When giving writing assignments, keep one thing in mind when you give writing assignments: You're going to have to read the damn things. Try to make the process as painless as possible.
Back in my undergraduate days, I took a Shakespeare class. For the "big paper," the professor assigned the class a close reading of a scene from one of Shakespeare plays. I mean that literally: He assigned a close reading of A scene from ONE of Shakespeare's plays, specifically, Othello, Act III, scene 3 (the handkerchief scene). Now, the scene itself is interesting and certainly central to the play. But I cannot imagine what would possess a professor--a Shakespeare scholar--to willingly subject himself to reading 25-30 ten-page exegeses, written by undergraduates, about the same scene. Even if he loves that scene! ESPECIALLY if he loves that scene!
It makes me wonder about those people who find Shakespeare boring. We assume that these are lazy high-schoolers, but maybe they're actually Shakespeare scholars who foolishly condemn themselves to tedious writing purgatory. If I had to read countless pages of semi-literate prose telling me over and over again about Iago's "sneakiness," I, too, would think Shakespeare a crashing bore.
If you must assign students essays--and you must--at least give them options. Assign a broad topic that tests whatever writing skills you wish to assess (narration, description, analysis, etc.) but that also allows some leeway in a choice of topic. At least then you won't read the same essay over and over. And you might even still be able to enjoy a production of Othello.