An important part of this kind of assignment is for you to come up with an interesting--and achievable--topic on which to work. I would like to think that each of you will learn so much during your investigations that you will each in turn teach me something new about the Comedy, and so I will not assign specific topics to you. I will help you to focus your approach to the poem by suggesting the following categories of possible inquiry within which you might pursue your topics. You need not feel that you must operate within these guidelines; I intend for them to imply something of the scope I have in mind, and they are as likely to help you to identify some analogous category that I haven't mentioned as they are to coincide precisely with your eventual topics.
1. The Lectura Dantis approach: an analysis of any one canto of the poem. Dante's individual cantos seem to be well-crafted works of art, and studies based upon this approach often reveal subtle connections among apparently disparate episodes, characters, themes, etc., which affirm the integrity of Dante's artistic vision. The danger of the approach is that it often artificially isolates the canto in question from the poem as a whole and so leads to distorted or myopic readings.
2. An analysis of any one figure in the poem. This approach carries the same possibilities and dangers as the former. It is usually advisable to look beyond the poem to the biography and accomplishments of a character in order to see the importance of the way in which Dante deals with him or her. A quasi- mythological character such as Ulysses can probably be studied almost entirely as revealed with in the Comedy, but others, such as Pier della Vigna or Cato would require some investigation or sources, and for this Singleton's notes are indispensible.
3. A comparison of 2 or more moments, characters, classes of souls, etc. If you should choose to do something like this, be sure that you have a thesis, a point to make, a reason for the comparison.
4. A analysis of the way Dante assimilates a writer or a text (including a Biblical text) in the Comedy. Singleton's notes will be especially helpful here, too, though you may find that his citation of some source or analogue falls short of making the point you think needs to be made about Dante's intertextuality in a given passage.
6. Any cultural or intellectual motif from the Middle Ages that seems to be reflected in or that
seems to illuminate the Comedy. You might deal with monasticism or liturgy, philosophy or
political theory, art history or vernacular poetry. The test here will always be textual: how does
this approach help unfold the poem's meaning.