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A literary essay is a non-fiction essay about any literary topic.  The term “literary” simply means of or having to do with literature, therefore an essay that is about literature is a literary essay.  Generally, the point of a literary essay is to determine a person’s in-depth understanding of a particular novel, short-story, or other work of literature.  Topics for literary essays can be extremely broad, like “the role of emotion in Shakespeare’s plays” or narrower, like “the role of jealousy in Iago’s treatment of Othello in Shakespeare’s Othello.”  Therefore, when asked to write a literary essay, it is critical to tailor your response to the prompt or directions you are given.