Theory Commentary

The Assignment


The overarching question to the Theory category of required commentaries might be stated broadly as follows: What role do the frameworks and methods of theory play in the understanding and appreciation of texts? When literary critics employ a theoretical approach, how do they do it? What are the possible methodological ways of relating issues of theory to literature and vice versa?

More specifically, you may choose to write a theory commentary if you have completed a course project that raises questions like these:

  • How might principles and methods of theory be relevant to the production and comprehension of the literary work treated in your artifact?
  • If your artifact employs a particular theoretical methodology in interpreting a text, how might the interpretation change if different methodological tools were employed?
  • If your artifact employed a theoretical approach, but did not explicitly announce or articulate that approach, how might you add that explicit information in your commentary?
  • Could the interpretations in your artifact be enriched, complicated, or propelled by broadening out, or adding to, or countering the critical framework employed in the artifact?
  • Does your artifact raise any issue relevant to theory in literary, rhetorical, or linguistic studies?
  • How does your artifact not address issues of theory, but possibly might (or should)?

The Commentary Assignment

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

Your commentary should contain at least two sections: a section of 300-600 words with the bolded subhead “On Theory in General,” and a section of 300-600 words with the bolded subhead, “On Theory in [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 some aspect of the role of theory in literary studies. 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 theory, 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 theory 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.
  • 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.