Classic Text Commentary

The Assignment


The overarching question to the Classic Texts category of required commentaries might be stated broadly as follows: What is a classic text? This question invites many others: Who decides? What are the possible arguments to be made in classifying this or that text as “classic”? What are the notable characteristics of a classic text, or of categories of classic texts? Should there be a canon that identifies classic texts? When literary critics address issues of textual quality, how do they do it? What is the range of issues involved in identifying classic texts? And so on.

If you have completed a course project that involves a text that you, literary critics, or others might identify as “classic,” you may write a commentary on that project that explores the characteristics of a classic text—in particular reference to your project, but also in general as relevant to literary, rhetorical, or linguistic studies.

More specifically, you may choose to write a classic text commentary if you have completed a course project for which questions like these might be relevant:

  • Does you project deal with a text that has stood the test of time?
  • Does your project involve an explicit or implicit definition of quality in literary/rhetorical/linguistic production?
  • Does your project deal with a text that has significant critical controversies/discussions associated with it?
  • Do the classic text issues and questions stimulated by your artifact (and commentary) relate to other classic texts, criticism, and discussions?
  • Does your project invite comparisons to other texts that may be considered classic?
  • Does you project provide a negative example of a classic text concerns—i.e., does it discuss a text that contains features that disqualify it as a classic?

The Commentary Assignment

Your commentary should not attempt to be a comprehensive study of issues of classic texts. Rather, it should identify a relevant issue or issues of classic text features that are present in—or implied by—your artifact. The artifact may or may not use the term “classic text,” but your commentary should use it, or related terms, and use that term or terms with accuracy and appropriateness for students of literature.

Your commentary should contain at least two sections: a section of 300-600 words with the bolded subhead “On Classic Texts in General,” and a section of 300-600 words with the bolded subhead, “On Classic Texts in Relation to [Your Artifact].” These sections may be presented in either order—i.e., the general exploration first, followed by the specific treatment of your artifact, or vice versa. Whatever the order, the general part should provide your understanding of the term, “classic text.” The artifact commentary should provide a brief description of your artifact and then some analysis of that artifact in terms relevant to the material in the general section. In other words, the two sections should have some connection.

The object, once again, is not to be comprehensive in your analysis of classic texts, but rather to be authentic in using/defining terms, making references, and identifying ideas and traditions, as you choose to raise them in your general statement about classic texts and your specific application of those ideas to your artifact.


  • Before writing your commentary, you should consult the evaluation rubric for this assignment.
  • Structurally, your commentary may contain just two sections (i.e., the general disciplinary category section and the specific artifact section)—or, as you wish, may contain additional sections, like an introduction and conclusion. Please note: The goal of the project is to provide a working definition of the general category (or at least part of it) and an illustration of that definition by way of your artifact. The commentary as a whole may not have the traditional “beginning-middle-end” structure of typical critical or course essays, but some of those features may be embedded in the two main sections. Also, the two main sections should mutually set up and refer to one another. That is, each section should not be filled with random, unconnected observations, but rather they should share a common context to some degree.
  • The artifact section of your commentary requires a summary of the artifact. But instead of composing a full, detailed summary of the artifact (which itself could take pages), you should compose a purposeful summary—i.e., a summary that sets up the definitions and illustrations in the two main sections.
  • You should attach a brief description (or actual assignment sheet) of the class assignment that led to the creation of your artifact.
  • Your commentary should be 2-4 pages, double-spaced, in length.
  • You should follow your instructor’s requirements for submission procedures and due dates of commentaries in your course.