In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper, Eric uses close-reading to analyze a seemingly throwaway exchange between two characters in Act II of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, revealing an unexpected equivalence between the physical feature of hair and the abstract concept of time. By using his close-reading as a lens through which to read other mentions of hair and baldness across the play, Eric gives us an example of analysis that builds on itself, taking us from hair, to time, to the play’s central claims about agency.
It’s not unusual during one’s academic career to be assigned a close reading of a passage from a novel, story, poem, or even a song. But what exactly does “close” mean? What distinguishes a close reading pedagogically from other types of reading?
To answer this question, let’s briefly consider what a close reading is not: musing on an idea for a couple of pages, comparing a passage of one author to what another author said (or might have said), or even critiquing the author’s idea from your own perspective. These are all important tasks, no doubt, but ones for later occasions.
Essentially, what a close reading aims is is isolating the nuts and bolts of the passage selected. In order to reconstruct what the author is saying, we must first look at how the author says what they say. It is important to note, however, that—while a close reading creates real opportunities to experiment and play with different interpretations of the text—a close reading is no excuse to merely list one’s observations about as they occur in real-time; it will not be untethered to a thesis. Instead, close-reading means going back and filing each the recognition of each new detail as another installment in a cumulative story about the text. The thesis of a close reading, therefore, must be capable of housing a claim that evolves based on details which meaningfully accrete.