divine comedy fall 2020 final paper W r i t i n g
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Final Paper/Project Guidelines – Due date: Friday December 4 (submitted electronically on Canvas before midnight)
If you are writing a traditionally oriented critical essay, please write about 4-6 pages on a topic of your choosing.
Your Own Dante: The Creative Option
If you’re going the creative route, let’s stipulate a slightly longer length if you need it, but please submit no more than 10 pages (including the self-critique component, so about 7 pages creative-3 pages critical assessment, i.e. a 70-30 split). You can adapt the text however you wish: a visual treatment, short story, poem, film, music, etc. This might mean that you are submitting a sample of a more complete work, but that is all right and you can explain the larger whole as part of your self-critique. The self-critique should explain your work as well as have analysis of the text that shows how you are drawing from it and why your adaptation is the way that it is.
Back to the traditional essay front: as I see it, our reading of Dante has focused on some distinct areas, which may be helpful to you in deciding what to write on, if you haven’t done so already:
Translation and Appropriation
Dante relentlessly translates from the past, whether it be the Classical (Greco-Roman) tradition, the biblical tradition, or his own past as a lyric poet. You can explore one of these strands or consider how they are fused together in some key moments.
We’ve explored a fair bit of the history of visual reception of this poem, from medieval and Renaissance manuscripts to 20th and 21st century illustrations, video games, etc. Beyond visual reception, you might also consider some textual engagements: we’ve looked at examples ranging from Shakespeare to Primo Levi to Louise Glück. Feel free to bring in contemporary resonances, but when you look at reception, also keep your critical attention on the text itself.
The Style Thing
As we’ve talked about, Dante writes in a startlingly mixed style: the lowest language possible at times, and the most sublime in other moments. He writes for a new readership and creates a readership in the process of doing so. You might isolate some techniques that allow for such hybridity and what emerges as a result. You could delve into the technical and rhetorical (exploring the addresses to the reader, a particular kind of recurring simile, etc.) or isolate a certain strand of representation: architecture, science, trees, etc.
A Radical Vision
Somewhat related to the popularizing move, this poem is unrelentingly political. It seeks change at every level, from the personal to the collective and institutional. You might look to moments that are radical and heterodoxical (Muslims in Limbo, popes in hell, homosexuals in Purgatory, saved souls like Statius and Ripheus, etc.), and consider their wide-ranging implications within their moment and beyond. This could also take on issues like Dante’s treatment of gender, his stance on economic justice, political systems, etc. On a related front, you might think about how this poem’s radical nature does not isolate it entirely from its place in history: explore Dante’s rootedness in his own time and place, how he might try to depart from the norm but does not always succeed.