Basic Literary Essay

This is not a Regents resource, just a fairly basic look at how to write a literary essay by coming up with a thesis, i.e., a point to prove, and then proving it using specific examples from a single text. It does not deal heavily with literary devices, as the Regents Tasks III and IV do, but there are references to characterization and theme. Note also the proper notation of Shakespearean dialogue.

This first paragraph is a rather dramatic setup for the topic, "setting the table" for the writer's discussion and bringing up the topic of serial killers.

thesis is stated in this second paragraph, where we tie the topic discussed in the first paragraph, serial killers, to the text we'll be analyzing, Romeo and Juliet. True, the last sentence is somewhat hupothetical, making it all the more vital for the writer to provide solid, believable proof.

Each paragraph here will build the case for supporting the thesis, one brick at a time. This first discussion paragraph establishes one aspect of the character which is often associated with serial killers; that they seemed "just like everybody else" before their crimes were uncovered.

The second discussion paragraph picks up on the ideas discussed in the previous paragraph and builds on them, establishing another important aspect of Romeo's character. Note the lengthy establishment of context using details from the text, both in the identification of act and scene numbers and direct quoted citations. The text explains the purpose/effect of the citations, then reinforces the idea of the paragraph and builds on it further.

The final discussion paragraph drives home the point by completing the "portrait" of Romeo as a potential serial killer.

Now that Romeo's actions have been cited and his behavior established, the essay is able to make the statement at the end of the last discussion paragraph.

This conclusion is careful to qualify its opening sentence, but supports it with specific textual evidence. We don't introduce new material in the conclusion; these quotes do not bring up anything not previously discussed.


          They live down the street, in neighborhoods all across America and all over the world. Outwardly, they seem like perfectly normal, ordinary people, with jobs, families, hobbies, cable and telephone bills, all the earmarks of everyday life. Their names read like any town's local phone directory. Dahmer, Jeffrey...Kaczynski, Ted...Gacy, John Wayne… Sometimes, behind the familiar and fair façade, there lies the cold, calculating heart of a ruthless, psychotic murderer.
          Characters like this appear very often in literature as well. One of our most famous literary figures, the titular hero Romeo in William Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet, fits the profile quite well. In examining his behavior, as well as his and others' reactions thereto, we can peel away the veneer of the innocent young romantic and gaze into the heart of darkness that might, had he not taken his own life, have led the young Montague heir to become one of history's most notorious serial killers.
          Before he met Juliet, daughter of the house of Capulet, his own family's rival in a long-standing blood feud, Romeo seemed very much like any normal, love-sick teenager. In the play's first scene, arriving in the streets of Verona after a street fight, Romeo's attentions seemed focused entirely on his unrequited love for Rosaline, rather than the fighting or the Prince's threat of death to any future quarrelers. Even Lord Capulet, master of the rival house, deemed Romeo to be a fine, upstanding lad. "Verona brags of him/To be a virtuous and well-governed youth," (I.v.76-77) he tells his nephew Tybalt when the latter spots Romeo at a Capulet party, "I would not for the wealth of all this town/Here in my house do him disparagement." (I.v.78-79) It therefore seems clear that Romeo had shown no signs of sociopathic behavior before meeting Juliet.
          Unfortunately, meeting and falling in love with the daughter of a rival house stirred passions in him he had never known or exhibited before. His love for her became all-consuming, to the detriment of all other considerations. Additionally, his secret marriage to her led him to speak kindly to the aforementioned Tybalt during a street confrontation in Act III, scene i; Mercutio, the Prince's kinsman, unaware of Romeo's motivations, called him a coward and attacked Tybalt, then was killed as Romeo attempted to break up the fight. The guilt and rage brought on by his friend's death drove Romeo to murder Tybalt; "Away to heaven, respective lenity, /And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now." (III.i.128-129) Romeo here cast off the veneer of docile normalcy in favor of a violent, murderous rage. Yet, this merely signaled the beginning of Romeo's sociopathic behavior; once the deed was done, he expressed no remorse over the murder, and refused to take responsibility for what he had done or accept his punishment. Rather, in Act III, scene iii, he complained bitterly to his confidant, Friar Lawrence, that his resultant exile would deprive him unjustly of his true love's company.
          Sadly, Tybalt would not be Romeo's only victim. Upon learning (mistakenly, as it turns out) that Juliet had died, he purchased a poison and returned to Verona to commit suicide at her gravesite, but once there he encountered Juliet's arranged fiancé, Count Paris. Romeo warned and threatened Paris to leave him be; when the young count refused, Romeo killed him. This second killing was clearly more cold and calculated than the first; the final victim, Romeo himself, was slain in the most premeditative fashion of all: with a poison purchased the previous day for that single, express purpose. This pattern of behavior clearly shows the evolution of a serial killer; from an emotional, fury-induced slaughter, to a warning and a threat followed by a meticulous slaying, to a carefully-planned, premeditated death.
          Would Juliet herself have been his next victim? We can never know. After he killed Tybalt, she described her new husband as a "serpent heart hid with a flow'ring face," (III.ii.79) "Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st;" (III.ii.84) "the spirit of a fiend/In mortal paradise of such sweet flesh." (III.ii.87-88) She saw him for what he was: a cruel, hideous monster hiding behind a fair exterior. Given his behavior and actions in the play, it seems she was absolutely right.

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