Hard to Understand

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who jumps from one idea to the next or begins the conversation in the middle of a thought? Sometimes people will start in the middle and somehow work their way back to the beginning. The only reason why the speaker must return to the beginning is because the confused listener asks probing questions in the form of “What?” and “What do you mean?”

When the speaker starts in the middle, he or she assumes the listener already knows the bits and pieces the speaker is leaving out of the conversation. To the speaker, it is time-consuming to be specific and go into detail; so he or she assumes that it is okay to supply limited information. In other words, the speaker doesn’t feel that the information communicated to the listener has gaps and holes.

Students write with the same assumption. They know the professor has read the material already. After all, the professor is the one who has taught them the material. However, it is oftentimes a sign of a weak writer when the writer doesn’t know how to outline his or her ideas and synthesize information without going into multiple pages of detail.

When key information is left out, or when you make a point of highlighting textual evidence as key but don’t explain its significance, then you make the professor’s job of reading your paper difficult because the meaning of your paper as a whole is hard to grasp, “hard to understand.”

Read the following excerpt (Figure 13) and review the problems. Notice how the student incorporates new words and phrases, which represent a different context from Shakespeare’s time. If you are thinking about repeating the same method, always research the nature of context-specific concepts before incorporating them into a context where they might not fit. After the excerpt are rhetorical questions for you to consider.

Sample Excerpt

This Christian hypocrisy goes far deeper than what is implied in the play.  The Venetians dismissed Shylock, yes, but they also dismissed the very person and culture of him.  “In every culture there are persons who fear and dislike the continuing process of cultural interaction and change.  These persons are particularly found within the elite, because cultural interaction leads to changes that the elite cannot control” (Singer 50).  The elite usually doesn’t have much to do with changes out of their control.  They often tend to suppress even cultural development. Authority may cut selected pieces out of one’s cultural identity in order to bring one into conformity by determining what culture ought to be.  The Venetians follow the thought of relativism.  Relativism is where claims of universal human rights are rejected.  “A relativist provokes the question:  ‘Relative to what?’  What defines truth, values? . . .” (Singer 45).  When applying these concepts, one first thinks of culture.  Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice failed and ignored the cultural identity of Shylock and as a result, he followed in their footsteps, which is ironic, that they would judge him based on their own behavior.  This is what you call learning from example.  This ultimately cost him his personal relationship with his very personal faith.

Figure 13: Essay Excerpt on The Moralistic Hypocrisy in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Concluding Paragraph)

Problem #1

This Christian hypocrisy goes far deeper than what is implied in the play.  The Venetians dismissed Shylock, yes, but they also dismissed the very person and culture of him.  “In every culture there are persons who fear and dislike the continuing process of cultural interaction and change.  These persons are particularly found within the elite, because cultural interaction leads to changes that the elite cannot control” (Singer 50).  The elite usually doesn’t have much to do with changes out of their control.  They often tend to suppress even cultural development.

1) Before incorporating this quote, define how the Venetians dismiss the “very person” and “culture” of Shylock. In terms of what?

2) How is a person dismissed?

3) How is a culture dismissed?

4) Is “dismissed” equivalent in meaning to “ignored” or “rejected”? Define the way you will use a/the term in your analysis.

5) The quote incorporates someone else’s words on the matter, but not what the student thinks.

6) Aren’t the elite the ones who make many changes? The elite are one step below the government in some cases. However, during Shakespearean times, wasn’t the elite the powerful aristocracy? Couldn’t the elite have made changes?

Problem #2

Authority may cut selected pieces out of one’s cultural identity in order to bring one into conformity by determining what culture ought to be.  The Venetians follow the thought of relativism.  Relativism is where claims of universal human rights are rejected.  “A relativist provokes the question:  ‘Relative to what?’  What defines truth, values? . . .” (Singer 45).  When applying these concepts, one first thinks of culture.  Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice failed and ignored the cultural identity of Shylock and as a result, he followed in their footsteps, which is ironic, that they would judge him based on their own behavior.  This is what you call learning from example.  This ultimately cost him his personal relationship with his very personal faith.

1) “Authority” is personified in this analysis. The student has given it human-like qualities. “Authority” is not a person. It is not similar to the role of a butcher who cuts meat. “Authority” cannot cut into the skin of one’s cultural identity. It is a concept. A concept cannot “cut.”

2) Ask yourself this: a) Does the play mention authority? b) Where and in what context?

3) How do the elite suppress cultural development?

4) What are the origins of “Relativism”? Who was the founder? What year was the concept established? Now what year was Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice published?

5) Can “relativism” be applied to Shakespeare’s period, time, or play?

6) How do we know that the Venetians follow the thought of “relativism?” What is a credible date in history that we can use to prove our stance?

7) In addition, was “culture” a popular term during Shakespeare’s period?

These are some of the questions you need to consider when revising the content of your essays and developing context-specific wording.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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