender. Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1996.

Williams, Edith W., "In Defense of Lady Macbeth," Shakespeare Quarterly, 24, pp. 221-23.

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