For this project, you will be writing a thematic
analysis paper. This is your final paper for high school English, and it should
demonstrate everything you have learned not only in this unit, but in this
class, and in your entire high school career.
Your paper will compare and contrast Macbeth with
another piece that we read in this class. This means that first you will need
to choose a theme from Macbeth(knowledge, ambition, etc.), and then
choose another story from this course that handles a similar theme.
The focus of your paper should be on how this theme is
developed throughout each story. You should show how the writer uses the plot,
characters, sequencing, or other techniques to create a conclusion about this
theme. (For example, “Shakespeare uses the genre of tragedy to show us how
ambition can lead to an ultimate downfall.”) Then, deepen the conversation
by adding a comparison and contrast to another piece we read in this class.
(“In contrast, the genre of epic glorifies ambition, which we see clearly
through the way Beowulf boasts about his strength and then goes on to slay his
enemies.”) Focus on these points:
What assertion
does the story make about the theme? (Ambition is dangerous. Femininity does
not mean weakness or frailty.)
What techniques does
the writer use to create this assertion? (Characters, plot, genre, literary
devices, etc.)
3.  What similarities are there between the themes in the two stories? (Both Macbeth and
Beowulf are prime examples of masculinity.)
What significant
differences are there between the themes in the two stories? (Macbeth
ultimately destroys his community, his loved ones, and himself; Beowulf uses
his strength to save people from a terrible monster.)
What can we learn
about this theme from the comparison and contrast of these two stories? (While
we see ambition, strength, and cruelty as essential parts of masculinity in
these two stories, it is in the selfishness of the individual that danger
For an additional level of challenge, you may consider
adding a third story that we studied in class to your essay. For my example
topic of Masculinity, I chose to write about Macbeth and Beowulf. Adding a
discussion of King Arthur might provide another dimension. However, discussing
three stories is optional.
Your paper must include textual analysis. (Review this
unit’s close reading pages to review.) Use a minimum of six passages (quotes)
from the stories throughout your paper (at least one per story, per body
This essay should be between two and five
pages (500-1250 words) in length. Your final draft should be saved and
submitted as .doc or .pdf file. It should be in 12-point font in Times New
The rest of this lesson will walk you through the
writing process. All the steps are important! Begin with solid pre-writing.
First, choose a theme that you find compelling. Then,
choose an accompanying story from elsewhere in the course. Here are a few
suggestions of themes, and what might make a good comparison. Feel free to use
any of these, or design your own. Remember, you must discuss Macbeth.
Then, you can discuss either one or two accompanying stories.
1.  Knowledge: Macbeth vs. Genesis
Ambition and
Temptation: Macbeth vs. Don Quixote (vs. Sir Bedivere in Le
Mort d’Arthur)
Femininity and
Strength: Lady Macbeth vs. Grendel’s Mother (vs. Eowyn)
Masculinity and
Cruelty: Macbeth vs. Beowulf (vs. King Arthur)
Kingship and
Tyranny: Macbeth vs. King Arthur
Appearance and
Reality: Macbeth vs. the Lilliputians from Gulliver’s
Fate and Freewill: Macbeth vs. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Guilt and Remorse: Lady Macbeth vs. Sir Bedivere in Le Mort d’Arthur
Next, work on creating a solid outline.
The most important thing about comparing and
contrasting is looking for the significant points. Here are some of the big
mistakes students make while comparing and contrasting:
1) Some students make the mistake of finding
irrelevant contrasts. Because they are told to contrast, they take the first
three differences that come to mind. For example, Beowulf was
written long before Macbeth. This is true, but not important
to a discussion of the themes in the stories.
2) Not contrasting enough. Often, students try to make
the two stories fit together by ignoring important points of difference. You
will find insight and meaning by digging into the different ways the stories
develop the theme – do not try to make the characters, plots, and themes line
up perfectly side-by-side.
3) Poor organization. Many students end up with a
weak, four-paragraph structure (introduction, body paragraph, body paragraph,
conclusion). Often, their body paragraphs either focus on all the similarities
and then all the differences, or they discuss just one character (Macbeth) in
one paragraph and then the other character in the next (Beowulf). These will
leave you with a confusing paper. The best way to develop a strong comparison
and contrast is to choose three points of comparison (the beginning, middle,
and end of the story), and discuss both characters according to one point. Here
is a sample outline:
Thesis statement: While Beowulf and Macbeth both address themes of
masculinity and its relationship to strength, violence, power, and cruelty, the
two characters use these tools in quite different ways.
First Body Paragraph: The Beginning
  1) Beowulf
is strong and powerful
  2) Macbeth
leads a successful war campaign
Second Body Paragraph: The Middle
  1) Beowulf
boasts about his strength publicly before the fight
2) Macbeth is crafty and underhanded; he kills the king in his sleep and covers
it up
Third Body Paragraph: The End
  1) Beowulf
saves the people from the monsters
2) Macbeth causes a bloody mess
Conclusion – While we see ambition, strength, and cruelty as essential parts of
masculinity in these two stories, it is in the selfishness of the individual
that danger lies.
Create your outline to be similar in structure for the
strongest essay.

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