Showing posts with label english literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label english literature. Show all posts

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Drama Questions for IB or A level

Getting on top of the drama exam

I've been trawling the exam boards and internet sites for examples of A-level / IB exam/essay questions on Drama. These questions are suitable for 16-18 year-olds.

If you are 'lost for ideas' also take a critical look at my TWO compilations of key quotations :

Tragedy: Selected Quotations

Comedy: famous quotes


Exam / Essay Questions:

1. Using two or three plays you have studied, compare the presentation of two or three characters [e.g. introduction, dramatic interactions with other characters], saying in each case how the presentation furthered the dramatists' purposes, and how it rewarded your study.

2. 'While the momentum of the play is carried by major characters, there is often a significant minor character who is a catalyst for change or enlightenment.' Compare the role of a significant minor character in in plays you have studied, showing how these characters contribute to the dramatic action.

3. 'People often act first and reflect afterwards'. In what ways have the connections between action and reflection been more and less important to the plays you have studied?

4. Human illusions have always been a powerful subject of plays, both tragic and comic. In what ways have the plays in your study considered this aspect of human behaviour and with what effects?

5. A play is often a complex web of conflicting emotions. Compare the ways in which playwrights in your study have presented emotional conflicts so as to make an impact on the audience.

6. 'Characters in a play are often motivated by strong passions or desires.' Compare and contrast plays you have studied in the light of this statement. Discuss, in each case, the dramatic effects created by the exploration of such motivation.

7. Compare and contrast the presentation of any three or four characters in plays you have studied. Explain how, and how effectively, each character seems to you to further the dramatic force of the play in which he or she appears.

8. 'What do women and men really want?' Discuss the dramatic techniques through which similar or different desires of the genders have been expressed in plays you have studied, saying how the presentation of them creates an effect on the audience.

9. Plays which succeed with audiences must communicate some aspects of the thoughts and motivations of the characters. How far and by what means have dramatists in your study conveyed the interior lives of their characters?

10. All characters in plays are mouthpieces for their author. From a consideration of some characters from the plays you have studied, say how far you agree.

11. A necessary part of drama is not only to present conflict between the characters in a play, but also to create conflicts within each member of the audience. Compare and contrast two or three plays you have studied in the light of this comment.

12. 'In real life, we are frequently unsure of the motives behind the actions of our fellow human beings, but in a play we must be sure, or the character will become blurred.' In plays you have studied, compare how far and by what means dramatists have ensure that the audience will be very clear about the motives of significant characters.

13. Consider how dramatists make characters speak in plays you have studied, and say how the language and tone of these dialogues, conversations and monologues contribute to each play as a whole.

14. The audience's response to characters in drama is due, in part, to the relationships of these characters with others in the play. Compare the ways in which dramatists in your study use such interactions to present full and complex character portrayals to enhance the theatrical experience.

15. A drama critic recently drew attention to the 'threatening encounters' as a powerful feature of a new play. Discuss encounters [threatening or otherwise] in plays you have studied and consider them as features of the drama created in each case.

16. The 'past' of characters - their implied or recollected experiences - are often used by dramatists to enlarge and enrich character portrayal. Evaluate the use and the importance of characters' lives prior to the events of plays in your study to explain or complicate the events included in the plays.

17. Using plays you have studied, write an essay on the presentation of the relationships between male and female characters [or between characters of the same sex], giving some idea of the dramatic effects achieved by these means.

18. Because a play is simply not words on a page, actions and gestures play a significant part in engaging the audience. Considering the plays you have studied, compare and evaluate the role of action and gesture in enhancing the central thrust of the play.

19. The interactions among characters in a drama is often associated with the acquisition, the holding or the loss of power. By what means and with what effects have plays in your study addressed power relations?

20. What part does fantasy play in the lives of the characters in plays you have studied; how is this fantasy presented and to what effect on the audience?

21. In every play there are characters who the audience regard as either essential or expendable. In plays you have studied, discuss why characters can be seen in either of these ways because of their relationship to the play's meaning.

22. In what ways do the plays you have studied dramatise either the depths to which human beings can sink or the ridiculousness of some human actions?

23. Discuss the extent to which, and the ways in which, each playwright's presentation of female characters differs from that of male characters, making clear effect in each play.

24. The playwright cannot depend, as does the novelist, on a narrative voice rounding out a a character by means of description and analysis. How are the personalities and views of characters effectively conveyed in the plays you have studied?

25. 'A play stands or falls on the dramatists' ability to create believable characters.' How far have you found this statement to be true in the plays you have studied?

26. Through an analysis of some of the characters in two or three plays you have studied, compare the ways in which the struggle between internal and external forces is presented.

27. How do characters and the choices they make contribute to meaning in two or three plays that you have studied?

28. The difference in a play between what is being said and what is being done can provide one focus of interest for the audience. In plays you have studied, by what means and to what effect have dramatists made good use of such differences?

29. 'Drama explains individuals, not relationships'. Paying close attention to how individuals and relationships are presented in two or three plays you have studied, say how far you find this statement to be true.

30. Dramatic conflicts arise when dominant individuals or groups regard themselves as the norm against which others are to be measured. With reference to specific scenes from at least two plays you have studied, discuss the significance of such conflicts and how they are explored.

31. Drama is often the expression or investigation of power: characters can, at different moments in a play, be oppressors or victims, dominant or subservient, users and used. In terms of power and its effects, discuss three or four characters from the plays you have studied, and say what this power-play adds to the play as a whole.

32. In plays a character who appears briefly, or who does not appear at all, can be a significant presence, contributing to action, developing other characters or conveying ideas. To what extent have you found this to be true of at least two plays you have studied?

33. 'Comedy exposes human weakness; tragedy reveals human strength'. How and to what extent does this claim apply to at least two plays you have studied?

34. A change in status of the characters in a play [a success, for example, or a loss or exposure] helps to convey the ideas and/or values of the dramatist. How and to what extent has change in status contributed in this way to at least two plays you have studied?

35. 'In drama there are more interesting roles for men than women'. Discuss to what extent you agree with this statement and what it is that makes a role interesting. Refer closely to at least two plays you have studied.

36. Consider the ways in which scene changes may highlight the development of characters and their relationships in two or three plays you have studied.

37. Isolation, either mental of physical, can lead to despair or enlightenment. In the plays you have studied, show how playwrights have used isolation of any kind to heighten the dramatic effects of their plays and develop their characters.

38. How far, and in what ways, do plays you have studied support the idea that communication between human beings is difficult or perhaps impossible?

39. How have plays you have studied presented 'what happens inside a human being' in dramatic terms?

40. One dramatist has maintained that theater ought to pursue a re-examination, not only of aspects of an objective external world, but also aspects of the inner worlds of human existence. What choices have been made in the plays you have studied to pursue one or the other, or both, of these aspects, and what theatrical techniques have been used to carry out this choice?

41. In achieving a strong dramatic effect, a playwright will sometimes work to elicit from the audience heights of admiration or depths of loathing for certain characters. Compare by what means different dramatists have have managed to construct such powerful characterisations and the effect of those on the play.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Tragedy: Selected Quotations

National Theatre: Othello


Tragedy is like strong acid -- it dissolves away all but the very gold of truth.
D. H. Lawrence

'the story depicts also the troubled part of the hero's life which precedes and leads up to his death; and an instantaneous death occurring by 'accident' in the midst of prosperity would not suffice for it. It is, in fact, essentially a tale of suffering and calamity conducting to death.' A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

Pathos truly is the mode for the pessimist. But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. And it is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief-optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man.
Arthur Miller, Tragedy and the Common Man

Tragedies are always discussed as if they took place in a void, but actually each tragedy is conditioned by its setting, local and global. The events of 11 September 2001 are not exception.
Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms

Farce may often border on tragedy; indeed, farce is nearer tragedy in its essence than comedy is.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 20 August 1833.

The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.
Václav Havel, Letters to Olga (1988)
'The suffering and calamity are, moreover, exceptional. They befall a conspicuous person. They are themselves of some striking kind. They are also, as a rule, unexpected, and contrasted with previous happiness or glory. A tale, for example, of a man slowly worn to death by disease, poverty, little cares, sordid vices, petty persecutions, however piteous or dreadful it might be, would not be tragic in the Shakespearean sense.'
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.
Oscar Wilde

Tragedy speaks not of secular dilemmas which may be resolved by rational innovation, but of the unalterable bias toward inhumanity and destruction in the drift of the world.
George Steiner

A comedy is just a tragedy interrupted, I once said. Do you finish with the kiss or when she opens her eyes to tell him she loves him and sees blonde hairs on his collar? 
Alan Ayckbourn, A Crash Course in Playwriting (1993)

When any calamity has been suffered, the first thing to be remembered is how much has been escaped.
Samuel Johnson

That there should one Man die ignorant who had capacity for Knowledge, this I call a tragedy.
Thomas Carlyle

Such exceptional suffering and calamity, then, affecting the hero, and—we must now add—generally extending far and wide beyond him, so as to make the whole scene a scene of woe, are an essential ingredient in tragedy and a chief source of the tragic emotions, and especially of pity. But the proportions of this ingredient, and the direction taken by tragic pity, will naturally vary greatly.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

A tragedy can never suffer by delay: a comedy may, because the allusions or the manners represented in it maybe temporary.
Horace Walpole, Letter To Robert Jephson




The true end of tragedy is to purify the passions.
Aristotle

The calamities of tragedy do not simply happen, nor are they sent; they proceed mainly from actions, and those the actions of men.We see a number of human beings placed in certain circumstances; and we see, arising from the co-operation of their characters in these circumstances, certain actions. These actions beget others, and these others beget others again, until this series of inter-connected deeds leads by an apparently inevitable sequence to a catastrophe. 
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

Love is blind, as they say, and because love is blind, it often leads to tragedy: to conflicts in which one love is pitted against another love, and something has to give, with suffering guaranteed in any resolution.
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (2006)

In this world there are two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst.
Oscar Wilde

A total reverse of fortune, coming unawares upon a man who 'stood in high degree,' happy and apparently secure,—such was the tragic fact to the mediaeval mind. It appealed strongly to common human sympathy and pity; it startled also another feeling, that of fear. It frightened men and awed them. It made them feel that man is blind and helpless, the plaything of an inscrutable power, called by the name of Fortune or some other name,—a power which appears to smile on him for a little, and then on a sudden strikes him down in his pride.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.
George Orwell

The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism.
Arthur Miller

The real tragedy of England as I see it, is the tragedy of ugliness. The country is so lovely: the man-made England is so vile.
D.H. Lawrence, Nottingham and the Mining Countryside, 1936.

You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

We participate in tragedy. At comedy we only look.
Aldous Huxley

The tragedy of love is indifference.
W. Somerset Maugham, The Trembling of a Leaf
The centre of the tragedy, therefore, may be said with equal truth to lie in action issuing from character, or in character issuing in action.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

Tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain.
Percy Bysshe Shelley

The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.
Tom Stoppard

There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it.
George Bernard Shaw

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
Charlie Chaplin
If we are to include the outer and the inner struggle in a conception more definite than that of conflict in general, we must employ some such phrase as 'spiritual force.' This will mean whatever forces act in the human spirit, whether good or evil, whether personal passion or impersonal principle; doubts, desires, scruples, ideas—whatever can animate, shake, possess, and drive a man's soul. [19]In a Shakespearean tragedy some such forces are shown in conflict.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

The little word is has its tragedies: it marries and identifies different things with the greatest innocence; and yet no two are ever identical, and if therein lies the charm of wedding them and calling them one, therein too lies the danger.
George Santayana

It is restful, tragedy, because one knows that there is no more lousy hope left. You know you're caught, caught at last like a rat with all the world on its back. And the only thing left to do is shout -- not moan, or complain, but yell out at the top of your voice whatever it was you had to say. What you've never said before. What perhaps you don't even know till now.
Jean Anouilh



The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism.
Arthur Miller, Collected Plays (1958)

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.
D. H. Lawrence

Tragedy springs from outrage; it protests at the conditions of life. It carries in it the possibilities of disorder, for all tragic poets have something of the rebelliousness of Antigone. Goethe, on the contrary, loathed disorder. He once said that he preferred injustice, signifying by that cruel assertion not his support for reactionary political ideals, but his conviction that injustice is temporary and reparable whereas disorder destroys the very possibilities of human progress. Again, this is an anti-tragic view; in tragedy it is the individual instance of injustice that informs the general pretence of order. One Hamlet is enough to convict a state of rottenness.
George Steiner

The great tragedy of Science the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. 
Thomas Henry Huxley, Presidential Address at the British Association (1870)


Kozintsev - Shakespeare - Hamlet

Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people.
Angela Carter, Wise Children (1991)

Laughter is the climax in the tragedy of seeing, hearing and smelling self-consciously. Wyndham Lewis, Inferior Religions  (1917)

It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time-the heart and spirit of the average man.
Arthur Miller, Tragedy and the Common Man
Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness. Comedy and tragedy step through life together, arm in arm, all along, out along, down along lea. A laugh is a great natural stimulator, a pushful entry into life; and once we can laugh, we can live. It is the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.
Seán O'casey, The Green Crow (1956)

None but a poet can write a tragedy. For tragedy is nothing less than pain transmuted into exaltation by the alchemy of poetry.
Edith Hamilton

Envy is a horrible thing. It is unlike all other kinds of suffering in that there is no disguising it, no elevating it into tragedy. It is more than merely painful, it is disgusting.
George Orwell, Burmese Days (1934)

Tragedy obviously does not lie in a conflict of Right and Wrong, but in a collision between two different kinds of Right
Peter Shaffer, Equus (1973)

Here is tragedy and here is America. For the curse of the country, as well of all democracies, is precisely the fact that it treats its best men as enemies. The aim of our society, if it may be said to have an aim, is to iron them out. The ideal American, in the public sense, is a respectable vacuum.
H. L. Mencken, More Tips for Novelists, Chicago Tribune (2 May 1926)

What would be left of our tragedies if an insect were to present us his?
Emil Cioran

Marston is a writer of great merit, who rose to tragedy from the ground of comedy, and whose forte was not sympathy, either with the stronger or softer emotions, but an impatient scorn and bitter indignation against the vices and follies of men, which vented itself either in comic irony or in lofty invective. He was properly a satirist.
William Hazlitt, Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1820)

This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.
Horace Walpole

And everywhere we see them perishing, devouring one another and destroying themselves, often with dreadful pain, as though they came into being for no other end. Tragedy is the typical form of this mystery, because that greatness of soul which it exhibits oppressed, conflicting and destroyed, is the highest existence in our view. It forces the mystery upon us, and it makes us realise so vividly the worth of that which is wasted that we cannot possibly seek comfort in the reflection that all is vanity.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

We are all such accidents. We do not make up history and culture. We simply appear, not by our own choice. We make what we can of our condition with the means available. We must accept the mixture as we find it — the impurity of it, the tragedy of it, the hope of it.
Saul Bellow, Great Jewish Short Stories

Greek tragedy met her death in a different way from all the older sister arts: she died tragically by her own hand, after irresolvable conflicts, while the others died happy and peaceful at an advanced age. If a painless death, leaving behind beautiful progeny, is the sign of a happy natural state, then the endings of the other arts show us the example of just such a happy natural state: they sink slowly, and with their dying eyes they behold their fairer offspring, who lift up their heads in bold impatience. The death of Greek tragedy, on the other hand, left a great void whose effects were felt profoundly, far and wide; as once Greek sailors in Tiberius' time heard the distressing cry 'the god Pan is dead' issuing from a lonely island, now, throughout the Hellenic world, this cry resounded like an agonized lament: 'Tragedy is dead! Poetry itself died with it! Away, away with you, puny, stunted imitators! Away with you to Hades, and eat your fill of the old masters' crumbs!'
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (1872)

Ophelia - Shakespeare's Hamlet

Friday, 27 June 2014

Poetry at War with Itself: the Sound of Futility

When student readers struggle with poetry, it's often the relationship between sound and sense that presents a high degree of difficulty. It's very easy to be overcome by pitter-patter rhythms and arcane names for metrical techniques and poetic forms.

But picking sound patterns may help to open up a variety of interpretations. This means shifting from the identification of a local effect to the elaboration of more complex and nuanced semantic possibilities.

The first sonic task for the critical reader involves the spotting of similar sounds such as alliteration. A higher level of creative reading requires sensitivity in order to link these sound clusters to the poem's questions, and its answers.

A great poem holds together, in tight compression, the different elements of form and technique, tones and style, form and content. Critical writing - the exposition and appreciation of a poem - involves a reversal of this process: decompression.

By association, sounds breed other sounds, and suggest other senses. Often the sound elements will help to unlock the key themes in a poem. In fact, sounds may help us to identify the main theme, and also may help us to point out its component parts. Subliminally, perhaps, the sounds also hint at multiple levels and layers of meaning. Packed into a small space, such as a sonnet, a poem is bursting at the seams. The poet binds the elements together using form and technique.

Sound associations help to hold everything together. . Also, sounds help us to focus on a cluster of meanings. They also open up new possibilities for interpretation.

One strategy which I often find productive is to identify the relationship between words with similar sounds and their meanings. This approach combines thoughts and feelings: sound and sense.

In the example that follows, I've selected S as my key sound, in order to unlock the poem in some way, by attending to one element of its sound world.  But I'm sure that you guessed that already, right?
Marconi Wireless (1914)

Let's try this out on a poem called 'Futility' composed by the First World war poet Wilfred Owen (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918):

(What s-words would you associate with war? perhaps your class could compile a list before they read this poem?)

Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds--
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,--still warm,--too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
--O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all? 


The first thing that you might spot is that it's a Sonnet. Unusually, the poem is presented in two sections, each with Seven lines. Why do you think seven is significant?

Perhaps the most significant alliterative S-words are sun, snow, seeds, star, sleep, seeds, sides, stir, still, sunbeams ...

But note also the s-sounds in France, whispering, fields, its, this, clays, limbs, wakes, rouse, once, so, was, fatuous, earth's ...

The poem's meaning emerges from a variety of oppositions between past, present, and future; between hot and cold; the living and the dead.

The sun is God-like and has the potential for stimulation, animation and creation (in seven days); this moves out into 'seeds' and 'stirs' ... and through 'rouse,' 'whispering' and 'wakes.' This is the poetic of life and arousal. 

In this sense, 'move', is not simply a physical displacement, but perhaps an address to the reader on the possibility of being of being moved - the capacity to experience emotion. But the potential for human warmth of feeling is constantly ebbing away, caught up in the sterility of the poem's title: futility.

Is the whispering a trick? Does the prevalence of s suggest the serpent or the snake (absent from the poem), and the fatal attraction of war? Does this stretch the misreading that is emerging, or does it start to reveal what is masked? Divine light seems like a mockery in the context of widescale madness and universal tragedy. Such, in nihilistic terms, is the futility of life.

Is there a meaning to life? Perhaps we will seek in vain for answers in poems? Is there an answer to war? Doesn't poetry, in fact, thrive on inner conflicts, the tensions in a line, the multiple oppositional meanings at war, all boxed up in a little room, in the stanza, in the sonnet?

Accordingly, the life affirming s-world is balanced by the opposite s-words, such as : sleep, still, snow; this is the poetics of death and extinction.


The first light of morning spins alongside its dark other half: mourning.

Then there are all the half-rhymes that suggest two worlds that don't really fit together. The poem resists harmony and symmetry. Too much formal order, too systematic and rigid an approach, is not what is needed?

The poem has become a cold monument to the living, the supreme art form that mocks life just as it re-animates it in the repetition of reading the words on the page, the lexis of a dead poet.

Like bodies, poems are alive, full-nerved, and warm. But they are also dead things; they are moments eternally frozen in time. That's why the romantic writer John Keats is such a great influence on Wilfred Owen. You recall perhaps the wild frenzy and violence depicted on his Grecian Urn, and its ambiguous first line

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness


Keats imagined a generation wasted by old age; Owen witnessed his generation destroyed by war. Despite finding a deathly cold-pastoral in the immortal object of art, Keat's opted for a judgement that was potentially affirmative

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Owen is perhaps more bitter. The warmth that was there at the outset becomes ironic with the impossibility, the futility of 'kind' and 'know' that terminate the first half of the sonnet. What does he know?

His poem ends with a question, rather than the answer to the situation that he presents.

But there are also sound possibilities than don't find their way into the poem. Why not compare the poem's s- words with your s- sound expectations. Then formulate your own questions...

For me, there were two s-words that did not find their way into the poem.

Soldier.

and

Soul.

Perhaps Owen had his reasons?





© Dr Ian McCormick.
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.

Further Resources


A First World War School Activity Day - Programme and Schemes of Work . A Free Resource.
"Ugly Urchin Alliteration: a Poetry Appreciation Primer." Blog.
"Sound must seem an echo to the Sense!" Blog.