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Parsing II

    

     Parsing means "to break down a sentence into its component parts of speech with an explanation of form, function, and syntactical relationship of each part" ("Parse," def. 1)).   It also means " to examine closely or subject to detailed analysis, especially by breaking down into smaller parts" ("Parse," def. 3).  For English class the reason to parse is to provide careful, painstaking analysis of the quotes you choose to support your arguments in your paper or speech.  Parsing is necessary in writing because it explains how you interpret and use language to effectively prove your point.

     Analysis that is “excellent” does not simply provide textual support (quotes or specific details from texts) thrown in to prove what you have just said.  It goes beyond simple support to demonstrate a clear understanding of language and parts of speech (like literary, rhetorical, or poetic devices) in a way that shows articulate thought and artful, even surprising, connections among words, motifs, themes, allusions, and/or styles.  There is also a careful reference back to the thesis at the end of each paragraph to remind the reader exactly what it is you want to prove (your thesis).  This reference should be consistent throughout the essay.

Here is an example of a parsing activity:

Thesis:  Thus, in Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare metaphorically takes on the persona of Venus, confronts his own terror of beauty and, through this experience, explores his reflective process of writing.     

Primary Source Quote: (from a dedication to Henry Wriothesley, the Lord of Southampton, a patron of William Shakespeare)

     Right Honorable,

     I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor

how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden;

only if your honor seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take

advantage of all idle hours, til I have honored you with some graver labour.  But if the first

heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and

never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your

honorable survey, and your honor to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer

your own wish and the world’s hopeful expectation.

                            Your honor’s in all duty,

                            William Shakespeare.  (1610) 

How You Parse:

Shakespeare composes the letter of dedication that accompanies the poem with an extended metaphor, which compares the art of writing to the act of giving birth:

     Right Honorable,

     I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden; only if your honor seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, til I have honored you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your honorable survey, and your honor to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish and the world’s hopeful expectation.

                            Your honor’s in all duty,

                            William Shakespeare.  (1610)

Shakespeare refers to the poem as a “burden,” which is derived from the Old English “birthen,” which means “a load of labour,” and “that which is borne in the womb; a child” (“Burden,” def. 1a, 4).   A “prop” refers to the structure a vine holds on to for support in growth.  Thus, the poem is the “fruit” of his “labour.” Labour means “exertion of the body or mental toil” but also refers to “the pains of childbirth” (“Labor.” def. 1, 6).  Additionally, he calls the poem his first “heir,” which is usually, although not exclusively, the child of his “invention,” or “an act of fabrication or making, a creation; a birth of the young” (“Invention.” def. 2, 3b.).  Henry Wriothesley becomes the poem’s “godfather” through his being named as such in the dedication, which means more than simply being the work’s  “male sponsor” (“Godfather.” def. 1a), which is a polite albeit not very subtle bid for patronage.  This term also implies that Southampton will be responsible for “naming the child” (“Godfather.” def. 2), and, thus, “naming” Shakespeare as a respected poet, or making his reputation as a writer, by his rating the poem’s quality through his “survey,” or “examination of the value of something on behalf of a future buyer; a literary examination” (“Survey.” def. 1, 3). Further, Shakespeare promises that if the poem is unworthy or disappointing, which he personifies as a child “deformed,” he will never “ear,” or plow, “so barren a land for fear that it will yield me so bad a harvest.”  Barren refers to “bearing no children, childless” as well as “bare of intellectual worth, poor and meager; unprofitable” (“Barren, def 1-7). “Harvest” and “world’s hopeful expectation” both promise fertility, fecundity and anticipated reward.  Although it can be argued that the agricultural meaning of “ear” and the masculine farming metaphor adds ambiguity to the dedication, the language within it depicts more references to fruitfulness, pregnancy, birthing, and motherhood; thus, the stereotypically feminine pursuits outweigh the masculine.  By his diction, Shakespeare does more than cleverly cultivate a powerful young man at court for patronage.  He sets the stage for becoming a woman by linking the process of writing to the process of giving birth.  As he is the writer who creates his work of art, the poem, he also becomes the mother who creates that life. (Referring back to the thesis as stated above).