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Comparison and contrast essay

Comparison and contrast essay on Shakespeare's famous characters: writing tips and useful topics

Dec 09, 2012 - Posted to  Essay Writing
We all compare several things on the regular basis. Products and services, for example, are examined based on their similarities and differences, as well as how well they carry out a particular function or satisfy a certain need. With character comparisons, the premise is the same; two distinct characters are examined and detailed as to how they are similar and how they are different.
The key components of a compare and contrast essay include (a) clear and evident examples of similarities and differences as well as (b) a logical and suitable organizational method to present findings. Concerning organization, essays of this nature are generally structured into either block or alternative formats (see 'essay structure'). In addition to presentation, identifying characters that really compare also plays a significant role in comparison and contrast essay writing. So in other words, effective writing is selecting characters that have enough in common to make a good comparison but also enough diversity to make a considerable debate.

So which characters make a good comparison?

To begin evaluating which Shakespearean characters would compare well, a good idea is to first break the characters down into unifying categories. Doing this may help you better grasp exactly which traits tie two or more characters together and give you a basis for your argument. Along with possessing one main connection, the characters should also have other meaningful similarities and differences as well- both large and small.
The main objective is to simply facilitate the foundation for a strong and consistent argument. Some of the examples of unifying categories are those based on generic titles such as heroes and villains, or characteristics such as brash, charming, and timid. The connection seen below is a simple breakdown of male and female characters that would likely make good comparisons.
*Famous Shakespearean women to compare: Juliet, Lavinia, and Ophelia~Helena and Hermia~Volumnia and Gertrude~Goneril, Reagan and Lady Macbeth
*Famous Shakespearean men to compare: Falstaff and King Henry~Hamlet and Macbeth~King Lear and Gloucestor~Macbeth and King Richard III~Macbeth, King Claudius, Iago and Edmund
For Shakespearean literature simple gender categories such as this are more than sufficient for introducing characters to compare. This is considering the method in which Shakespeare uniquely, and expectantly develops male and female characters throughout his plays. And for even more depth a student can also look for further divisions within character groups to make for a more compounded analysis. Also in general, comparisons should be made with more round and well-developed characters as compared to flat or static characters (for obvious reasons). The more dynamic a character the more interesting they are to evaluate and the more likely you are to obtain interesting and compelling points to examine. In addition, popular, and more complex characters have usually been written about and cross-examined several times, providing for more sources and information to aide in argument development.

Essay structure

As mentioned previously, comparison and contrast essays are usually written using block or alternative methods. The block method simply refers to first analyzing one character in depth and then moving on to the next character. This technique allows for a thorough evaluation of each character but is limited in that strong points of comparison may lose their emphasis because each character is separated by sections, likewise, readers may not remember much of the first character when moving on to the second one. The alternative method in turn, is often preferable because it provides a point by point analysis of each character trait. This allows for the reader to immediately grasp a clear connection or disconnection for each character rather than waiting to the end to connect concepts and ideas. An example of the point by point method can be seen below.

I. Introduction

  1. provide background information on both characters and their roles in selected plays
  2. indicate a clear thesis statement regarding what is being compared, the purpose of comparing these two characters, and the main points being compared.

II. Similar Trait #1

For example-The Chaste Woman
  1. Further define and expand on the trait (For ex. What is a chaste woman? How is this character typically developed? What is its position in Shakespearean literature?)
  2. Evidence of how the first character demonstrates this trait in the play (Juliet )
  3. Evidence of how the second character demonstrates this trait in the play (Ophelia )
  4. Unify the proofs by connecting each character's matching description to the overall interpretation of the trait.
The essay would continue in this manner; providing supportive evidences for each section. Other examples of categories are as follows;

III. Similar Trait #2

For ex.-Social Status

IV. Similar Trait #3

For ex. Fatherly relationships

V. Differences #1

For ex.-Juliet commits suicide while Ophelia's death is accidental

VI. Difference #2

For ex.-Perception of presence and absence of love
After sharing all of the different points of analysis a student can then add a discussion that connects presented ideas as well as summarizes the details of the thesis statement. This may include additional information such as the differences of each plot (for each play) and the character's unique position in the play or any other issues that may seem important to mention. This section may be in addition to or compiled with the conclusion as well.
Likewise, as seen in the above example, when compiling a good comparison you may find that the similarities outweigh the differences-this is fine. Characters with many similarities often permit for a more in-depth analysis of an author's work because it allows the student to take two characters that are seemingly the same (Juliet and Ophelia for example are both portrayed as innocent girls) and examine hidden or more discrete qualities that actually set them apart.

Additional tips

When analyzing characters in order to build an argument there are also many key literary terms that the student should be familiar with. Each element holds a definition that may better help them explain the intricacies of each character, their specific role and significance in the text, and allow for a discourse or discussion of similar characters in other literary works. Some key terms to keep in mind when analyzing characters are as follows;

Literary terms to know

  • stereotype - displays those traits that are 'expected' or 'stereotypical' (There are many instances of this in Shakespeare's work)
  • antagonist - the one force (maybe be something other than a human) that is in conflict with the main character
  • protagonist - the main character of the work
  • foil - the one who contrast the protagonist (for example Laertes was the foil in Hamlet and King Lear was the antagonist)
  • character development - explain and demonstrate evidence that makes a character human
  • flat character - a character that is not fully developed
  • round character - a character that is fully developed, complex
All of these terms may not make it into your essay-or any of them for that matter-but the point is to know and understand the meaning of each to aid you in properly formulating your argument.
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