College Ready? Combating College Level Writing Prompts


      Recently, my AP Literature class finished reading Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most known tragedy. Shakespeare’s writing is always on a deeper level than the modern novels you would see today, as it engages your brain in comprehending Old-English, full of flourishes and embellishments, as well as the culture and society of a different time period. Understanding Hamlet in a more-than-surface-level in a once-over reading would be nigh impossible without a teacher’s/aid’s analysis (or if one is an English buff). They always say AP classes or AP prompts are college level ones. After seeing my final, I have to disagree.

     I felt I truly experienced a college level prompt when I took my Hamlet writing final. My teacher, brilliantly and craftily, embedded not only one, but three (and more) outside sources into Hamlet. (This is a HAMLET final right?) Not only were we expected to write a prompt on Hamlet itself, but incorporate the findings in T.S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and on the critical essay “Word Heard: Prufrock Asks His Question”. We had no prior analysis on either the poem or a breakdown of the contents of the essay. “So What?” you ask? The two on its own was hard enough to comprehend. Let alone utilize all three with an expectancy of deeper understanding to answer the may-I-say confusing prompt?This is also coming from an AP Kid, not to mention. (Disclaimer: I do not proclaim to be “better” than anyone else, just emphasizing the fact that I think I am moderately more intelligent than the average student in the US as part of a comparison.)

     Not only were we all stumped (I had asked fellow classmates how they felt about it afterwards; they all agreed) on the pieces themselves, but WAIT. THERE’S MORE. In the prompt, there were allusions to a book by author Harold Bloom, and to abstract ideas. When I had first read it, I did not understand at all.

     Returning back to the point, this is DEFINITELY what I expect college to be like now. No more underestimating. College English? Maybe not as easy as you would think. It is college after all. And if you attend a top tier university? This is probably one of the easier prompts to understand.

     I had my foot out the door, ready to take on college and have the years of my life. After seeing the monster of a prompt for my final, maybe i’ll cherish my last few months of prep for a while. I’m excited to go, but definitely not underestimating college curriculum!

     The essay I am very proud of: (though it needs much refinement)

     “Though Shakespeare’s influence is neither contested nor is the wisdom and life lessons of his work disputed, T.S Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” teaches lessons to the audience in modern society that Hamlet could not. Hamlet’s lessons, or wisdom imbued within the play, are applicable and seen in daily life, however, Prufrock’s lessons are more so directly related to the modern society’s problems. Prufrock’s ideas displayed in Eliot’s poem conquers the anxiety of influence many other poets have, as it addresses more of modern culture’s needs.

                “The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry” written by Harold Bloom is referred to in the “anxiety of influence” Eliot overcomes, as it talks about the way poets feel about those who have written before them, particularly in their culture or tradition. Poets writing today, are inspired by literature of their past, such as Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” denoting to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but they are also afraid of repeating the things that have already been written about or said. They, in essence, are worried about not being original. Prufrock managed to overcome the archetypes seen in Hamlet and in other works by echoing their basic form but twisting it to fit modern situations.

                Hamlet is rendered a literary classic, and while Prufrock is also regarded as a piece of literary genius, Prufrock is able to take the audience to a place Shakespeare’s Hamlet could not. Prufrock is able to touch upon the modern society’s troubles and woes, while Hamlet is limited to those of its time period, the renaissance.  Prufrock also touches on topics that take on a deeper, more developed meaning than those of Hamlet’s. Prufrock attempts to “bury” Hamlet because it takes Hamlet’s thinking of “To be or not to be” (outside the play), a specified formed question, and replacing it with “the overwhelming question” (Prufrock), an unvoiced, unclear question replacable with many specific ones. In comparison to Hamlet, Prufrock’s story is that of a prototypical modern man. It is a display of the tortured psyche echoed in a less profound, less visible light than that of Hamlet. Hamlet’s question is directly stated, “To be or not to be”, while Prufrock’s question is similar to that of Hamlet’s. The question transcends that of Hamlet’s as it is universally applicable and inclusive of the “question of the ages” (referring to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”), though it is only displayed through allusion, syntax, and its digressions. Instead of limiting Hamlet’s proverbial thoughts to those in the play and to the self, Eliot’s essay regards the narrator’s thoughts into those of the general mankind.

      Hamlet’s story ends early, as he is mainly debating over the issue whether to complete the action or not, though in the end he attempts his feat. In Prufrock, however, he contemplates doing the action, but does not complete it. He attempts to numerous times, but to no avail. It shows the readers the consequences of no action, as his decision is not one of decisiveness (action or no action), but no decision at all.

     Prufrock was largely built on the influence of those before his time, but it was also built on the archetypes established so early on, as seen with the comparison of the Prufrock to Hamlet, then the change from Hamlet to Polonius. Prufrock was indeed like Polonius, taking the cautious route and used as a “tool”. He talks and thinks all his life through about what he wants to do, but he never actually has the courage to. As seen in the lines 111 to 119, “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do, To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.” It can be seen Prufrock is comparing himself and coming to the realizations of the lack of events in his life.

      Another archetype put into modern definitions is the character Lazarus mentioned in the poem in lines 94 to 95 “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”. He, in the Bible was a poor man sent to heaven, and the rich man who was sent to hell asks Abraham if Lazarus would be allowed to go back to earth to tell his brothers to mend their behavior. However, Abraham says that if the brothers were told before and they had not changed their behavior since, one man returning from the dead would not change them.  Anxiety of influence is displayed in The Inferno where Dante Alighieri comes back from the pits of hell to warn people. Prufrock, who displays similar figurative situations is not similar to Dante or to Lazarus, but is more like the one who never escaped his situation. In the poem Prufrock is trying to reach out to modern society by telling them about his plight and to warn them about his situation and how tragic the ending will be.

     The tragic ending is also mirrored in Prufrock as both Hamlet and Prufrock end up unhappy with the ending, but unlike Hamlet, Prufrock’s own tragic demise is of his own doing and not that of a situation.

      Shakespeare’s stance on the world’s question seen through the eyes of the renaissance is considered the question of the century, but Prufrock’s hidden echoes surpass its literary mentor as its thoughts address the psyche of the modern man while voicing its own influence as a literary masterpiece.” -Jayne Yokoyama

    Now, if you are up for a challenge, respond to the prompt by David Theriault, and I’d love to read your responses!

“Prompt: All great art is not only an argument against something (a condition, situation, philosophical stance etc…) but also a burying of the literary fathers and mothers who gave birth to the art. Prufrock attempts to bury Hamlet by daring to exist with Hamlet on its lips. Using bits and pieces of this essay, the poem, and the play argue the following:

     The narrator in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” takes the audience to an important and necessary place in modern society, a place that would be nigh impossible for the renaissance Hamlet to take us and thereby successfully dodges and perhaps conquers the “anxiety of influence” that hangs over the poem.”

Happy Hamlet-ing!

“The readiness is all” -Hamlet


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