English Exam: Semester 1

This exam is made up of three sections. Section C is worth 50%.

A.   Language structures: 10 ‘true or false’ questions about parts of a sentence: subject/verb/object; verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, sentence structures

B.  English Language: short answer questions based on two non-literary texts.  Key knowledge: mode, text types, function, audience, sentence types, sentence structures.

C. Unseen Poetry Analysis: an extended analysis of ONE poem from a selection of three poems.

Write in pen.

 

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Essays: not as easy as ABC, 123

Sure, Michael Jackson and his brothers were pretty confident when they sang ABC but they weren’t talking about writing text analysis essays.  Or were they?

A common misconception is that an English essay just needs to reflect the topic back in some way.  Like a ‘paint by numbers’ activity in the diagram above, this approach  involves identifying different elements in the topic and then writing a paragraph on each, slapping a generalised introduction and an even more generalised conclusion on either end.  Bingo!  You have a very run-of-the mill essay.  It may not present a coherent, insightful interpretation but it shows the student has read the topic and found evidence in the text which matches it.  This approach will merely illustrate the essay topic, much like the painting above is a mere illustration of the numbers diagram, rather than someone’s original, independent interpretation of a house in the snow.  An essay like this might only ever get a C+ or B grade at best.  The content won’t be wrong but the thinking won’t be very right.

This painting is a more nuanced interpretation of a house in the snow.  You know you want a more nuanced interpretation of the text you are studying so let us see how this might play out when we start to think about  Macbeth.

A possible essay topic might read:

”This dead butcher and his fiend like queen’.  To what extent do you think this is an accurate assessment of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?’

A ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach would be to structure an essay question in this way:

Main contention: Yes, Macbeth is definitely a ‘butcher’ and Lady Macbeth is ‘fiend-like’.

P1 Macbeth kills Duncan = butcher

P2 Macbeth kills Banquo and Macduff’s family = butcher

P3 Lady Macbeth calls on evil spirits = fiend-like

Thinking=meh.

Notice how the main contention offers a very simplistic yes/no response to the question. The main contention should be a student’s ULTIMATE ANSWER. Notice how the paragraphs merely seek to illustrate the topic’s key elements.  The supporting arguments need to provide an interpretation of the text.

A more sophisticated essay plan responding to the same essay question might look like this:

Main contention:  Although Macbeth has a conscience when hesitates to kill Duncan and experiences guilt after murdering Duncan and Banquo, he is most definitely a butcher by the play’s end while Lady Macbeth presents as a woman capable of being fiend-like when she is Macbeth’s partner in crime however her demise is pitiful.  She dies mad and guilt-ridden and Malcolm’s assessment of her as having evil power at the play’s end does not ring true.

P1 Macbeth resists the idea of killing Duncan and is troubled by his actions, both in killing the King and later Banquo, which suggests his conscience prevents him from merely ‘butchering’ those who stand in his way.

P2. Macbeth does become a butcher by the play’s end because he becomes impervious to his conscience and doggedly pursues he course of action to the end which includes ordering the killing of Macduff’s family in a brutal, bloody manner.

P3.  Lady Macbeth demonstrates her fiend-like capacity when she calls on the evil sprits to make her capable of goading Macbeth to kill Duncan and when she is able to present as unperturbed by the crime to the court.  It is when we see her madness emerge later that we understand that her freedom from guilt was only temporary and she dies more wraith-like – powerless.

Notice how all the key elements of the topic have been interpreted for the benefit of this essay – this student is officially ‘doing more with the topic’ which is teacherspeak for THINKING.  This main contention is an ULTIMATE ANSWER.  It sets the terms for the essay – the interpretation.

The ‘to what extent’ part of the question is answered in the main contention by considering where or when in the text it might be true or untrue and qualifying their response.  In this example the main contention is basically this: it is true for Macbeth (though not at the play’s beginning) and it is not true for Lady Macbeth (though true at the play’s beginning).

The topic sentences all go part of the way to answering the topic.  Each stage demonstrates knowledge and understanding and goes beyond the deceptively simplistic essay topic.

This second essay plan shows that the student has weighed up all their ideas first before settling on their interpretation.

Remember that these are only the bones of the argument.  The student would have to flesh these out with quotations and analysis – explaining the significance of the language of the quotation in the light of their interpretation of the text.

See?  Not as easy as ABC, 123, do re mi…but much more meaty (if you will allow me a butcher’s expression).

 

 

Screw your courage…

…to the sticking place and you’ll not fail!

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You now need the courage of your convictions to respond to one of the following essay topics:

  1.  ‘Macbeth is a tragic hero in that there is more to pity than detest in him.’   Discuss.

  2. Women are the most powerful characters in the play and the catalyst to all of Macbeth’s crimes.’ To what extent do you agree?

  3. Fair is foul and foul is fair is an equivocation that helps us to understand the destruction of Macbeth.’  Discuss

 

Consider where you stand on the following controversial statements to get your brain warmed up and your arguments sharpened.  They should get you thinking about the extent to which you agree (crucial thinking steps to take before committing to a position and presenting your main contention and supporting arguments).

  1. Macbeth lacks the courage and strength of character to make a clear decision.
  2. Macbeth’s ambition is ill-founded.
  3. Lady Macbeth knows Macbeth better than she knows herself.
  4. Macbeth learns nothing in the course of the play.
  5. Macbeth is too easily led by others.
  6. Lady Macbeth has more of the ‘milk of human kindness’ than Macbeth.
  7. The audience is never in any doubt as to who is evil in this play.
  8. Lady Macbeth is more frightening than Macbeth and the ultimate ‘fair is foul’
  9. Lady Macbeth’s desire for control is her own fatal flaw.
  10. Women are responsible for the bad things that happen to men in this play.
  11. Fate appears to have the final say in the play.  Free will plays no part.
  12. Macbeth learns to act without thinking in order to act in his own interests.
  13. The play is about what it means to know oneself.

Tracking Macbeth #studenttask

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Tracking Macbeth

“By the pricking of my thumbs…something wicked this way comes.”

Welcome to the beginning of 10C’s tracking of Macbeth.  As we read the text in class, we will become experts in aspect of the play by tracking the representation and development of themes, characters and motifs offering interpretations of these things. Each member of 10C will put their findings into a blog post: minimum three posts in total This may be a blog post after each act or two (eg for theme tracking) or choose a different structure for a character who may not appear in each act (eg. the hero’s journey in stages).

Explain how Shakespeare presents [your theme, character, motif] in Macbeth, what significance this has.  A collection of evidence will support each interpretation.

This is a showcase of the rigour of 10C’s thinking.  Each blog post will include:

  • A creative title (underscored by a quotation from the text);
  • at least one image and/or audiovisual material, which will illustrate the ideas and the textual evidence in each post.;
  • Quotations or extracts from the play (using the online text version for simple cut and paste)
  • Analysis and insight through the posing (and answering) of questions such as: ‘What does this suggest?’ and ‘What is the significance of this?’ and why? and how?

CONTENTS

10C trackers for the following subjects:

Macbeth (Acts 1&2):   [student name]

Macbeth (Acts 3-5):

Lady Macbeth:

Banquo:

MacDuff:

Duncan:

The witches:

Minor characters (doctor/nurse/Porter):

Light and Dark:

Good and Evil (fair and foul):

Deception (appearance and reality):

Ambition:

Blood:

The natural world:

Sleep:

Loyalty and betrayal:

Guilt and Innocence:

Illness and disease:

Masculinity :

Reason and passion:

Femininity and the role of women:

Kingship and tyranny:

Hallucinations:

Power:

Fortune, fate and free will:

Fear and courage:

Macbeth as a tragedy:

Soliloquies in Macbeth:

Photo source

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Photo source