How far can a given work usefully be thought of as performative (enacting its meanings), even if it appears primarily as words on a page?

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November 27, 2020
November 27, 2020

Write a comparative essay on ‘Place in Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) and The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)’. Focusing heavily on technique / creative strategy / literary devices discuss the influence of setting on characters and themes. Explore how each are contrasted and complementary to each other. With alert consideration to context.

Explain how the creative strategies used in two works from the syllabus contribute to an understanding of:

  • Performance and/or Performativity or
  • Narrators and/or Narrative or
  • Character and/or Genre or
  • Entrapment and/or Love or
  • Space and/or Place

At least one of the selected works should be drawn from Weeks 9-11 (Jane Eyre, Douglass’s Narrative, The Importance of Being Earnest.) You cannot write on a work analysed in a previous written assignment.


You have two choices to make in the selection of a title: which works you will focus on, and whether you will examine one or both words in the pairing above. For example:

  • Entrapment in Oroonoko and Jane Eyre
  • Love in Oroonoko and Jane Eyre
  • Entrapment and Love in Oroonoko and Jane Eyre

Which you select will depend on where you see the most productive overlaps between the texts, and whether you think they are best analysed as having something distinctive to say about one of the topics, or their combination. It may also depend on what kind of interest you have in the selected works: the first three pairings above emphasise form or technique; the latter two are more thematic. But the distinction is not clear-cut, and you should not feel you have to choose between form and theme.

The reason ‘creative strategies’ is in bold above to encourage you to focus not only on what the respective works have to say about your chosen topic, but how they are about those topics, at the level of the text or performance.

This task requires you to do some independent research on your chosen works and themes, to conduct a comparative analysis, and to develop an argument. There are different ways of writing a comparative essay, depending on what kind of argument is being advanced. For example, the two works can be analysed separately, or they can be discussed alongside each other under a series of conceptual, aesthetic or thematic headings. One might argue that they offer contrasting, complementary or increasingly nuanced insights into a particular theme. However, remember that we are looking at works over a lengthy time-span, so the basis for comparison also needs to be taken into account: in what ways are works from different centuries (for instance) comparable, and what details of their historical circumstances need to be taken into account in settling on this?


The themes are broad, and open to interpretation and adaptation depending on your chosen examples and mode of argumentation. To get you started, here are some prompt questions that tell you something about why these particular themes were selected (but don’t feel you have to answer them to write your essay):

Performance and/or Performativity

What is the relationship between printed text and stage realisation in a given theatrical work?

What is distinctive about a given production as a staging of a play?

Where and how do orality or other kinds of public enactment figure in a given work?

How far can a given work usefully be thought of as performative (enacting its meanings), even if it appears primarily as words on a page?

Narrators and/or Narrative

Who is speaking and how do they shape the story that is told?

What is the relationship between the narrator, the reader and the world of the narrative, and how is this marked in the way text looks on the page, or the audience is addressed in performance?

What order is information presented in, or the story told, and how does this influence its meanings?

Character and/or Genre

Which are the most compelling character in your chosen works, and how is language or performance used to express their thoughts and actions?

What kinds of characters are they, and how much are they an effect of the literary or theatrical conventions of the works in which they appear?

How do your chosen works conform to and depart from generic convention, and where do we find that manifested in text or performance?

Entrapment and/or Love

What forms of entrapment, capture, enslavement, bondage (etc…) are present in your chosen works, and how are they narrated or shown?

How is entrapment related to love in your chosen works, and how, in turn, is this related to the author’s own position on the situations recounted?

What forms does love take in your chosen works, how is it represented, and what do the works have to tell us about love that we didn’t already know?

Space and/or Place

Where do the stories told take place, and how are those environments represented?

How are multiple locations managed within a single work, and how are they related to each other?

How are language, gesture and/or design used to create or produce a specific sense of place and imbue it with meaning?


Try to be resourceful in your research. Some of you may find it difficult to find secondary sources on your exact combination of works and topic. Don’t panic! Aim to range broadly across the scholarship on your topic and test it against your own experience of the works. Aim to make reference to 5-8 secondary sources, which can include but should not be limited to the prescribed reading for the subject. Don’t take those sources for gospel, though. Your main sources of authority are your primary works. In other words, don’t let your secondary sources crowd out your own voice.

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