top of page

Close Reading Essay


Due ______________


A close reading is a single-source analysis: you look to a single play and trace a particular theme or idea within it. The goal is to recognize a pattern and make that pattern visible to your readers, who may not have noticed such language before. In this assignment, you’ll consider what language states explicitly, or what it denotes. But you will also consider how Shakespeare crafts expression through implicit suggestions (connotes).


Close reading is a simple concept, though it is less simple in practice. To read a text closely means that you attend carefully to a particular word, sentence, or passage. You consider what the language means and how the implicit suggestions, what a language connotes rather than denotes, change our reading of a particular moment or idea in a text. Look for repetition, literary devices such as metaphors, similes, rhyme, or specific expressions that suggest a character’s feelings. Look up particularly tough terms in the Oxford English Dictionary to trace what they might have meant to Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Situate the passage in the larger frame of the play.


Importantly, your close reading should have an argument, which you then support with evidence from the text. There are several steps to the process:


  1. Understanding a Text: This means becoming intimately familiar with the moment you decide to discuss for your close reading. I suggest you read it several times, including reading it out loud so that you can catch the cadences of the passage. Think about why you were drawn to this particular passage, why you as a reader paused at this moment. Then show us as readers why we too should slow down at this moment.

  2. Noticing Patterns or Elements: Annotate the text, underlining repetitions. Highlight unfamiliar or emphatic terms that carry particular weight in the passage. Observe the syntax. Think about editorial decisions: why might an editor have inserted an exclamation point at this moment. And, because these texts are plays, how might this particular passage be performed? You might even look up several clips of the passage being performed to see how actors have interpreted the text.

  3. Explanation: Show us what is noteworthy about the passage, pointing back to the text as your evidence. Remind us of your larger argument and show us in the text where you see it supporting your claims.



  1. Five pages, double-spaced. Times New Roman font with 1-inch margins all around. Please put a header on the essay.

  2. Please title your essay something interesting, rather than simply “Essay 1.”

  3. Use in-text citations for the play with the Act, Scene, and Line numbers. For example, after directly or indirectly quoting a line, it should look like this: “Quote” (3.2.10-13). Separate out individual lines with a /. Quoting Othello would then look like this: “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul! / Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars, / It is the cause” (5.2.1-3).

  4. For longer quotes, you can use a block quote format. The general rule is that four lines or longer merit a block quote, which would look like this:

                        Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty

                        But seeming so, for my peculiar end,

                        For when my outward action doth demonstrate

                        The native act and figure of my heart

                        In complement extern, ’tis not long after

                        But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

                        For daws to peck at: I am not what I am. (1.1.58-64).




30%: Has an original thesis that is not vague (i.e., does not simply say that the passage or theme is important, but goes beyond this to indicate why it is). The argument is supported by the text and makes sense given the passage(s) selected.

30%: There is ample analysis of the passage(s), with careful attention to its language and literary forms. Significant terms and ideas are addressed and used as evidence for the primary claim.

20%: The passage is used consistently as evidence. Each individual claim can be supported by texts/quotations from the play.

20%: The assignment meets in the requirements in page length (no manipulation of margins or font size), essay title, header, and is free of grammatical mistakes or typos. It is written in clear and correct language.

bottom of page