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Politics, Society, and Morality in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance

Politics, Society, and Morality in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance

This fourth essay assignment asks you to think about the assigned works by Dante, Chaucer, and Machiavelli. For this essay,you may only reference these specific works, though some minor citation and use of secondary sources is allowed. Since this is a close-reading essay, however, please use secondary sources only sparingly. Be sure to focus your essay on a strong thesis, organize it around a few specific main points, and support your response with evidence from the text or texts you are discussing, especially quotations, as you respond to one (1) of the following prompts:

    1. In the selections from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that we have read, we have encountered two different Alisouns, the Alisoun of “The Miller’s Tale,” and the Wife of Bath, whose first name is also Alisoun. Create an argument that in some way compares and contrasts these two Alisouns. You might consider them in terms of how they engage with and/or control the men in their lives, or perhaps bring in the ideas of another author we have read by, for instance, making an argument about what circle of hell Dante would assign them to, or what Machiavelli might say about their methods of governance. Be sure to use direct evidence from all of the texts that you discuss.
    2. Consider the current political situation in the United States, particularly the way that politicians are behaving during the ongoing election cycle. Choose two specific politicians and create an argument comparing them in terms of how well they fit Machiavelli’s model of an ideal prince. Support your thesis with passages from The Prince and with specific details from these politicians’ careers.
    3. Discuss Machiavelli’s ideal prince, who is essentially an amoral pragmatist, in terms of Dante’s morality. Would the sort of behaviors Machiavelli advises be hell-worthy in Dante’s worldview? Be sure to support your response with passages from both works.
    4. Think about Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” in terms of Machiavellian pragmatism. Can we see the behavior of Chaucer’s ruler, Theseus, as lining up with Machiavelli’s recommendations for effective governance? Why or why not? Be sure to support your response with passages from both works.


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  1. Make your own topic: come up with your own critical question about the assigned works from this unit, and write an essay arguing for your answer to that question. If you choose to do this prompt, please note that you are required to post your critical question and working thesis to the Week 12 Essay forum so that you can receive feedback from your instructor and classmates.

Make sure to support your claim primarily through quotations from the texts specified; use outside sources only sparingly.

Please be sure your essay also meets the following guidelines:

  • Has a word count of 600-900 words (check with your instructor before submitting anything longer)
  • Includes the student-teacher cover letter
  • Format the essay using MLA essay format (see the attached sample essay) and MLA-style citations, including a works cited list at the end; for help with MLA format, please visit Diana Hacker’sResearch and Documentation Online
  • Spell check, and watch out for homonyms!

Seethis document for the grading rubric that will be used to evaluate the essay. The cover letter questions and final draft checklist can be found here.

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