AP Research Student Topics

Harold Bloom was probably the most famous literary critic of all time.  A Yale professor and devotee of Shakespeare, Bloom posits in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human that the bard invented what we now call “humanity.”  Bloom argues that, with the possible exception of Chaucer, writers before Shakespeare relied on flat characters that were either simply good or evil, while Shakespeare created complex figures with simultaneous elements of both good and evil. 


Consider Hamlet, whom we love because he is grieving his father and he is alluringly intelligent, but we also see his impulsiveness and madness (yes, I do believe it is a madness) that ultimately drives the plot.  Within Hamlet, both good and evil dwell.  Consider also Othello, who first shows characteristics of grace and patience. We love these characteristics, but later he shows us his vulnerabilities that cause his tragic downfall.  We long for the Othello of Act I, and it is because we recognize the prior goodness of the character that the tragedy hurts so deeply.  The complexities of these characters call out to us because they mirror us.

The one character that I have never been fully able to apply Bloom’s theory of humanity to is Iago.  Iago is, as far as I can see, fully evil.  There is nothing redeemable about him, and he doesn’t evolve as the play progresses.  While one might admire the depth of his manipulation, one can hold no sympathy for him.  Tenth graders have been wrestling with this idea as well.  We decided that we wanted to know more about Iago, and the only way to do that was to create more of a story for him.  Students did research on what it means to be a narcissist, and they then diagnosed Iago with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Then they set to work creating Iago’s childhood.  They were tasked with writing a story that could both explain why Iago, as an adult, is purely selfish and evil, while also trying to build a bit of sympathy for the character.  In the end, the new story was meant to create a more fully round character.  Students relied on the ATL Skills of Communication to deliver a story that was creative, insightful, sensitive and connected to the causes of narcissism while showing the childhood catalysts for Iago’s prejudices and manipulative actions in the play.  The result was a more human character that tugs at our hearts in many different ways.  Students enjoyed adding to Shakespeare’s story, and they are thoroughly enjoying reading Othello.


PS -- Don’t miss Joel Cohen’s new production of Macbeth starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand!  Here’s the trailer: The Tragedy of Macbeth | Official Trailer HD | A24


Carol Bahadoorsingh
Class: Grade 10