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How to tackle Shakespeare Guide

How to Tackle Shakespeare Guide

A lot of people LOATH studying Shakespeare, mostly for his use of now archaic language.

This guide is intended to give you a few pointers of things to look out for.:yep: There are tons of guides out there for these classic texts, which will help you to unlock some of the hidden mysteries of how you can draw meaning from Renaissance literature, which is otherwise known as:

Common Texts Studied

The best thing to do is always stay rooted to the question. That way, even if you aren't sure, you can tick the Assessment Objective for clarity of expression, directly addressing the question. Waffle scores 0 every time.:sadnod:

In this Guide you will find information about:

What you may be asked
A few things about PLAYS
Some General Context
Some comments on GENRE
(edited 5 years ago)

Questions you may be asked

You may get different types of questions for this text depending on your exam board.

Some may have an extract, and you could get asked questions about it:
- What the intentions of certain characters might be,
- Why the given scene is significant
- Exploring a particular theme and it's significance in the extract
Or your question could include many of these. Remember to stay focused on the extract at all times. It's all very well that you've been hoping and praying for Act 4 Scene 2, but you need to let that rest if you are given a different extract.

Quote specific evidence. Small soundbites, two or three words. Talk about why you've selected them. Not just because they sound poetic. Why didn't Shakespeare pick some other* words? Why did he choose those specifically? What was his aim in doing so? Did he want to make something clear to the audience at that point?

*easier to understand

Long Answers:

Some people prefer these, others loath them. Here you may well have to remember some quotations of your own (if it's closed book) because you can't rely on an extract to deploy your evidence.

The most important thing is to ANSWER THE BLEEDING QUESTION!!!! (which will herein be known as ABQ).

You read the question. Gut reaction, yes or no? If you sit on the fence then why? You can subvert the question, but you still need to answer it, which can be difficult when you are claiming that the question itself is based on a false premise*.

Follow your gut reaction with some reasons, this is your plan. Set out a few key points of why you agree and also why you might disagree**.

Add a couple of key quotations to those points to back them up.

And HEY PRESTO!!! Plan finished.
If you want to continue to write out your plan in more detail because you're comfortable with that, then that's absolutely fine. But you don't have to if you believe that you can develop this idea throughout a paragraph without thinking absolutely everything through first - this saves you time.

ALWAYS REMEMBER TO ABQ when you go for the shorter plan though. At the start of every paragraph, and at the end of every paragraph, remind the examiner what the question is. They should be able to tell simply from your answer what you have been asked.

*this is better done at A Level than GCSE, but we're not stopping you from experimenting, just don't get carried away.

**there are two ways of doing this. You can either introduce a limitation to your point in each paragraph, to give it a balanced feel oryou can have a whole paragraph moderating your general answer to the question. NOTE: I have used the underlined words carefully, you are not agreeing or disagreeing with yourself at any point, because then your answer reads like a confused squirrel has written it. The aim is to show a level of reasoned judgement in your answer, which is what the examiners will be looking for.
(edited 6 years ago)
A few things about PLAYS

Plays or drama, are performed on stage. This means they have an audience, not a reader.

The reason why Shakespeare has been done on stage so many times is because of how flexible the writing is. He has very little stage directions in his work compared to other playwrights (stage directions tell the actors how to deliver lines, where to move, what props to have, etc.). Which makes his work open to such varied interpretations. At A Level, you might want to include something in your essays about how a particular adaptation constructed a character in a certain way (as long as it's relevant to the question - ABQ).

The aim of all plays (particularly Shakespeare's tragedies) is to provide the audience with an emotional release at the end. That heightened sense of empathy created in the relationship between an audience member and the character they have been following. This has a fancy name called Catharsis, which means emotional outpouring. One example of this is the end scene of Romeo and Juliet when the fated couple die. Spoiler alert
(edited 6 years ago)

Shakespeare's plays tend to follow a 5-act structure. This is usually referred to as Freytag's pyramid:

So when you're thinking about the text that you're studying, try to map the events in the play across this diagram. Cause-and-effect is an important idea here, when considering which characters are responsible for what and whether Shakespeare used any external forces* to affect the plot.

In terms of Narrative, this model tends to follow what is called a Todorovian Narrative. All Todorov said, was that any narrative has a beginning state or order, then a period of chaos, then a new point of order afterwards. Like Beginning Middle, End, but related to the themes of chaos and order, which could be an exam question.

*The playwright often liked to use the notion of "the elements" in relation to the theme of fate, when referenced, actors used to look up to the roof of the stage, in reference to there being some other-worldy influence. Sometimes this manifested itself in changing weather conditions within the play too.
(edited 1 year ago)
Some General Context

So Shakespeare was alive (we estimate) between 1564 and 1616. Which means that his plays fall into both the Jacobean and the earlier Elizabethan period.

It looks better if you know which era your text was written in,

So here's a short list:

Things to think about when looking at context include:

Issues around gender - Shakespeare was writing during a patriarchal society, where men had a higher social status to women in many regards. You might want to consider this in essays when looking at the presentation of female characters. Particularly at A Level, you may want to consider these ideas from a feminist perspective.

Issues around race - this may be rare in Shakespeare's writing since ethnic diversity was not something common in England at all. Othello is the most obvious example of where Jacobean attitudes towards ethnicity can be considered when exploring Shakespeare's plays.

Religion - Shakespearean England was a God-fearing society with Christianity at the source of morality. Scientific ideas like Gravity, and the notion that the sun was the centre of the solar system were not commonly held views. This is worth bearing in mind when examining decisions like the importance of marriage within Shakespeare's romantic love stories like Rome and Juliet. This was a pre-enlightenment age featuring some customs, traditions and ideas which would not be found in today's western societies.
(edited 6 years ago)

Some comments on GENRE

Shakespeare wrote three types of plays:
Comedies, Tragedies and Histories (not hysterectomies:wink:)

Shakespeare's comedies...

You may be asked to explore a Shakespeare play through the lens of comedy. This will normally be at A Level. But learning a few of common conventions of the genre won't hurt.:smile:

Shakespeare's Histories....

Please be aware: Shakespeare's Histories are drama. They are not a factual representation of real events and should never be treated as such. For example, the famous line from Richard III: "A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse" is completely inaccurate. Horses were not in Britain during this period of Richard III's reign.:nah:

Shakespeare's Tragedies...

Perhaps some of the bard's most famous plays fall into this category. You may be asked to explore a Shakespeare play through the lens of tragedy. This will normally be at A Level. Shakespeare's tragedies borrow most of their basis from the Aristotelian classic Greek model. A.C. Bradley is perhaps the best authority on Shakespearean tragedy.:yep: Please be aware that these ideas are far more suitable for A Level essay content than GCSE.:yep:
(edited 5 years ago)

Looking for more help with Revising for English?
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The following guides may also be able to help you:

How to write an English Essay
Texts to be used for Comparative Essays
Guidance for new GCSE English spec
(edited 5 years ago)
Finally done.:biggrin:

Original post by 04MR17
Finally done.:biggrin:


this is brilliant! thanks:hugs:
Thank you sooooooo much!!!!!
Time to give this old thing a bump as exams get closer :smile:
This is so great, thank you for writing! It has helped me loads

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