Resource Plus for learnersDrama
- Videos: Assessment objectives
Assessment Objective 1 (AO1)
- Show detailed knowledge of the content of literary texts in the three main forms (drama, poetry and prose), supported by reference to the text.
Drama AO1 video transcriptKnowing the text in detail is key to unlocking its meanings. Using quotations correctly demonstrates that we know the text and makes our points clear. In this video we will look at some useful tips for demonstrating knowledge of the text in a concise way, and then look at textual elements in greater detail.
To do this we are going to look at two of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. Assessment objective 1 requires candidates to show detailed knowledge of their text and support it with appropriate references.
Knowledge of the content of the text is relatively easy to demonstrate; what often trips candidates up is the way they demonstrate that knowledge. Quotations must be relevant and concise, and it is crucial not to re-tell plot points as it wastes valuable time and energy in exams.
The details and quotations used to demonstrate knowledge of the text in work parallel with the context, language, form and structure of the play found in assessment objective 2 and assessment objective 3 to create the sensitive and informed response required by assessment objective 4.
Let us begin with Romeo and Juliet as our text. We will start by thinking about good use of quotations and links between separate areas of the play. One way to easily refer to different sections of the play is to use Freytag’s Pyramid of dramatic structure. The structure falls in to five sections.
The exposition sets the scene. The rising action is where things begin to create complications. The climax is the turning point of the story. The falling action is a series of events which lead to the denouement. And the denouement is the result of everything which has happened since the exposition.
This is the dramatic structure of Romeo and Juliet. As you can see everything centres around the killing of Tybalt and Mercutio in Act 3 Scene 1.
Throughout the exposition and rising action there is a lot of comedy provided by Mercutio. The comedy dies at the climax when he dies and puts “a plague” on both houses. Our AO3 knowledge of context tells us that one of the most famous plagues is from the bible. According to the bible God sent a plague which killed every first born son in Egypt. In Romeo and Juliet we see the death of both first born children – Romeo, and Juliet, and the Capulet heir apparent Tybalt. This means that we could consider Mercutio as foreshadowing the deaths of these three characters.
Romeo’s response to the death of Mercutio also foreshadows the events which lead up to the denouement and his death. The idea that “others must” end the woe demonstrates the idea that Romeo is not in control of his own destiny. This is accurate in two ways.
Firstly it is “others” who control his “black fate” during the falling action; he is “exile[d]” by the Prince, made part of Juliet and Friar Laurence’s plans without being told about them, the victim of Balthazar’s enthusiasm to keep him informed, and the victim of a quarantined house in Mantua. Secondly, the modal auxiliary “must” refers to the level of need. Without intervention Romeo will die.
Now we shall look at the dramatic structure of Macbeth the play and the character development of Macbeth the character.
Similar to Romeo and Juliet the Climax of Macbeth is a death. In this case Banquo’s in Act 3 Scene 3. The final moments before the climax are a conversation between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth which ends with Macbeth. Here we will apply a little of our AO3 knowledge of language, form and structure. Macbeth’s speech is written mainly in blank verse and ends with two couplets and a line of prose. It contains multiple references to vision, “eye”, “invisible”, “light”, and a lexical set, or semantic field, of violence and death, “bloody”, “tear to pieces”, “night’s black agents”, “crow”, “prey”.
The concept of vision is a recurring motif in Macbeth and reflects the themes of prophecy, and secrets. The semantic field of violence links to the recurring symbol of blood throughout the play, and to the themes of violence and betrayal
Earlier in the rising action we also see him make reference to vision and violence through his “black and deep desires” which he must not let “light see”. Again the speech is structured. This time it is rhymed iambic pentameter. We can therefore say that these types of reference and a metered speech rhythm are typical of Macbeth during the rising action and demonstrate his focused ambition.
However, once we pass the climax and enter the falling action Macbeth’s speech patterns begin to change. Macbeth is quite literally haunted by his actions. Not only does he see Banquo’s ghost but he is also being driven mad by his guilt. Here we again apply our knowledge of AO3 language, form and structure and find Macbeth is now speaking in prose rather than blank verse. One of the reasons Shakespeare used prose was to demonstrate insanity. Straight prose is quite jagged and has no rhythm which reflects the disordered state of mind associated with insanity.
The witches further prophecies from Act 4 Scene 1 make Macbeth paranoid, obsessive, and, in many ways, foolhardy. He fears Macduff but feels invincible as the only conditions by which he can be “vanquish’d” involve unlikely events such as “Great Birnham wood” moving location, and fighting a man not “of woman born”. This fear and invincibility leads him to react with greater violence throughout the falling action.
By the time we reach the denouement of the play and Macbeth’s final battle with Macduff the “brave Macbeth” from the first act who murdered the “rebel” Macdonwald has been replaced by the “tyrant” Macbeth who has committed regicide and multiple murders.
As we enter this final showdown Macbeth is still using more of a prose structure. Not only does this reflect his disordered mental state, it also allows Shakespeare to structure the dialogue to mirror the fight. Each final line has a different length giving it impact.
“To one of woman born” POW!
“Untimely ripp’d” THWACK! and so forth.
Macbeth’s final couplet returns him, in death to his original character. As he is using a poetic structure we can say his mind is clearer and his challenge to “Lay on, Macduff”, combined with his willingness to face his probable death as prophesied by the witches is reminiscent of the first description of “brave Macbeth”, “valour’s minion”, a man who deserved that name.
As you can see from these two examples good quotes are easy to embed. A good quote does not need to be long. Personally I would say that if a quote is longer than six words then it better be the greatest quote ever. In most cases, as you saw, one or two words is enough.
Short quotes are easier to remember with accuracy.
Unless you have an eidetic memory you will never memorise every line of the play and nothing is worse than having long, inaccurate or paraphrased quotes. Mercutio’s earlier “plague” quote is often misquoted as “a plague ON both your houses”.
By embedding the quote as we did earlier we both avoid inaccuracy and create a nicer, more precise and concise writing style.
Quotes also give us opportunity to demonstrate our knowledge of language, form and structure. By keeping our quotes short we can perform single word level analysis as demonstrated with “others” and “must”.
Assessment Objective 2 (AO2)
- Understand the meanings of literary texts and their contexts, and explore texts beyond surface meanings to show deeper awareness of ideas and attitudes.
Unlocking the deeper meanings in Shakespeare requires both knowledge of different contexts and an ability to connect the text with the world around it. To fully explore how to find these deeper meanings we will look at two of Shakespeare’s tragedies: Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. To demonstrate how the assessment objectives work together, we will use these two plays for all of the assessment objectives: AO1, AO2, AO3 and AO4.
Assessment Objective 2 requires you to understand, and then explore not one, but the many contexts and meanings found in Shakespeare’s works. You are also required to look beyond the surface meaning of the text to show a deeper awareness of ideas and attitudes. Understanding these contexts helps us understand both the surface meaning (AO1) and develop our deeper awareness of attitudes and ideas, needed for AO2.
The understanding of characters, relationships, situations and themes needed to succeed in looking beyond surface meaning and demonstrating deeper awareness goes further than the knowledge of the text found in AO1. Assessment Objective 2 is essentially all about the question ‘Why?’ To find the answers, we need to look at two main areas of context: the context of production and the context of reception. We shall begin by looking at the context of production and what we expect from a Shakespearean tragedy.
Macbeth is a typical Shakespearean tragedy. Our knowledge of the text tells us that Macbeth and, in many ways, Lady Macbeth are tragic heroes. They both have the fatal flaw of ambition. They reach dizzying heights of power which is ripped from them by the manipulation of the witches and a series of strange, supernatural events.
However, our knowledge of Romeo and Juliet shows it does not conform with these common features. Neither Romeo nor Juliet are noblepersons – they are the children. They gain no power or wealth. If anything they lose power during the play. There are external pressures which lead to their downfall but they are not really created by fate, or evil spirits, or even a manipulative character.
Romeo and Juliet’s downfalls come about through love, circumstance, and youthful, passionate inexperience. So Romeo and Juliet does conform in all but one way with the common features of Shakespearean comedy. We have young lovers separated by their parents’ ‘ancient grudge’. They are separated and reunited. They are masked when they meet and their identities are ‘known too late’. The nurse and Friar Lawrence are both examples of clever servants. The plot is fairly complex and there are a lot of comic scenes in the rising action.
Therefore, Romeo and Juliet is a comedy even though it hasn’t got a happy ending.
This is the context of production. We understand Shakespeare deliberately produced the play using what most people who go to plays would understand to be features of comedy.
But why would Shakespeare use comic features for his tragedy? Here we need to think about the context of reception.
Shakespeare wrote more comedies than histories or tragedies, and he wrote three comedies in the same year as Romeo and Juliet. The fact that his comic structures are usually used to create a happy ending filled with love and reconciliation makes the audience feel like Juliet will wake up and stop Romeo drinking the poison. The fact that she wakes up after this moment would have been emotional and shocking to a Shakespearean audience. By understanding this context of reception, we understand the context of production.
When thinking about the audience, and this is crucial to Assessment Objective 4 (creating a sensitive and informed response), it is important to remember who the audience is.
You are one audience: you are modern, you study the subject and therefore look at it critically, you are looking at the play with ‘work’ eyes and not with ‘relaxing trip to the theatre’ eyes.
However, as you are not the only audience, understanding different audiences will help your response to Assessment Objective 2.
The original audience would have been at the theatre for pleasure, understood every joke and political reference, and been cheering and booing.
A very patriarchal audience would probably not publicly appreciate Juliet’s rebellion as much as a less patriarchal one.
Similarly, a very feminist audience might not appreciate Romeo and Juliet at all, as it mainly conforms to traditional male and female stereotypes.
Another context to consider is masculinity and femininity. Shakespeare loved to play with gender and identity.
Lady Macbeth is an excellent example of how Shakespeare manipulates gender and identity. Here we will need to apply our Assessment Objective 3 (language, form and structure) knowledge.
The part of Lady Macbeth is given equal status in the structure up until Act 2 Scene 3. She has an equal share of the dialogue and is presented on equal terms with the male characters.
The audience’s first encounter with Lady Macbeth in Act 1 Scene 5 instantly presents her with traditionally male characteristics, with levels of ambition and violence equal to or even greater than Macbeth. Her concern that Macbeth is ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’ implies that she considers Macbeth is too feminine, and he lacks the brutality to do what he ‘must do’. Shakespeare’s choice to have ‘milk’ as the substance of the ‘human kindness’ Lady Macbeth spurns has connotations of motherhood, a sacredly female role.
Act 1 Scene 5
…….Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way:
Lady Macbeth refers to milk and motherhood again later in the scene, but this time in relation to herself. She demands the spirits ‘unsex’ her, and fill her full of ‘direst cruelty’, the opposite of the ‘milk of human kindness’ which her husband possesses. She asks that they ‘Stop up’ her reproductive system and prevent the menstrual ‘visitings of nature’ and the milk from her ‘woman’s breasts’ is to become ‘gall’ or poison.
It’s worth considering how masculine Lady Macbeth really is, as she never demands to be male, just free from the restrictions of being female.
As soon as Macbeth assumes the ‘man’s role’ and commits the murder, all her masculinity vanishes, and to some extent so does she. Her fainting can be seen as a very ladylike response and completely alien to the earlier bloodthirsty Lady Macbeth. Ironically, Macbeth becomes so fuelled by the masculinity and ambition she desired in him, that he has no time to even mourn her death.
Act 1 Scene 5
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!'
We have looked at how understanding different contexts helps us to open up and understand the text (AO1) more deeply (AO2). It also helps us to explore Shakespeare’s use of language and structure (AO3), helping us to inform a sensitive and personal response (AO4).
Assessment Objective 3 (AO3)
- Recognise and appreciate ways in which writers use language, structure and form to create and shape meanings and effects.
Drama AO3 video transcriptDrama AO3
The aim of this video is to give you and your learners a breakdown of how Assessment Objective 3 is assessed. However, remember that for each candidate’s answer, all four assessment objectives are considered by the examiner. The best candidate responses will consider all four when answering the question.
AO3: Recognise and appreciate ways in which writers use language, structure and form to create and shape meanings and effects.
In order not to just recognise, but appreciate the ways in which Shakespeare used language, form and structure we are going to look at two of Shakespeare’s tragedies: Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.
Assessment Objective 3 requires you to recognise, and then appreciate, not one, but the many ways Shakespeare used language, form and structure to create and shape the multiple meanings and effects in his work.
In order for you to achieve this, we need first to consider what is meant by recognise and appreciate.
Candidates will have to demonstrate an understanding of the writer’s intentions and methods, and how to respond to the writer’s use of language.
To recognise and appreciate, we must be able to understand Shakespeare’s methods, such as:
• What techniques has he used? • What effects are they creating? • Does this fit with our expectation?
We must also be able to understand Shakespeare’s intentions:
• Why did he do what he did? • How was he trying to shape the audience’s thoughts and feelings? • What impact was he trying to have on the audience?
To create a response to Shakespeare’s use of language we must look at his use of language in close detail and examine the nuances of words to decide why that word was chosen.
Let’s start by looking at the Prologue from Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet. We shall look at Shakespeare’s methods, starting with form and structure.
Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents' strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love, And the continuance of their parents' rage, Which, but their children's end, nought could remove, Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
The opening of the play takes the form of a sonnet – a love poem.
It is 14 lines long.
It has the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet.
It is written in iambic pentameter.
We know that sonnets are associated with love and death which are two of the major themes of the play, so Shakespeare is giving the audience a clue to the story.
Now we move on to language, which also reflects these themes. Through the sonnet, Shakespeare promises the audience ‘lovers’ that are ‘cross’d’ and ‘mark’d’ by forces as powerful as ‘death’ and the ‘star(s)’. He hints at a deadlocked battle between equals suddenly becoming unlocked by juxtaposing an ‘ancient grudge’ with ‘new mutiny’. He uses very obvious caesura in the first four lines to reinforce this sense of division. He promises political intrigue and murder through the play on words ‘civil blood makes civil hands unclean’. He even gives away the ending and still claims there is more to say.
Shakespeare’s intention was to tantalise the audience by offering them a truly juicy story: love and death are considered the two most common themes in literature. So by writing this prologue as a sonnet, making clever use of language, Shakespeare was putting his audience into the correct frame of mind for his play.
But why else does he feel the need to open his play in this way?
To answer we need to add in some of our knowledge from Assessment Objective 1 and Assessment Objective 2.
Our Assessment Objective 1 knowledge of the play, and Assessment Objective 2 knowledge of context of production, suggests that one reason could be because the opening scene (Act 1 Scene 1) of Romeo and Juliet is a comic scene.
Shakespeare is setting a serious and formal tone in the prologue by using a sonnet which has a strict and rigid form and structure. Act 1 Scene 1 is a comic scene. By starting his tragedy with a comic scene, Shakespeare would have given the wrong message to his audience.
SCENE 1. Verona. A public place. Enter SAMPSON and GREGORY, of the house of Capulet, armed with swords and bucklers SAMPSON Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals. GREGORY No, for then we should be colliers. SAMPSON I mean, an we be in choler, we'll draw. GREGORY Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o' the collar. SAMPSON I strike quickly, being moved. GREGORY But thou art not quickly moved to strike. SAMPSON A dog of the house of Montague moves me. GREGORY To move is to stir; and to be valiant is to stand: therefore, if thou art moved, thou runn'st away.
Act 1 Scene 1 contains a series of puns, based on homonyms of ‘collier’, immature bravado from Sampson in the lines ‘we’ll draw’ and ‘I strike quickly’, and joking insults from Gregory, ‘if thou art moved, thou runn’st away.’
This scene is unlike most of the rest of Romeo and Juliet which is written in blank verse, as it is written in prose. This is because the lack of rhythmic structure allows for the freedom needed to make Sampson and Gregory’s exchange sharp and witty. This is also because the characters are from a lower class and Shakespeare often wrote the dialogue for his lower-class characters in prose. This was partly to show a lack of education and partly as another layer of character presentation, a literary type of costume to work with clothing, accent, walk, laugh, etc.
Let’s now look at the opening of Macbeth. Again we will look at Shakespeare’s method to try and work out his intentions.
ACT I SCENE I. A desert place. Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches First Witch When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain? Second Witch When the hurlyburly's done, When the battle's lost and won. Third Witch That will be ere the set of sun. First Witch Where the place? Second Witch Upon the heath. Third Witch There to meet with Macbeth. First Witch I come, Graymalkin! Second Witch Paddock calls. Third Witch Anon! ALL Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Starting with the methods.
The majority of Macbeth is written in blank verse. As Shakespeare wrote Macbeth near the end of his career, the blank verse is less rigid than in Romeo and Juliet but experts agree that it is still blank verse.
However, Shakespeare begins not with blank verse, but with something else entirely.
The witches speak in a rhyming style – AABBBCDDEFGHH – which opens and closes with a rhyming couplet.
The rhythm is also very different as it is a combination of trochaic (DUM de) and iambic (de DUM) rhythm. As normal speech is usually mainly iambic and does not rhyme, this separates the witches from normal people.
Why does Shakespeare begin the play with such a different rhyme and rhythm? Because the language of the witches separates them from normal people. This is reinforced when the first thing that we notice when we read the text is the pathetic fallacy in the stage direction ‘Thunder and lightning’. Although this is not a spoken element of the text it is still a part of the text and therefore important in creating and shaping meaning and effect. The witches are abnormal – or ‘unnatural’ – and this difference is reflected in both the language and the setting. Shakespeare continues to use pathetic fallacy to foreshadow the stormy future of Scotland’s monarchy and the evil nature of the witches. The witches are currently meeting in thunder and lightning, travel through ‘fog and filthy air’ and plan to meet in ‘thunder, lightning, or in rain’ showing they are associated with dangerous, powerful forces and deeds now and in the future. Shakespeare also gives the witches the power to know the future and that the battle will be over ‘ere the set of sun’. This foresight is also shown in the witches’ line ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ which foreshadows and pre-echoes Macbeth’s very first line in Act 1 Scene 3, ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’.
Shakespeare’s intentions here are clear. He is setting up the character of the witches by showing the audience the extent of their power and leading the audience to believe them and fear them. Awareness of how he uses language, form and structure helps us to see more deeply into his intentions.
Why else does he feel the need to open his play in this way? To answer we need to add in some of our knowledge from AO1 and AO2.
Our knowledge of the context of production of the play tells us that Macbeth was written as a tribute to King James I/VI. He is even mentioned in the play.
Macbeth is loosely based on the historical events of James’s family; Banquo is credited with being the founder of the Stuart line.
As Macbeth the play is quite different from Macbeth the reality, opening the play with the witches helps create a sense of separation from reality and a connection to it through their accurate prophecies. Also, King James was a great believer in witchcraft and very much against the practice of it on religious grounds. This led to the banning of Macbeth for five years as he feared the spells were real.
Our knowledge of the text also helps us to recognise that many of the main themes and elements of the play are referred to in the opening scene – witchcraft and the supernatural, Macbeth, prophecy, war and violence, deception and the idea that ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’.
We have looked at how understanding language, structure and form (AO3) helps us to open up and understand the text (AO1) more deeply (AO2), helping us to inform a sensitive and personal response (AO4).
Assessment Objective 4 (AO4)
- Communicate a sensitive and informed personal response to literary texts.
Drama AO4 video transcriptDrama AO4
The aim of this video is to give you and your learners a breakdown of Assessment Objective 4 and how it is assessed. However, remember that for each candidate answer, all four assessment objectives are considered by the examiner. The best candidate responses will consider all four when answering a question.
Drama Assessment Objective 4
AO4: Communicate a sensitive and informed personal response to literary texts.
Creating a sensitive and informed response to a Shakespeare play can seem daunting. The language is complex. Shakespeare was a poet and he loved to play with language and to create new words (neologisms) whenever he found the word he wanted did not exist. And the meanings in his texts are multiple and deep, and his characters are crafted with care and attention to detail.
Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth are two of the most studied and performed of Shakespeare’s plays.
So how do you manage to create a response that is personal as well as sensitive and informed?
The informed element can be seen as the easiest element for candidates. An informed response will use the Assessment Objective 1 knowledge of the text in parallel with the Assessment Objective 3 understanding of language, form and structure, to relate the text to itself and its themes as we saw in the Assessment Objective 1 video example from Macbeth.
A sensitive response requires candidates to then link their informed response with their Assessment Objective 2 knowledge of context. A personal response is more difficult to achieve at a higher level.
Candidates will have to demonstrate a personal response sometimes directly (answering questions such as ‘What do you think?’, ‘What are your feelings about…?’) and sometimes by implication (answering questions such as ‘Explore the ways in which…’)
Act 1 Scene 4
[Aside] The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires: The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. One mistake candidates often make is losing an academic writing style to demonstrate their personal response: ‘I don’t like Macbeth because he is ambitious as we can see from the quote, “black and deep desires”’. Every time you perform a critical analysis you are giving a personal response. You have selected which quotes you believe are important to make your case. You have chosen which elements of the texts combine to further enhance your answer. ‘Macbeth is presented as an unlikable character because of his ambition. His “black and deep desires” create an image of a dark and ingrained evil that hungers for power.’
Although this response is a personal response it is not yet informed or sensitive. Now we need to add our understanding of Assessment Objective 3 language, form and structure.
‘The adjectives “black” and “deep” connote a malevolence that goes to the core of Macbeth’s being. This combined with the plural abstract noun “desires” reflects his emotional hunger for power.’
To develop this further, we add our Assessment Objective 1 knowledge of the text...
Act 3 Scene 2
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day; And with thy bloody and invisible hand Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale! Light thickens; and the crow Makes wing to the rooky wood: Good things of day begin to droop and drowse; While night's black agents to their preys do rouse. Thou marvell'st at my words: but hold thee still; Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill. So, prithee, go with me.
‘…The connection between darkness, evil and ambition is also seen in Act 3 Scene 2 when Macbeth refers to “night’s black agents”.’
Act 1 Scene 5
The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under my battlements. Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood; Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, Wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry 'Hold, hold!'
‘…This connection is further emphasised by Lady Macbeth in Act 1 Scene 5 as she calls for “thick night” to create a “blanket of the dark”.’
Now we have a response that is personal and fairly well informed. All we need to do now is make it sensitive by adding some of our Assessment Objective 2 knowledge of context.
‘The connections between dark deeds and ambition could be seen to represent the political situation at the time Macbeth was written. King James I, for whom the play was written, had personal experience of the dangers of political ambition as both his parents were killed for political motives and he was the intended victim of the Gunpowder Plot. The fact that lexis such as “black” and “dark” is used by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, could be considered as associating them with witchcraft. Witchcraft, besides being a key theme of the play, was an area studied by James I and it is unsurprising that Shakespeare presented his main evil characters as in league with witches both literally and linguistically.’ ‘Although the modern western audience would not necessarily connect words such as black and dark with witchcraft, and the idea of witchcraft in the traditional sense is no longer accepted as real, the semantic association to bad deeds is still evident and the idea of malevolent beings is still scary’.
Now we shall run through an example without breaking down the assessment objectives.
Let’s imagine we have been asked who we think is the most important character in Romeo and Juliet.
Before we start, ask yourself who you think is most important.
Act 5 Scene 3
O brother Montague, give me thy hand: This is my daughter's jointure, for no more Can I demand. Montague
But I can give thee more: For I will raise her statue in pure gold; That while Verona by that name is known, There shall no figure at such rate be set As that of true and faithful Juliet. Capulet
As rich shall Romeo's by his lady's lie; Poor sacrifices of our enmity! Prince
A glooming peace this morning with it brings; The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head: Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished: For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. Exeunt
‘The title of the play, Romeo and Juliet, suggests to the audience that Romeo is more important as his name comes first. However, when we look at the final moments of the final scene we learn that our story of woe was of “Juliet and her Romeo”. This combination of Juliet being named first and the use of the possessive pronoun “her” to refer to Romeo demonstrates her greater importance in the story. This is further highlighted by Montague’s offer to build a statue to “true and faithful Juliet” which emphasises her positive qualities, and Capulet’s offer to build one for Romeo which will “by his lady’s lie” implying possession and giving Juliet the higher-status title. The building of a sonnet structure during the final 15 lines creates a sense of coming together which ends with Juliet as the higher-status character and is a counterpoint to the prologue’s “Two households. Both alike in dignity”.
Furthermore, this is echoed in their death scenes.
Act 4 Scene 3
Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again. I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins, That almost freezes up the heat of life: I'll call them back again to comfort me: Nurse! What should she do here? My dismal scene I needs must act alone. Come, vial. What if this mixture do not work at all? Shall I be married then to-morrow morning? No, no: this shall forbid it: lie thou there. Laying down her dagger What if it be a poison, which the friar Subtly hath minister'd to have me dead, Lest in this marriage he should be dishonour'd, Because he married me before to Romeo? I fear it is: and yet, methinks, it should not, For he hath still been tried a holy man. How if, when I am laid into the tomb, I wake before the time that Romeo Come to redeem me? there's a fearful point! Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault, To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in, And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes? Or, if I live, is it not very like, The horrible conceit of death and night, Together with the terror of the place,-- As in a vault, an ancient receptacle, Where, for these many hundred years, the bones Of all my buried ancestors are packed: Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth, Lies festering in his shroud; where, as they say, At some hours in the night spirits resort;-- Alack, alack, is it not like that I, So early waking, what with loathsome smells, And shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth, That living mortals, hearing them, run mad:-- O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught, Environed with all these hideous fears? And madly play with my forefathers’ joints? And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud? And, in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone, As with a club, dash out my desperate brains? O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body Upon a rapier's point: stay, Tybalt, stay! Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee. She falls upon her bed, within the curtains
Act 5 Scene 3
In faith, I will. Let me peruse this face. Mercutio's kinsman, noble County Paris! What said my man, when my betossed soul Did not attend him as we rode? I think He told me Paris should have married Juliet: Said he not so? or did I dream it so? Or am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet, To think it was so? O, give me thy hand, One writ with me in sour misfortune's book! I'll bury thee in a triumphant grave; A grave? O no! a lantern, slaughter'd youth, For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes This vault a feasting presence full of light. Death, lie thou there, by a dead man interr'd. Laying PARIS in the tomb How oft when men are at the point of death Have they been merry! which their keepers call A lightning before death: O, how may I Call this a lightning? O my love! my wife! Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty: Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, And death's pale flag is not advanced there. Tybalt, liest thou there in thy bloody sheet? O, what more favour can I do to thee, Than with that hand that cut thy youth in twain To sunder his that was thine enemy? Forgive me, cousin! Ah, dear Juliet, Why art thou yet so fair? shall I believe That unsubstantial death is amorous, And that the lean abhorred monster keeps Thee here in dark to be his paramour? For fear of that, I still will stay with thee; And never from this palace of dim night Depart again: here, here will I remain With worms that are thy chamber-maids; O, here Will I set up my everlasting rest, And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss A dateless bargain to engrossing death! Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark! Here's to my love! Drinks O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. Dies
Although Juliet’s death scene is less involved than Romeo’s, the fact that she dies by the blade implies that she is brave and determined, unlike Romeo who chooses the more simple and feminine method of poison. The parallel between Romeo’s drinking of the apothecary’s “quick” feminine poison in Act 5 Scene 3 despite having a masculine dagger, and Juliet’s pretend death by a non-fatal poison whilst prepared to use the masculine dagger in Act 4 Scene 3 also demonstrate Juliet as the braver and more grounded character. The contrast found within the series of rhetorical questions each character asks is also a stark one. While Romeo is focused on how Juliet can remain so “fair”, Juliet is considering the realities of her situation as she faces waking surrounded by “mangled Tybalt” and her “great kinsman’s bones”.
We have looked at how writing an informed, sensitive and personal response (AO4) combines understanding language, structure and form (AO3) to help us open up and understand the text (AO1) more deeply (AO2).
Set Text animation: A Midsummer's Night Dream by William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream animation transcriptVideo 1
In Athens, the Duke, Theseus, is preparing for his marriage with the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. Another wedding is being considered: Egeus wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, who loves her. However, Hermia and Lysander are in love and make a plan to elope to get married secretly. Helena is in love with Demetrius. She tries to make Demetrius grateful to her by telling him of Hermia’s plan to elope with Lysander.
Theseus has invited townspeople to offer entertainment for his wedding and will choose which to have. The Mechanicals, a group of workers, decide to offer a play to perform at Theseus’s wedding so they arrange to meet in the wood to rehearse.
In the wood, the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, are arguing. They accuse each other of flirting with the betrothed humans, Theseus and Hippolyta; and Oberon wants Titania to give up her ‘changeling boy’, but she refuses, and Oberon threatens revenge. Titania describes how their disagreement has affected the natural world around them. Oberon sends his mischievous sprite, Puck, to gather a magic flower for him, from which Oberon makes a love-potion. He plans his revenge on Titania. When she is asleep, he puts the magic potion on her eyes to make her fall in love with the first thing she sees when she awakes.Video 2
Unseen, Oberon watches Demetrius enter the wood to look for Hermia, and sees Helena following him. She declares her love for Demetrius, but he is angry because she won’t leave him alone. He threatens her, and in the end he runs off.
After Puck returns with the flower, Oberon decides to help Helena with his love potion. Oberon intends to put it onto Titania’s eyes when she is asleep, and he tells Puck to put it onto Demetrius’s eyes when Helena is near, so that he falls in love with her.
Meanwhile, Hermia and Lysander have eloped as planned, but they got lost and tired in the woods and fall asleep. Puck mistakes the sleeping Lysander for Demetrius and puts the love potion on Lysander’s eyes instead. Helena wakes up Lysander, who falls in love with her, due to the magic of the love potion. Lysander follows Helena, declaring love to her. When Hermia wakes up alone, she goes to find Lysander.
In the wood, the Mechanicals rehearse their play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. One of the workmen, Bottom, is so enthusiastic he wants to play all the parts himself. Puck comes across them, laughs at the mistakes they make, and takes the opportunity to play a trick on them. He causes a muddle in their rehearsal, and in the confusion, he uses his magic to turn Bottom’s head into that of an ass. His workmates run off in fear.
Bottom thinks they’re playing a trick on him, so he shows them he isn’t afraid by walking up and down and singing bravely. His song wakes up Titania who is asleep nearby…and because Oberon has already put the magic love potion onto her eyes, Titania immediately falls in love with Bottom. Bottom revels in her love, as she orders her fairies to wait on him.Video 3
Oberon is pleased to hear that his revenge on Titania has worked, and that she is in love with an ass. However, when he watches Demetrius and Helena, he realises that Puck has put the love potion on the wrong man. It is Lysander who now loves Helena. Puck was supposed to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. When Demetrius falls asleep, Oberon tries to sort out Puck’s mistake. He puts the potion onto Demetrius’s eyes, and tells Puck to fetch Helena. When Demetrius wakes up, he falls in love with Helena, because of the love potion - but Lysander is also still in love with Helena. They both try to convince her that they genuinely love her, but because of the suddenness of their love, and the intensity of their declarations to her, she thinks they are playing a trick to make fun of her. Lysander and Demetrius argue over Helena, threatening to fight for her.
Hermia now enters, and asks Lysander why he left her, expecting him to apologise and to behave lovingly towards her as usual. She can’t believe it when he says he loves Helena, until he says outright that he hates her. She gets upset and very angry because she thinks all of them are mocking her, including her friend Helena. Hermia accuses Helena of stealing Lysander’s love. Helena and Hermia now argue, calling each other names and threatening to come to blows. Lysander and Demetrius depart to fight each other, and Helena runs away from Hermia, who follows.
Puck explains his mistake. Oberon tells him to release Lysander from the love spell so that he no longer loves Helena.
When the lovers wake up, Demetrius is still in love with Helena, and Lysander now loves Hermia again. Theseus arrives with Hippolyta and Egeus. Theseus overrides Egeus’s objections to his daughter Hermia marrying Lysander and declares that they will hold a wedding for all three couples: himself with Hippolyta, Lysander with Hermia, and Demetrius with Helena. They all leave the wood.Video 4
Oberon asks Titania for the ‘changeling boy’ while she is still distracted by her love for Bottom, and the boy is returned to his people. Then Oberon releases Titania from the love spell and the two resolve their quarrel.
Bottom wakes up alone, with his own head restored. He has a confused memory of a strange dream. The other workmen are relieved to see him back to normal.
Theseus chooses the Mechanicals’ play to be performed at the weddings, despite Philostrate’s bad opinion of their rehearsal. Theseus praises the naturalness of their offering, saying it is made by simple folk out of genuine feeling.
The Mechanicals perform their play for the lovers, with many asides and explanations from Bottom, and despite their mistakes and poor performance, they entertain the lovers.
Theseus declares the entertainment ended and everyone leaves the stage.
Puck enters, declaring that it is now night-time, when supernatural beings like the fairies come out to play. Oberon and Titania tell their fairies to bless the three couples with happy marriages. They leave Puck alone on stage. He addresses the audience and suggests that they should think of the play as their dream. He asks for their applause as approval of the play.
A Midsummer's Night Dream quiz
Set Text animation: Othello by William Shakespeare
Othello transcriptVideo 1
In Venice, the well-respected Moor Othello and Desdemona, a Senate’s daughter, fall in love and they elope to get married. That same night, lago, an officer to the Moor, and Roderigo, a young nobleman, try to disrupt the marriage by telling Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, of his daughter’s elopement and he angrily goes to find the couple, but is then summoned to an urgent Senate meeting. He complains to the Senate of his daughter’s apparent abduction. Othello describes how he won Desdemona’s love with tales of his escapades as a soldier, and she confirms her love for her new husband, so the Duke agrees to the marriage. The meeting of the Senate had been called to discuss the threat of the Turkish fleet heading for Cyprus. As a great war general, Othello is ordered to head immediately for Cyprus to fight the Turks. Othello asks Iago, to look after Desdemona and bring her to Cyprus to join him there.
Although Othello trusts Iago completely, Iago wants revenge on the Moor, because he did not promote him to the post of lieutenant. Iago has already tried to get Othello’s marriage stopped. Iago, who is in love with Desdemona, has been taking money and jewels from Roderigo on the understanding that he will pass them to Desdemona so that she would favour Roderigo’s suit. Roderigo is angry now that Desdemona is married, but Iago persuades him to help him get revenge on Othello, and on Cassio too, who is the officer promoted over Iago to lieutenant. Cassio is a young and handsome officer. Iago already dislikes him because he is lieutenant; later, Iago suggests he begrudges Cassio his status, gallantry and attractiveness to women. Iago devises a plan to convince Othello his wife and Cassio are having an affair.Video 2
When they all get to Cyprus, they discover the threat of war is over, because the Turkish fleet has been destroyed in a storm. To further his scheme, Iago convinces Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio, and that if Cassio is disgraced, he will be dismissed, so clearing Roderigo’s route to Desdemona.
To mark the end to the threat of war in Cyprus, Othello decrees that celebrations for peace are to be held. He orders Cassio to take charge of the watch that night. Iago overcomes Cassio’s objections to drinking and insists he has several glasses of wine. He persuades Roderigo to provoke Cassio in a rowdy fight. When Othello investigates, Iago pretends to defend Cassio to Othello, while making sure Othello knows that Cassio was drunk on duty and was to blame for the fighting. Othello dismisses Cassio from his post as lieutenant. The next day, Desdemona pleads with Othello to reinstate Cassio to his post as lieutenant. However, Iago has already suggested to Othello that Desdemona is pleading Cassio’s case because she loves Cassio. He reasons that it is well-known that Venetian women deceive their husbands, that Desdemona has already deceived her father, and that it is more natural for her to be attracted to someone of her own country and status, like Cassio. Othello trusts Iago and is now suspicious of Desdemona, but he demands proof of her affair. He acts harshly towards Desdemona, who wonders whether some business of state has affected him. Emilia suggests he seems jealous, but Desdemona swears she has never given him any reason to be jealous.
To provide the ‘proof’ he demands, Iago has asked Emilia to steal a precious handkerchief given to her by Othello and has planted this in Cassio’s lodgings. He tells Othello to hide so that he can watch and overhear Cassio boast to Iago of his affair with Desdemona. In fact, Iago talks to Cassio about his real lover, Bianca, whereas Othello believes Cassio is talking about Desdemona. By chance, Bianca arrives with the handkerchief from Cassio’s lodgings and accuses him of having another lover. Othello is now convinced of the affair and is so enraged that he discusses with Iago how to murder Cassio. He is torn between love and hate of Desdemona. Iago advises how to kill her, by strangling her in the marital bed, and Othello agrees. Iago agrees to kill Cassio that night.Video 3
Despite questioning Emilia and Desdemona herself, who protests her innocence, Othello doesn’t believe her. Later, as Desdemona prepares for bed, she is disturbed by Othello’s attitude to her and she talks of death. Ominously, she can’t get out of her mind a song sung by her mother’s maid, Barbary, whose lover went mad and left her, and she then died singing that song. Desdemona poignantly sings the same song, which echoes her own sadness and her own approaching death. Iago prompts Roderigo to attack Cassio in the street. He hopes both die in the fight, but Cassio wounds Roderigo, and Iago (unseen) wounds Cassio in the leg. Othello hears the fight, assumes Cassio is dead by Iago’s hand, as per their plan, and goes to kill Desdemona. Meanwhile, Iago finds Roderigo and kills him.
Othello sets out his reasons for killing Desdemona; he judges that she deserves it to prevent her betraying others. He tells her to pray for forgiveness before she dies. Desdemona is scared but affirms her love for him. Othello accuses her of giving the handkerchief to Cassio, which she denies, but Othello is convinced he has proof of it. He tells her Cassio is now dead. He begins to smother Desdemona, but Emilia interrupts and tells him Roderigo is dead, and Cassio lives. In her death throes, Desdemona cries out, then takes the blame for her own death, and dies. Emilia is shocked. Othello denies killing her, then admits it, and tells of her affair with Cassio with proof supplied by Iago, at which Emilia is horrified and shouts for help. After Iago arrives, she denounces him by confessing that she took the handkerchief at his request and gave it to him. Iago kills her with his sword.
When Othello realises Desdemona was innocent, he is overcome with regret and despair. In anger, he attacks and wounds Iago, who refuses to confess. Cassio confirms they never had an affair, that he found the handkerchief in his rooms, and that letters found in Roderigo’s pockets confirm Iago’s instructions to him to attack Cassio. Othello makes his last speech, reminding everyone of his service to the state, and of Iago’s trickery, then kills himself in regret and grief. Iago’s punishment is left to Cassio, who has now been appointed governor of Cyprus.
Set Text: Death of the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka
- Act 1 - Click to listen
- Act 2 - Click to listen
- Act 3 - Click to listen
- Act 4 - Click to listen
- Act 5 - Click to listen
Act 1: The market place of an ancient Yoruba city in Nigeria. The King’s Horseman, Elesin, and his Praise-Singer visit the busy market place, traditionally run by women for women. They joke between themselves as they go, interweaving their talk with proverbs and sayings as is traditional, creating a spectacle. The women in the market join in with Elesin’s stories; they like Elesin, who is lively and fun. They honour him as the King’s Horseman, because their future well-being relies on him. Thirty days after the King dies, Elesin must willingly put himself into a trance and die to lead the King along the dangerous path from the world of the living to that of their ancestors. This ritual is due to take place the next day. Elesin jokes with the women by pretending to be offended – they apologise, but then realise that Elesin wants a change of clothes more suited to his status. They dress him in rich cloth. Elesin notices a beautiful young girl and wants to marry her immediately. The girl is engaged to the son of Iyaloja, the chief of the market-women, but because of their gratitude to Elesin for being prepared to sacrifice himself, the marriage is agreed and goes ahead. Iyaloja sees how much Elesin enjoys life and uses proverbs to warn him not to pause tomorrow in case he is unable to complete his task for the King. Elesin asks that his Bride be the one to wash him and close his eyes after death.
Act 2: The District Officer’s house. Simon Pilkings, the British District Officer, and his wife, Jane, are practising their dancing ready to go to a fancy-dress ball. Amusa, a native policeman, is horrified at the disrespect shown by their wearing an ‘egungun’ costume, which is worn by native Africans in a religious ritual to enable those wearing it to take on the spirits of dead ancestors. Amusa is fearful of their offence and refuses to talk to Pilkings while he wears the costume. They leave Amusa to write his message down. Amusa’s note informs them that Elesin is about to ‘commit death’ as part of a local custom. They ask Joseph, a household servant, to explain this, and he tells them that Elesin will die so that he can go with the King to heaven. Pilkings remembers Elesin as the chief with whom he argued fiercely about sending his son, Olunde, to study medicine in England. When Elesin refused, Pilkings abducted his son and ensured he attended university in England. Pilkings believed he had helped Olunde by doing this; however, Olunde’s hereditary role is to be the future King’s Horseman, once Elesin is dead. Elesin was concerned that leaving home would deter Olunde from fulfilling his inherited role. Pilkings and his wife cannot understand how a custom can depend on someone’s death and are rude and dismissive about Nigerian people and their lives. This includes Joseph, who has converted to Christianity; Pilkings offends him with a joke about holy water. Pilkings sends a written order to Amusa to arrest Elesin to prevent his suicide. He tells Jane that the Prince will be at their ball that night, so he is keen to ensure there is no local trouble. to prevent his suicide. He tells Jane that the Prince will be at their ball that night, so he is keen to ensure there is no local trouble. Act 3: The market place. Amusa has arrived to arrest Elesin, but the market women make fun of him and harass
Act 3: The market place. Amusa has arrived to arrest Elesin, but the market women make fun of him and harass him and his officers until they leave without Elesin. The women and Iyaloja are triumphant at their success. The atmosphere changes when Elesin appears, dressed in a white robe. He declares his last marriage has been consummated, there is now the ‘promise of future life’, and his bride needs to stay with him to anoint his eyes with earth after his death to complete the ritual. He speaks of his eagerness to fulfil his role. The Praise-Singer begins the ritual call-and-response performed between himself and Elesin which prompts Elesin to be transported into the trance. Elesin’s dance-steps grow slower as he sinks into the trance.
Act 4: The ball at the Residency. The ball is in full flow, with the Prince as the guest of honour. Pilkings and Jane have had their ‘egungun’ costumes admired. The Resident is brought a note from Amusa, who reports that he has been unable to arrest Elesin. Pilkings rushes off to deal with this. Jane speaks to Olunde, Elesin’s son, who travelled home as soon as he heard the King is dead. He comments on the ‘egungun’ costume, saying he knows the English do not respect what they don’t understand. They talk of the war, displaying different ideas of ‘duty’. The drums change their rhythm and Olunde says they announce his father’s death; he has returned to bury his father, knowing that he too would die. Jane is shocked at his acceptance of this. Olunde tries to explain the custom, but its reliance on death seems barbaric to Jane. He now wants to go and mourn for his father. Pilkings returns and calls the aide-de-camp to ask whether the old cellar at the Residency is still a secure holding-place. Suddenly Elesin runs in shouting in anger. When he sees Olunde he stops still in shock. Olunde is ashamed that his father has failed to carry out the duty his people have relied on him to do, that of the King’s Horseman. He insults Elesin and leaves him sobbing in shame.
Act 5: The old cellar prison. Elesin is chained in a cell. His bride sits outside the cell door. Pilkings talks to Elesin, showing he has no understanding of how he has prevented Elesin from fulfilling his duty as the King’s Horseman to ensure the well-being of his people. Pilkings believes he has done his duty in saving Elesin’s life: Elesin tells him instead he has destroyed his life, along with the lives of many of his people. He knows Olunde will avenge his shame at his failure. Elesin speaks to his bride, confessing that he blamed others for his failure: the white man, then his gods for deserting him, then his bride herself for sapping his will to carry out the ritual. He describes how his desire for worldly things had made him long to stay rather than die to go to the next world. But he believes he was resisting this desire and preparing to let go of life, when Pilkings interrupted him. Iyaloja is allowed in. She accuses Elesin of betraying them, using vivid proverbs to highlight how their cycle of life has been broken by him. Elesin tries to defend himself, but Iyaloja is very angry. She has brought a burden, carried by the women to his cell. Pilkings is uncertain whether to allow this; he thinks perhaps Olunde is causing trouble and considers ordering him to be removed from the area. This reinforces his complete lack of understanding of events. The women enter ceremoniously, and set down a long, heavy object shrouded in cloth. Elesin asks Pilkings to be set free to perform his duty for the courier of the King, but Pilkings refuses. The cloth is drawn back, revealing Olunde’s body; he has honourably killed himself to try to restore the harmony broken by Elesin’s failure. Elesin suddenly loops the chain round his own neck and strangles himself. Iyaloja laments the lateness of Elesin’s death, and dramatically stops Pilkings from closing Elesin’s eyes, a task assigned by Elesin to his bride. She does so and pours a little earth over each eyelid, as a ceremony. Iyaloja tells her to forget the dead and the living, and to think only of the future and her unborn child.
- Act 1 - Click to listen
Death of the King's Horseman quiz