Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
Most people only think about EXECUTING their essay - the writing. Whether that be essay structure, memorising quotes or how to avoid repeating yourself in the dreaded conclusion. However, my strategy places emphasis on the THINK.
THINK is the brainstorm, exploration, and development of ideas. Get this right, and you'll come up with ideas and a response that pushes you ahead of your peers. The EXECUTION comes next, only strengthening your lead to the finish line.
So what does THINK actually involve? 🤔
You need to consider aspects of an essay topic that most students gloss over, including:
💭What's the essay topic type?
Knowing the essay topic type will change your essay structure. While you might wish for a one-size-fits-all essay structure, this is a limited viewpoint that stops you from reaching your potential. Different essay types include:
Author's message-based prompts
By understand what's required in each one of these essay topic types, you'll have a template you can follow to ensure that you answer the prompt (no more complaints from your teacher complaining that you're going off topic!).
💭 What are the question tags?
Never heard of this term previously? That's because majority of teachers don't teach you to change your Text Response according to the question tag. A 'do you agree?' essay topic expects a different response from a 'discuss' essay topic.
💭 How do I ensure I respond to each keyword?
This is important so you don't go off topic (we've all at least experienced this once in our high school writing careers 😥). Sometimes, one missed keyword is all it takes to derail your entire essay. No matter how well you've written your essay, an essay that doesn't answer the prompt won't fare well.
For example, have a think about which keywords can be found in this essay topic "Jeff's attempt to pursue justice are entirely without honour. To what extent is this true?".
For me, the keywords include:
- 'Pursue justice'
- 'To what extent is this true?'
Even though I've labelled almost every word in the essay topic, individually, each of these keywords will shape my response. Majority of students will pick up the necessity to discuss the keyword 'entirely' in their essays. They will potentially argue that Jeff's attempt isn't entirely without honour, and mention instances where honour was shown. However, a less obvious keyword that needs further exploration is 'justice'. Most students will take this word for granted, and won't really explore what the word 'justice' means in this sentence. A more advanced student will understand that 'justice' in this essay topic is viewed from Jeff's perspective, meaning that what Jeff deems to be 'justice', might not be the same 'justice' for a viewer. These are the nuances in an essay topic that I'd like you to be very confident in.
Knowing how to THINK will ensure that you EXECUTE your essay writing most effectively, optimising your potential to nail that A+. If I went from average to consistent A+s in Year 11 and Year 12, I have no doubt you can do it too. That's why I created the How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook.
I know that you are probably like I was, searching for a clear, simple way to get better at English without just relying on my teacher (despite the fact that I had a great teacher!). I've compiled my 10 years of tutoring English, refining this strategy year after year. With this knowledge, many of my students achieved a study score they thought was impossible (one student Ruby, wanted a study score of 30 to get into her university course, and ultimately achieved a 40 study score! WOW! 😮).
If you're interested, How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook shows you the inner workings of my brain 💭- what I think when I see an essay topic, how I tackle it, and how I turn these thoughts into a high-scoring essay. The ebook includes:
- 50-pages teaching you how to respond to ANY essay topic
- Examples from 15+ popular VCE English texts
- Know exactly what to THINK about so you can formulate the best possible essay response
- Plus a bonus 20-pages of high vs low scoring essays, fully annotated (what works and what doesn't) so you know exactly what you need to do and what not to do
All the Light We Cannot See is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Many lawyers today would cite this 60-year-old story as an inspiration—Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is, at its core, the tale of one attorney’s quest against racial injustice in his Deep South home, and of his children coming of age in the shadow of their father.
The novel is narrated in two parts by his younger child, Scout, and along with her brother Jem and their friend Dill, she traces their upbringing as inspired by Atticus’ moral teachings of tolerance, courage and justice. The first part follows their childhood, and their interactions with characters such as Boo Radley, Walter Cunningham, Miss Caroline and Mrs Dubose, while the second part follows the Tom Robinson trial itself, testing the children on the moral lessons of their childhood and disillusioning them to the overwhelming racism of their community.
We’ll be going through the novel’s major themes, and also looking at it a bit more critically within the historical context of civil rights and racial justice struggles.
All throughout the novel resonate messages of tolerance over prejudice. However, before any question of race is introduced, the children must confront their prejudices about Boo Radley, a local recluse who was rumoured to have attacked his parents. While they (particularly Jem and Dill) lowkey harass Boo by playing around his yard, re-enacting dramaticised versions of his life, and sending notes into his house with a fishing pole, they undoubtedly get drawn into the rumours as well: he was “six-and-a-half feet tall”, he “dined on raw squirrels” and he had a head “like a skull”.
What is prejudice, after all? In this case, it doesn’t have to do with race necessarily—it’s more about how the children judge Boo, form a preconceived image of who he is, before they really know him.
And this happens to other white characters too—notably Walter Cunningham, a boy from a poor family who Aunt Alexandra straight up derides as “trash”. Even when invited to dinner by the Finches, he is dismissed by Scout as “just a Cunningham”, and this is where Calpurnia steps in as the moral voice, chastising her for acting “high and mighty” over this boy who she hardly knows.
The racial dimension of prejudice is impossible to ignore though—as Atticus says, “people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box”. The word ‘resentment’ has special significance here in the context of the Great Depression (in which the novel was set—more on this in a later section) but the general idea is clear: Black Americans like Tom Robinson were guilty, and therefore doomed, the minute they stepped into a court because the white jury inevitably bore prejudices against them.
At the end of the day, the panacea Lee presents for prejudice is empathy, the idea that only by truly understanding someone, “climb[ing] into [their] skin and walk[ing] around in it”, can we overcome our own prejudices—something that the jury isn’t quite able to do by the end of the novel.
Justice in To Kill A Mockingbird
In the second part of the novel, these moral questions around prejudice and empathy find an arena in the courtroom, where Tom has been unfairly charged with rape and is being defended by Atticus. The court of law is supposed to be this colour-blind, impartial site of dispute resolution, where anybody “ought to get a square deal”, but the reality we see in the novel falls dramatically short; Tom is indeed ultimately found guilty despite the evidence to the contrary.
The intersection of these themes—race, prejudice and justice—forces us to confront the reality that our legal institutions may not be as colour-blind and impartial as we thought. As Atticus says in his closing statement, “a court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.” However, what we see is that the people who make up a jury are not necessarily as sound as he/we would hope—Scout later recognises that the true trial occurs in the “secret courts of men's hearts”, and that racist biases were always going to get in the way of a fair verdict.
Heroism and Courage in To Kill A Mockingbird
All of that sounds pretty dire, so is the novel then purely pessimistic? We’re going to complicate this a little here, and then (spoiler) a little more in the “Past the Basics (II)” section, but let’s say for now that even though the outcome may be cause for pessimism, the novel is not so pessimistic on the whole. This is because of one central moral that stands out from all of Atticus’ other teachings, and that strings the entire story together, namely the idea that courage doesn’t have any one single shape or form, that anybody can be courageous.
In Part One, we find an unlikely hero in Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, who the children describe as “plain hell”—when Jem takes out her flowers, Atticus makes him read to her as punishment. Only when she dies is it revealed that she was a morphine addict who had been trying to cut the habit in her last days, which Atticus sees as extremely brave: “[Real courage is] when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” For all we know, this could’ve been about himself…
Another example of Atticus switching up what it means to be heroic is in the way he puts down Tim Johnson. Don’t stress if you forgot who that is—Tim is the rabid dog. Jem is blown away by his father’s marksmanship, which he had never actually witnessed. Atticus transforms this into yet another lesson about courage: "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand."
What we see here is Lee trying to broaden the reader’s imagination of what a hero could be, or what courage could look like, and all of this momentum eventually builds to the trial in Part Two. Even Tim Johnson’s name calls to mind parallels with Tom Robinson’s legal battle, in which Atticus heroically takes up the huge responsibility of protecting the innocent, and in spite of his best efforts, both times he fails.
Yet maybe both times he knew it would be inevitable—courage is “know[ing] you’re licked before you begin”, right?
Fatherhood vs Adolescence in To Kill A Mockingbird
This knowledge seems to be one of those unfortunate things that comes with age and life experience. While Atticus already understands this, it doesn’t quite click for his children until the end of the novel. Jem is particularly shaken by the guilty verdict: “It ain’t right”, he cries.
The novel is sometimes referred to as a bildungsroman for this reason: at its core, it’s a coming-of-age story. Jem may have been really idealistic about law and justice and the court system, but this is the first time in his life that he has had to grapple with the reality that all these institutions might be flawed, and that his dad is a hero not because he always wins, but because he’s willing to get into the fight even when he knows he might lose. Even though these messages came through all across the novel, Jem’s personal investment in the Robinson trial brings it all together for him.
Thus, on the one hand, you have this disillusionment and loss on innocence, but on the other, you also have this shift in worldview that may well be valuable in the long run.
It’s also worth noting that Jem isn’t the only character who experiences this though—and also that heroism isn’t the only theme that is affected. Scout experiences similar disappointments, and they both grapple with other questions of conscience, tolerance and conformity throughout the novel.
Past the basics: Narrative Structure
I’ve hinted to this briefly throughout the themes, but the two-part structure of the novel plays a key role in delivering the key moral messages. While Part One isn’t necessarily the story you’d expect (given that it’s very long and almost completely not about the trial itself), many of the characters and their interactions with Jem, Scout and Dill are incredibly meaningful. (Walter Cunningham and Mrs. Dubose are covered above, but try to form some of these connections yourself).
Boo Radley is the key character who connects the two parts of the story. He spends much of the first part in hiding, occasionally leaving gifts for the kids in a tree (chapter 7), or giving them a blanket during a fire (chapter 8). However, he’s also victim to their prejudice and their gossip—they don’t see him as a person, but rather as an enigma whom they can harass and talk about at will. In the second part however, he emerges to save Jem from Bob Ewell and is actually a rather unassuming man. Here, Scout and Jem must reckon with the moral lessons they’ve been taught about prejudice, but also about innocence and courage. It’s through these interactions as well that they come closer to understanding Atticus, and his brave quest to defend the innocent. In many ways, the first part of the novel sets up and drives these ideas home.
Past the basics: Critical Racial Analysis
As foreshadowed, we’re going to complicate the heroism element of the novel here, and I’ll start with a quote from a New York Times review: “I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”
So is there an issue when a story of Black injustice only elevates white people as heroes? Not to say that Atticus can’t be heroic, but what does it say that he’s the brave, stoic hero in a story about a Black man’s unjust suffering?
I think to best understand these complexities, it’s worth situating the story in its historical context.
1930s: Great Depression; when the novel is set. Economy had collapsed and masses were unemployed; with slavery abolished, Black people were competing with white people for labour, fuelling resentment. Harper Lee grew up in this time, so there are autobiographical elements to the novel.
1960s: Civil Rights Movement; when the novel is published. For the first time in history, Black heroes were capturing national white attention and shifting the needle drastically towards racial justice. It was in this watershed wave of activism and social change that people read this book for the first time, and it was received as a deeply authentic voice within this movement.
2010s: Present day; when the novel is currently being read. We’re closer towards achieving racial justice now, but we’re also in a world where more and more young people are cognisant of these issues. While the novel’s image on the surface (of white kids being blown away by the existence of racism) is fading in relevance, there are underlying messages that are still relevant: racism and prejudice is inevitable, and can occur across and within racial lines; courage and heroism can take many forms (consider how Black characters—such as Calpurnia—also act in heroic ways); and the experiences of young people, whether experiencing racism firsthand or witnessing its divisive impact, undoubtedly shape their values and morals as they enter the adult world.
If the same story was published today, it probably wouldn’t have the same impact, but think about what kinds of messages endure anyway, beneath the surface story.
Essay Prompt Breakdown
To Kill a Mockingbird argues that empathy is courageous. Discuss.
Which brings us to a topic that is a bit knottier than it might first seem. Although empathy is shown to be courageous, particularly in the context of its setting, part of the novel’s message is also that courage can be fluid. This means that you might agree for a paragraph or two, emphasising the importance of context, before expanding on this idea of courage in the third.
Paragraph One: empathy can be a courageous trait in divisive times. Atticus says from early on that it’s important to “climb in [someone’s] skin and walk around in it” in order to better understand them. He initially says this about Walter Cunningham, but it’s a message that finds relevance all throughout—which occurs in parallel, of course, with his other lessons about courage, and how it can take different forms (as in Mrs. Dubose). Understood together, Lee suggests that empathy can in itself be a form of courage.
Paragraph Two: we’ve blended two themes together in the previous paragraph, but let’s bring in some context here. Empathy only stands out as being particularly courageous because of the historical milieu, in which people were not only racist, but allowed racist resentments to surface in the economic struggle of the Depression. In fact, these “resentments [were carried] right into a jury box” where people failed to display the very courage that Atticus consistently espouses.
Paragraph Three: that said, even if empathy is courageous, courage can take on many forms beyond just empathy. Consider Scout backing away from a fight with Cecil Jacobs (“I felt extremely noble”—and rightfully so) or the resilience of the First Purchase congregation in using their service to raise money “to help [Helen Robinson] out at home”. That these characters, Black and white, can hold their heads high and do the right thing in difficult times is also courageous.
Have a go
In your opinion, what is the most central and relevant message from To Kill a Mockingbird?
What is the role of innocence in To Kill a Mockingbird?
Lee argues that legal institutions are fraught with human bias—is this true?
In To Kill a Mockingbird, who pays the price for racism, and what do they lose?
Challenge: In To Kill a Mockingbird, how are isolation and loneliness different, and what is Lee suggesting about society in this regard?
To Kill A Mockingbird Essay Prompt Breakdown Video
Something that I want you to take away from this video is being able to develop a contention statement that is a complete, solid foundation for your essay. A lot of the time when I ask students what they’re trying to say in a specific section of their essay, they can’t really explain it, they’re just trying to put relevant evidence down. Ideally, it’s worth bearing in mind when you plan that you should be able to follow your logic back to the contention at any given point, even if you’re not that confident with the topic, and even if it wasn’t the topic you’re quite prepared for.
The topic we’ll be looking at is:
To Kill A Mockingbird is a story of courage. Discuss.
So ‘courage’ is the key word here, and the way we define it will shape our entire discussion. It generally means bravery and fearlessness, but what kinds of courage are explored in the novel? It could be anything from courage to do the ‘right’ thing, or courage to tell the truth, or courage to treat people with dignity even when you don’t know if they’ll treat you the same way.
Immediately, we can see that this is a theme-based prompt. To learn more about LSG's incredible Five Types Technique and how it can revolutionise how you approach VCE Text Response essays, have a read of this blog post.
For a prompt like this, you start building your contention based on these definitions, and this is handy if you’re better prepared for another theme. Let’s say you’re better prepped to write an essay on discrimination...
You could contend that the novel is indeed about courage, as Atticus not only teaches it to his children but also applies it to his defence of Tom Robinson in the face of structural racism. However, courage is also linked more broadly to empathy, which is explored as a panacea for discrimination. A complete contention like this breaks up your points neatly, but also grounds everything you have to say in an essay that still addresses the question and the idea of courage.
For example, paragraph one would start by looking at the forms of courage he teaches to his children. Part One, the more moralistic and didactic section of the novel ends with the idea that “real courage” isn’t “a man with a gun” but rather “when you know you're licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” The section is characterised by these lessons of “real courage”—while Atticus “One-Shot” Finch downplays his marksmanship, he focuses the children’s moral instruction on characters such as Mrs Dubose, who he admires as courageous for fighting her morphine addiction.
The next paragraph would look at Atticus’ actions and also the trial in a bit more detail, as he embodies this idea that real courage exists outside of physical daring. In the racist milieu of the Deep South at the time, juries rarely “decide in favour of a coloured man over a white man.” Yet, Atticus is determined to defend Tom even at the steep cost of his own personal honour or reputation. Not only does he teach his children about the importance of courage, but he goes on to exemplify those very lessons himself. Courage in this case reflects his commitment to the truth and to defending the innocent—“this boy’s not going till the truth is told.”
However, in the final paragraph we might take a bit of a turn. Atticus, in having the courage to see Tom as an equal, is probably reflecting another very important value in the novel—namely, empathy. Though he admires Mrs. Dubose for her “real courage”, the white camellia he gives to Jem represents the goodness he sees within her despite her discriminatory attitudes. Though Jem struggles to empathise with the “old devil”, Atticus posits that it takes a degree of courage to be the bigger person and see the best in others, rather than repeating cycles of discrimination and prejudice. The idea of empathy as a form of courage is also reflected in what he teaches them about Boo Radley. When Scout is terrified by the idea that he had given her a blanket without her realising, she “nearly threw up”—yet Atticus maintains the importance of empathising with people, “climb[ing] into another man’s shoes and walk[ing] around in it” rather than ostracising them. In other words, he sees empathy as a form of courage in being the first to break social stigmas and overcome the various forms of discrimination that separate us.
Now to touch base again with the take away message. We contended that the novel is about courage because Atticus teaches it to Scout and Jem while also representing it in the trial. We also contended that courage is linked to empathy, another key value that he imparts as it helps to overcome social barriers like discrimination. The aim was to build an essay on a contention that clearly props up the body of the essay itself, even when we were more confident with some other themes, and I think this plan does a pretty good job of covering that.
Measure for Measure is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Ahh William Shakespeare. That guy. You’re probably thinking, “Great. More fancy language. Hasn’t he been dead for centuries? Why does he keep popping up in our English curriculum?”
At least, that’s how I reacted.
Shakespeare is actually a huge figure in the history of the English language, and really no high school English curriculum is complete without a mandatory dose of him. In fact, the current VCAA study design demands that one of his texts must be on the text list. What a legend.
Shakespeare doesn’t only influence our world in the classroom. The Bard coined many words and phrases that we use today. We can thank this playwright for “be -all, end-all”, “good riddance”, and my personal favourite, “swagger”.
The Bard’s play “Measure for Measure” was first performed in 1604; over 400 years ago. So why do we still study his works today? In fact, the ideas and themes that are evoked in his plays are universal and timeless; pertinent to his contemporary counterparts, as well as today’s audience. Shakespeare’s plays are like soup (bear with me, this is going somewhere). One could say the playwright is a master chef; he mixes tales of the human condition and experience and asks us to question people and ideas. Everyone, regardless of their time, will gobble up the story.
So, what is this soup- I mean ‘Measure for Measure’ about? The play is known as a “problem play” and/or “tragicomedy”. That’s right, it’s both a tragedy and a comedy. Dire trials and tribulations are intertwined with humorous gags and jokesters. I guess Shakespeare couldn’t choose just one.
‘Measure for Measure’ is also a problem play. Critic W.W Lawrence defined a problem play as one in which "a perplexing and distressing complication in human life is presented in a spirit of high seriousness ... the theme is handled so as to arouse not merely interest or excitement, or pity or amusement, but to probe the complicated interrelations of character and action, in a situation admitting of different ethical interpretations".
Ok, crazy, but he also said that "the 'problem' is not like one in mathematics, to which there is a single true solution, but is one of conduct, as to which there are no fixed and immutable laws. Often it cannot be reduced to any formula, any one question, since human life is too complex to be so neatly simplified.”
In short, a problem play presents lots of complications and issues that are open to different ethical interpretations. As in “Measure for Measure”, the “problem(s)” is/are not always solved.
So, what actually happens in this play that is problematic? What are our ingredients in this problem soup?
Get it? Cause soup is cooked in a pot. Sorry.
The Duke of Vienna appoints his deputy, Angelo, as the temporary leader. This Duke then pretends to leave town but instead dresses up as a friar to observe what happens in his absence. Angelo, strict and unwavering in his dedication to following the rules, decides to rid Vienna of all the unlawful sexual activity; including shutting down the brothels. Prostitutes like Mistress Overdone (pun alert) and her pimp Pompey are poised to lose their livelihoods. Laws against this activity exist, but they’ve gotten lax over the years. Angelo, a stickler for the rules, has Claudio arrested because young Claudio has gotten his engaged wife-to-be (Juliet) pregnant before they were officially married. Claudio is to be executed.
The virtuous Isabella, Claudio’s sister, is poised to enter a nunnery. Upon hearing of her brother’s arrest and sentence, she goes to Angelo to beg him for mercy. He hypocritically, in an absolutely dog move, propositions her, saying he’ll pardon her brother if she sleeps with him (with Angelo, not Claudio). She immediately refuses, being the religious and chaste woman that she is. At first Claudio is upset because he wants to live, but then he calms down and accepts death.
Luckily, the Duke (secretly dressed as a friar) helps in their sticky situation. He brews up a plan; Angelo’s former flame Mariana was engaged to him, but he broke off their engagement after she lost her dowry in a shipwreck. The Friar (Duke) plans to have Isabella agree to sleep with Angelo, but then send Mariana in her place. In theory, Angelo would pardon Claudio and be forced to marry Mariana by law.
The old switcheroo goes off without a hitch. But come morning, Angelo refuses to pardon Claudio, fearing he will seek revenge. The Duke, in collaboration with the Provost, send Angelo the head of a dead pirate (Ragozine) who died of natural causes. They claim that it’s Claudio’s head, and Angelo is satisfied, thinking him to be dead. Isabella is also told that her brother is dead and is encouraged by the Friar (Duke) to complain about Angelo to the Duke, who is returning home.
The Duke makes a grand return to Vienna, saying he will hear any complaints immediately. Isabella tells her story, and the Duke feigns disbelief, despite having orchestrated the plan himself. In an act filled with more twists and turns than a Marvel movie, everything comes out; the Duke reveals he was a friar all along, Angelo is forced to confess, and Claudio is pardoned amongst other things. To top it all off, the Duke proposes to Isabella. Crazy!
It’s important to acknowledge what was going on in the world during the writing of a text. This may help give insight into why the author has included (or not included) some aspect of their work.
The Divine Right of Kings
This holy mandate states that a monarch derives his right to rule from the will of God and is not subject to earthly authority. The “king” or monarch is hence practically divine, and questioning his orders is also questioning god; blasphemy.
The Great Chain of Being/Class divides
This chain is a hierarchy of all life forms and matter in the following order:
Kings & Royalty
Commoners (Gentry, Merchants, Yeoman, Laborers)
Hence, alongside The Divine Right of Kings, this ideal gave monarchs huge power over their subjects.
In early 1600s England, there was a defined social hierarchy and class system. Everyone had a place in the hierarchy, and there was little movement between the classes. Within each class, men were considered superior to women.
Shakespeare encourages us to ask a few questions of our supposedly holy leader and his actions. According to the Divine Right of Kings, the Duke is god’s right-hand man, and thus all his decisions are holy and backed by heaven. However, the Duke is pretty shady when he plots his bed-trick plan with Isabella and Mariana. Is this deceptive behavior still holy? Furthermore, is it not sacrilege to pretend to be a holy friar when one is not truly a holy man?
Moreover, when the Duke assigns Angelo as his deputy, would this transform Angelo into a divine ruler too? Could he be divine, considering his cruel rule and despicable request to Isabella?
Women were considered subservient, lower class citizens then men. Alliances were forged between powerful families through arranged marriages of daughters. These girls may have received an education through tutors attending their homes (there were no schools for girls), but their endgame would be marriage, children and maintaining the home. Women and girls of a lower class did not receive any formal education but would have learned how to govern a household and become skilled in all housewifely duties. Impoverished and desperate women (Mistress Overdone) would turn to prostitution to stay alive.
Shakespeare perhaps highlights the struggle of women in his female characters; Isabella, Mistress Overdone, Juliet, and Kate Keepdown. Their futures appear bleak; Isabella is poised to enter a nunnery, Juliet’s husband (her only source of income and protection) is to be executed, while the brothels that facilitate Mistress Overdone and Kate Keepdown’s livelihoods are being closed down by Angelo.
It was a tumultuous time when Shakespeare penned ‘Measure for Measure’ in 1604. A year earlier came the end of the 45 year long Elizabethan era and began the Jacobean era under the rule of King James. Since the late Queen Elizabeth had no direct heirs, King James of Scotland (a relative) took to the throne. Little was known by the English people of this foreign king.
Perhaps, as Shakespeare portrays the ruler in ‘Measure for Measure’ as clever and good-hearted, the Bard sought to appease the king by calming the people and encouraging them to trust in their new monarch.
The playwright characterizes the Duke as loving his people, but not enjoying being before their eyes and in the spotlight; much like King James, a quiet ruler who relished studying privately in his great library.
Playhouses and Brothels
The general public (commoners) paid a penny (could buy you a loaf of bread back in the day) to see Shakespeare’s plays, standing in the “yard”; on the ground, at eye-level of the stage. The rich (gentry) paid 2 pennies for seating in the galleries, often using cushions. The really rich (nobles) could watch the play from a chair set on the side of the stage itself. Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Globe Theatre. Playhouses in Shakespeare's time were often close to brothels, both in terms of their physical locations in the suburbs and the way they were viewed by some of polite society. Thus, Shakespeare's relatively sympathetic portrayal of sexual deviance in ‘Measure for Measure’ may also constitute a defence of other suburban entertainment—his plays—and a way to humanize lower classes who patronized them.
WRITING ABOUT 'MEASURE FOR MEASURE'
If you’re lucky enough to study this interesting piece, the study design requires you to prepare “sustained analytical interpretations…discussing how features of the text create meaning and using textual evidence to support (your) reasons”. Basically, you’ll be given a topic; this topic could surround themes, characters, etc., and you must write analytically.
While you may choose to structure paragraphs around themes, ideas or characters, make sure to embed some historical context in there; that’ll show the examiner that you’ve done your research and have a thorough and deeper understanding of why Shakespeare put this or that in. Talking about authorial intent in your analytical essay leads to a more in-depth analysis.
“Shakespeare portrays characters that are flawed as a result of pre-destined circumstances. These characters, such as bawd Pompey and prostitute Mistress Overdone, lived in a time when there existed strong class divides, and movement within the social hierarchy was rare. As per the “Great Chain of Being”, a contemporary religious dogma, there was a hierarchy of all living things and matter, from lofty God and his angels down through the ranks of men and finally to animals and non-living things. In some cases, attempting to move up the social ranks was even considered a blasphemous rejection of the fate chosen by God.”
- embedding historical context (The Great Chain of Being) into a paragraph that discusses characters being flawed because of their circumstances
“Shakespeare offers characters such as Isabella and The Duke who strive for self-improvement through understanding and temperance. Perhaps the playwright suggests that perfection is very difficult if not impossible to attain, even for a ruler like the Duke and a pure soul like Isabella. However, he posits that it can be strived for and that perhaps this attempt to become better is what truly matters.”
- talking about authorial intent - what is Shakespeare trying to tell us?
Think of it as an opportunity to make your very own soup! Add some themes, stir in character analysis, sprinkle in some quotes and serve with historical context and authorial intent. Just like with a soup, there’s got be a good balance of all your ingredients; test out different structures during the year to find what works for you. (Just try not to overcook it, like I have done with this soup metaphor). If you need more help, How To Write a Standout Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare Essay is for you!
So, you see, there’s more to Shakespeare and ‘Measure for Measure’ than just fancy old language and iambic pentameter (What’s that? Well...). Keep on reading this blog post, where we’ll delve into themes, characters and symbols/motifs. In the meantime, let’s have a break. Grab a snack, a drink, and enjoy this tasty Shakespeare meme.
...Aaaaand we’re back!
Are you ready for part 2 of the Shakespeare train? Hop on board as we explore themes, characters and symbols/motifs.
These are the major themes in ‘Measure for Measure’.
As you can see, the themes are interconnected. (Do you like the diagram? Made it myself :)) Why does this matter? Well, if you get an essay topic about Justice, for instance, you can also link it to Sexual and Gender Politics as well as Social Decay/Cohesion.
So, why is any one theme an important theme?
Which moments and characters are these themes related to?
Is there a link to historical context?
What are some key quotes?
What could be Shakespeare’s potential message? (Keep in mind that depending which pieces of evidence you look at, the Bard could be saying something different. In this piece, we’ll only discuss one or two authorial messages. The beauty of Shakespeare is that much is open to interpretation. You can interpret characters and ideas in so many different ways!)
Those are some great questions. Let’s explore some of the biggest themes...
Power and Authority
Power not only dictates the Viennese society, but we see it is a basis for moral corruption (I’m looking at you, Angelo!). The Duke is the leader of Vienna, ordained by God. He hands this power to his deputy Angelo, who misuses it in his request of Isabella. Now consider Isabella - she has power too, but a different kind… Also consider characters who have little to no power - Mistress Overdone, Pompey etc.
This theme could be linked to the Divine Right of Kings, the Great Chain of Being and Women.
“O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” - Isabella when she pleads to Angelo to not kill her brother (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 130-132)
“He who the sword of heaven will bear should be as holy as severe” - The Friar (Duke) to himself, not happy with Angelo’s dog move (Act 3, Scene 1, 538-539)
“When maidens sue, men give like gods” - Lucio to Isabella, encouraging her to convince Angelo not to kill Claudio (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 87-88)
"Hence we shall see, if power change purpose, what our seemers be.” - The Duke lowkey suggesting that once Angelo gets power, he’ll change into something evil (Act 1, Scene 4, Line 57)
“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.” - Escalus is sneakily hating on Angelo. This quote shows that power and authority often involve corruption (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 41)
Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that power is a dangerous weapon and that in the wrong hands, it could be deadly.
Morality and Sin
This is an interesting theme. What defines sin? For instance, if Isabella sleeps with Angelo she’s sinning before God. But if she doesn’t, then she’s letting her brother die, which is not good either. Bit of a pickle that one. Some characters to consider include Isabella, Angelo, The Duke, Claudio, Lucio, the Provost…. jeez just about everyone! So many of the characters take part in questionable deeds. Was it immoral for the Duke to pretend to be a holy friar? Is Claudio’s sin of impregnating Juliet really punishable by death if both parties were willing, and no one else has been punished for the same “crime”? Are Pompey and Mistress Overdone being immoral in being in the prostitution business, if it’s the only way to survive?
Deep stuff man. This can be linked back to class divides, women and the contemporary playhouses/brothels.
“What sin you do to save a brother’s life, nature dispenses with the deed so far that it becomes a virtue” - Claudio begs his sister to sleep with Angelo (immoral, especially since she’s poised to enter a nunnery), saying that it’s for a good cause, and will actually be a virtue/good deed (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 146-148)
“Might there not be a charity in sin to save this brother’s life?” - Angelo asking Isabella to sleep with him and trying to paint the act as a charitable deed (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 65-66)
“I am a kind of burr, I shall stick” - Lucio, who represents sin and immorality in Vienna (we’ll talk more about this later in symbols/motifs) (Act 4, Scene 3, Line 182)
“To bring you thus together ‘tis no sin, sith that the justice of your title to him doth flourish the deceit.” - The Friar (Duke), encouraging Isabella and Mariana to do the dodgy bed-trick and trick Angelo (Act 4, Scene 1, Line 79-81)
Perhaps Shakespeare tries to tell us that there is a fine line between something moral and something sinful. Maybe he’s asking, “who are we to judge?”, since we all do questionable things sometimes. Everyone from the almighty Duke to a lowly prostitute has committed potentially immoral acts. Perhaps audiences are encouraged to be more understanding of others, and their reasons for these deeds.
Mmm, this theme ties in nicely with just about all of the others. How does one define justice? The play explores this idea; does justice mean punishment? Or mercy? How do we balance the two to deliver the right punishment/lack thereof? Characters that dispense justice include The Duke, Angelo (although they have differing ideas of justice) and Isabella. Since Vienna is a religious place, consider the divine justice system (ie. a perfect, flawless system meted out by God) and the earthly one (ie. the flawed, human justice system). Laws exist in an attempt to ensure justice. But does it always work? Consider also the Old and New Testament ways of thinking - the former strict and punitive, while the latter is more measured and merciful (see symbols/motifs below for more info).
This theme can be linked to the Divine Right of Kings, Great Chain of Being, Women, and Jacobean Audience.
“Justice, justice, justice, justice!” - (Wait, are you sure this quote is about justice?) Isabella pleads for (you guessed it) justice to the Duke (no longer dressed as a friar), thinking Angelo has, in fact, killed her brother (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 26)
“The very mercy of the law cried out… ‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!’ Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure, like doth quit like, and measure still for measure” - The Duke, explaining that it’s only fair that Angelo die for “killing” Claudio. (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 437-441)
“liberty plucks justice by the nose” - The Duke tells Friar Thomas that the laws have slipped over the years, and the citizens of Vienna are not being punished for immoral deeds (prostitution, sex before marriage etc)
Perhaps Shakespeare says that since we humans are inevitably flawed, that any justice system created by us will too be imperfect. Who are we to decide the fates of our fellow man? Furthermore, the Bard may be encouraging us to be kind when dispensing justice, leaning more to mercy than punishment.
Sexual and Gender Politics
Who run the world? Gir- no it’s a bunch of men. This theme contributes to why ‘Measure for Measure’ is a problem play. The exploration of the female characters in this play are very interesting, and kind of sad. Of 20 named characters, only 5 are women. Together, their lines make up only 18% of the play. Yikes! There is a lot to unpack here. Our female characters are Isabella, Mariana, Mistress Overdone, Juliet, Francisca (a nun who speaks twice) and Kate Keepdown (who we never meet). Their situations: a maiden poised to enter a nunnery, a prostitute, a pregnant girl about to lose her husband, a nun, and another prostitute. Quite gloomy, isn't it? Meanwhile, the men are leaders (The Duke, deputy Angelo, and ancient lord Escalus) and gentlemen (Lucio, Claudio, and Froth). Over the course of the play, our female characters are put into worse situations by men. Their experiences are dictated by men. Consider taking a “feminist perspective” and exploring ‘Measure for Measure’ from a female point of view.
This theme links to the Great Chain of Being, Women and Playhouses/Brothels.
“see how he goes about to abuse me!” - These are the last words we hear from Mistress Overdone, as she calls out Lucio for betraying her even though she kept secrets for him. All this happens while she’s being carted off to prison in only Act 3! What do you think Shakespeare is saying to us? (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 481)
“Then was your sin of heavier kind than his” - The Friar (Duke) says to Juliet that she sinned more than Claudio, even though their sin was “mutually committed”. Even though they were both consenting, the woman is blamed more. Consider what would become of Juliet if Claudio was executed. She’d probably end up like Mistress Overdone... (Act 2, Scene 3, Line 31)
“Who will believe thee, Isabel?” - Angelo says this after Isabella threatens to reveal his disgusting request. Ouch. It really goes to show how untrustworthy women are deemed. (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 163)
“Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow, nor wife?” - The Duke says this to Mariana. Basically, he says a woman can only be those 3 things. Jeez. (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 196-197)
“When maidens sue, men give like gods” - Lucio to Isabella, encouraging her to convince Angelo not to kill Claudio. So, perhaps women do have some power. But, it’s due to their sexuality; something evaluated by men. Peachy. (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 87-88)
Perhaps Shakespeare suggests that women are treated unfairly in society. Maybe he posits that women are afforded so few opportunities in a man’s world. The Bard potentially says that such sexual and gender politics do not create a cohesive and just society.
This theme, again, connects to many others. It can link to all groups of people (The wealthy, the poor, women, criminals etc). Most of the mercy is dispensed at the end of the play when the Duke does his grand reveal. Characters who choose to mete out mercy over punishment include The Duke and Isabella. Also consider Angelo, who instead of choosing to spare Claudio, decides to kill him to uphold a law that hasn’t seen anyone punished for the same deed. We might think this is harsh, but it a legal and lawful decision.
Connect this idea with historical context, specifically Jacobean audience and playhouses/brothels.
“I find an apt remission in myself” - Apt remission = ready forgiveness. The Duke says this after pardoning Angelo (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 539)
“pray thee take this mercy to provide for better times to come” - The Duke pardons murderer Barnadine, asking him to use it to do better. How lovely! (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 525-526)
“let us be keen (shrewd/sharp), and rather cut a little than fall and bruise to death” - Escalus says this to Angelo, who wants to enact all strict laws immediately. The ever-reliable Escalus advises Angelo to be lenient and merciful. (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 6-7)
“Mercy is not itself that oft looks so, pardon is still the nurse of second woe” - Escalus says this, defending Angelo’s decision to punish Claudio. He suggests that sometimes being merciful can encourage further wrongdoing. (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 282-283”)
“I show it (pity) most of all when I show justice” - Angelo says to Isabella that he is showing Claudio pity/mercy by punishing him. A firm believer in the law, Angelo thinks he’s doing the right thing and teaching Claudio a lesson by punishing him. (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 123)
Perhaps Shakespeare encourages us to look at mercy and punishment from different perspectives. Angelo believes he is punishing Claudio for his own good, and cleaning up Vienna of lechery too. Maybe we ought to be merciful in our opinion of the deputy. Nonetheless, the Bard shows that in the case of young Claudio, mercy and forgiveness is the right path to choose. Finally, consider why Shakespeare may have portrayed a merciful leader to his Jacobean audience. Maybe if he were to portray a leader as fair and merciful, the Jacobean audience would trust that their new king (a man similar in character to the Duke) could be kind and merciful too. Earning the favour of the king and writing a killer play? He’s killed two birds with one stone.
Human Frailty & Fallibility
I’ve encountered many essay topics about how humans are flawed and imperfect. It’s a pretty big theme in many texts, not just in our friend William Shakespeare’s. Human fallibility is to blame for a lot of the going-ons in ‘Measure for Measure’. Angelo takes the law too seriously, he gets heart eyes for Isabella and kills Claudio even though he thinks he’s slept with Isabella. Why? He wants to save his own ass, fearing Claudio will seek vengeance. The Duke is flawed too. He’s a leader, but he just avoids his problems, leaving Angelo in charge to deal with them. Then he plans to swoop in and look like a hero. Kinda dodgy. Consider Claudio and Juliet too. They, like Angelo, succumbed to lust and slept together before they were officially married. (Sigh, humans just can’t get it right.) It’s also worth thinking about the “low-lives” and poorer characters. Are the poor frail in a different way? For example, Mistress Overdone keeps Lucio’s secrets for him. In that way she is virtuous. However, she sells her body to survive. Perhaps she is not prone to desire like Angelo, but serves another desire - a desire to survive?
In terms of historical context, consider the Divine Right of Kings, the Great Chain of Being and Playhouses/Brothels.
“They say best men are moulded out of faults, and for the most become much more the better for being a little bad” - Mariana pleads to Isabella to support her in begging the Duke to pardon (her new husband) Angelo. She is optimistic for man, believing our bad deeds can lead to self-improvement. (Act 5, Scene 5, Line 473-475)
“Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once” - Isabella pleads to Angelo to pardon Claudio. She states that all souls were flawed before Christ offered redemption. (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 93)
“I speak not as desiring more, but rather wishing a more strict restraint” - Isabella is speaking to a nun as she is poised to enter the ranks of the nunnery. We usually think of a nun as living a very strict life, but Isabella wants it even stricter! Here we see her flaw is that her thinking is too singular and blinkered. (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 3-4)
“Lord Angelo is precise, stands at guard with envy, scarce confesses that his blood flows, or that his appetite is more to bread than stone.” - The Duke talks about how unhuman Angelo is. The deputy follows rules very closely, almost to the point where he’s like a machine. His nature is too strict. (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 53-56)
“I love the people, but do not like to stage me to their eyes” - The Duke says this to Angelo and Escalus as he hands over power to his deputy. Even the Duke is not perfect, in that he does not like being before crowds of his people (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 72-73)
Perhaps Shakespeare suggests that no one is truly perfect, not even a leader supposedly ordained by God, a law-abiding deputy, or a maiden who is poised to enter a nunnery. Yet while Angelo is overcome by his lust and emotion, the Duke and Isabella attempt to better themselves by showing mercy and temperance. Maybe Shakespeare suggests trying to improve one’s flawed self is most important.
God, Religion and Spirituality
Phew, we’re at our last theme. So, society in Vienna is very much religious. Their beliefs dictate actions and laws within the city. Some very religious characters include Isabella and Angelo. However, our novice nun, who is obsessed with virtue and chastity, agrees to and takes part in the bed-trick, a deception that is not particularly Christian. Our lusty deputy also succumbs, hellishly propositioning a maiden to sleep with him in exchange for her brother’s life. Even The Duke, supposedly semi-divine, makes some dubious choices. He spends most of the play posed as a holy man, even though he is not. He plans the bed-trick to deceive Angelo and lets poor Isabella think her poor brother is dead, instead of saving her so much pain. Furthermore, the title of the tale, ‘Measure for Measure’, comes from the Gospel of Matthew. (See symbols/motifs for more deets). The question of how much we should let religion dictate us is another reason this piece is a problem play.
The theme of God and Religion can link to historical context such as the Divine Right of Kings.
“more than our brother is our chastity” - (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 194) and “Better it were a brother died at once, than that a sister by redeeming him should die forever” - (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 111-113) show that Isabella values her chastity and virtue over her brother!! Damn girl!
“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where, to lie in cold obstruction and to rot” - Claudio tells Isabella that he fears the uncertainty of death. Perhaps his belief in a heaven has left him in the wake of his impending death? (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 129-130)
“Let’s write good angel on the devil’s horns - ‘tis not the devil's crest” - Angelo is talking to himself about his lust for Isabella. It’s an appearance vs reality (ooh another theme!) kind of idea, where you can try to pretend something is something else (ie. Angelo doesn't lust after Isabella), but it doesn't change the thing (ie. he’s still keen). The deputy is comparing his emotions to these religious extremes. (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 16-17)
Perhaps Shakespeare criticises religious extremism in his portrayal of characters like Isabella and Angelo. Or maybe he just wants us to remain open-minded about ideas and our spirituality.
Yikes, there are so many themes in this play! Let’s move it along, and talk a little bit about characters.
Each character can be viewed in different lights, even more so than themes can be. We’re going to discuss characters very briefly because it’s up to you how you want to read them.
Here are the characters, in order of how much they speak in the play. To keep things short, let’s pretend these are all tinder bios. Who would you swipe right on? (Hint: not Lucio)
super chill (the benevolent ruler of Vienna who’s let the laws slip a little)
loves dressing up (actually spends most of the play disguised as a friar)
clever/cunning (secretly counteracts the injustices decreed by Angelo)
strong morals (would rather her brother die than she lives in shame)
can get wild (conspires with the Duke to complete the bed-trick)
holy gal (poised to enter a nunnery)
a gentleman (well, his title is. He’s rude about the Duke and abandoned a prostitute that he got pregnant, so maybe he’s not that kind of gentleman)
loves attention (legit! He’s a minor character but he has the third most lines of them all! Lucio loves to stir the pot!)
loves some symbolism (Lucio represents all the bad stuff in Vienna…..see symbols/motifs)
plays by the rules (a little too much)
hypocrite (Sentences Claudio to death for sex before marriage, while asking the same thing of Isabella…. wow we’ve found our antagonist)
Deep (Angelo is a bit of a complex character. He seems aware of his misdeeds and struggles to deal with these desires. It’s hard not to pity him at times)
reliable (consistently counsels Angelo against acting too harshly)
virtuous (he’s merciful, lets Pompey go with a warning in Act 2 Scene 1)
loyal (trusts in the Duke)
hard worker (he’s a prison ward)
virtuous (does what’s right by him, disobeying Angelo’s orders to behead Claudio)
magician (not really, but he makes Angelo believe that pirate Ragozine’s head is Claudio’s)
clever (philosophically debates whether prostitution is worse than murder)
funny (his character is the clown, and he’s got some sassy comebacks)
poor (Pompey is a bawd employed by Mistress Overdone. Not the best dating bio)
down for a good time ;) (impregnates Juliet before they are officially married)
cool family (he’s Isabella’s brother)
good hearted (initially is horrified at Angelo’s request of Isabella, saying she shouldn’t do it. Unfortunately, his fear of death get’s to him. After he’s calmed down, he’s accepting of death)
a man in uniform (a policeman)
a little dumb (he speaks a lot of malapropisms - hilariously using similar but incorrect words)
not like Pompey (Pompey is a clever poor man, while Elbow is a policeman who’s a little bit all over the place)
dedicated (still in love with Angelo even though he called off their engagement because her dowry was lost)
a willing accomplice (participates in the bed-trick)
poor (she’s a prostitute, who fears for her livelihood when Angelo announces he’s destroying all the brothels)
good hearted (kept Lucio’s secret. What secret? Read on…)
works for the Duke (as an executioner…. there’s no way to make that sound nice)
doesn't have a great name (c’mon it’s true)
also likes to have a good time ;) (pregnant before official marriage)
dependent (if Claudio dies she will probably end up as a prostitute to survive)
can sing (Mariana asks him to sing a sad song about how she lost her beloved Angelo)
holy gal (she is a nun)
Kate Keepdown (we never actually meet this character)
a colleague of Mistress Overdone (a prostitute)
single mum (Lucio got her pregnant and then ran away. He thinks marrying a prostitute is akin to whipping and hanging)
Ragozine (we never actually meet this character)
dies (legit that’s all he does)
SYMBOLS & MOTIFS
These are people, objects, words etc that represent a theme or idea. For instance, the fact that I’ve used a bad soup metaphor AND a tinder reference means I need to go outside more. But let’s move on…
The title, “Measure for Measure” draws from the gospel of Matthew. The idea of heavenly justice vs earthly justice is prominent throughout the text. Moreover, it’s worth exploring the Old Testament ways of “an eye for an eye” and “measure for measure” in comparison to the New Testament teachings which lean towards forgiveness and mercy. Now, where do the Duke’s actions fit in? Is he harsh and equalising? Is he just and sympathetic?
New Testament vs. Old Testament
When the Duke sentences Angelo to death, he makes a fancy speech which includes the play’s title.
“‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure.
Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure.”
Act 5, Scene 1, Line 439-441
This mimics the Old Testament views, which famously states “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24). These ideals teach that the person who committed a misdeed shall have the same misdeed done unto them. (For example, if you don’t like my new Facebook profile picture, I’m not liking yours…..but way more severe.)
In comparison, the New Testament states that we “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:36-37)
So, when sentencing Angelo the Duke employs the words of the Old Testament. However, he doesn’t go through with Angelo’s execution, instead showing the mercy encouraged by the New Testament. He’s not really following either way. Perhaps he’s instead choosing a middle road; one of temperance and justice.
Wait, who? We haven’t mentioned the “gentleman” Lucio much in the plot and in this blog post. That’s because he doesn’t really do that much other than buzz around and annoy everyone. Maybe that’s why his name rhymes with mosquito….
Regardless, we do see enough of Lucio’s character to learn that he’s not a very nice person. He treats Mistress Overdone and Pompey poorly, makes visits to the brothel, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions (getting Kate Keepdown pregnant) and bad-mouths the Duke. So yeah, we don’t like Lucio, what’s the big deal? Well, in Act 4, Scene 4 Line 182, Lucio says something very intriguing.
“I am a kind of burr, I shall stick.”
Burr - those little brown prickly things that get stuck to you.
We can think of Lucio as representing all the sins and misdeeds in Vienna - lechery, immorality, lack of justice, selfishness etc. Hence, Lucio is saying that these shortcomings and flaws will always be present to people and in Vienna, sticking to the city like a nasty burr. Damn, that’s deep.
The metre of the verse (ie. the classic Shakespeare writing) in ‘‘Measure for Measure” is iambic pentameter. This means that each line is divided into 5 feet. Within each foot, there is one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.
I’ll TELL him YET of ANgelO’S reQUEST, And FIT his MIND to DEATH, for HIS soul’s REST. (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 195-196)
Verse does not have to rhyme, as the above lines do. Shakespeare often employs a rhyming couplet to close a scene and add some drama.
Verse is usually reserved for the higher class citizens, with those who are less fortunate speaking in prose.
Prose is language in its ordinary form, with no metre.
Certain characters, such as Lucio, switch between verse and prose depending on who they are speaking to. This could allude to Lucio’s duplicity, or perhaps a deep understanding of class divides in Vienna.
Names: Escalus and Angelo
Escalus is the ever reasonable and loyal lord and close confidant of the Duke. His name gives connotations of scales and balance - characteristic of the rational man.
Angelo’s name has connotations of “angel”. If we judge him only by his name, he should be a pure and heavenly being. Bah! That’s so fake! We can see that appearance is very different from reality. Isabella notices this too, stating that “this outward-sainted deputy...is yet a devil” (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 95-98).
There is so much to unpack about this douchebag. Let us briefly consider 2 ideas. When he propositions Isabella to sleep with him, he requests that she “lay down the treasures of (her) body” (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 100).
Firstly, that’s weird. Perhaps Angelo can be seen as someone who is obsessed with the physical - Isabella’s body and treasure. Maybe this obsession leads to his immorality and poor leadership.
Secondly, Angelo struggles to directly say, “hey, let’s sleep together”. He weaves his way around the request, propositioning Isabella so indirectly that at first, she does not even seem to understand his request! However, once she threatens to tell everyone about his vile demand, he speaks bluntly; “Who will believe thee, Isabel?” (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 163). Perhaps this shows Angelo is self-aware that he’s being an ass. Or maybe this scene is yet more evidence of a patriarchal society, with the men knowing very well the power they hold.
We never actually meet this fellow. Ragozine is a pirate who dies in jail while “Measure for Measure” unfolds. His head is used in place of Claudio’s to convince Angelo of the former’s execution. Fascinatingly, Ragozine is the only person who dies in the entire play. ALSO, he dies of natural causes. Interesting. It feels like the play is full of death, grief and many heads on the chopping block. But curiously, there is only one death, of a minor character, of natural causes. Perhaps this says something about fate and justice or offers some commentary on life and hope.
Elbow vs. Pompey
Elbow is a silly policeman who speaks in malapropisms (using a similar but incorrect word for humorous effect). Pompey is a clever pimp who seems to have a deep understanding of justice and the Viennese people. The comparison of these characters, fortunate and dumb to unfortunate and clever, perhaps serves to show that the law is not always apt and that sometimes those who break the law are more clever than it.
Mistress Overdone (or lack thereof)
Mistress Overdone is a pitiable prostitute. She worries for her survival when Angelo begins pulling down the brothels, and she keeps Lucio’s bastard child a secret, only for him to throw her under the bus to save his own skin. The last we see of Mistress Overdone is her getting carted off to prison, crying “See how he goes about to abuse me!” (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 481) Yes, the last we witness of one of five speaking female characters is of her imminent incarceration. Furthermore, this happens in Act 3 of 5, around halfway through the play! The audience never hears from Mistress Overdone again, and her future is left uncertain. Even Barnadine, a convicted murderer, is given freedom and a happy ending.
Consider writing a few sentences of your essay from a feminist’s perspective. Think about the events of the play from the female characters’ points of view. What is Shakespeare saying by portraying Mistress Overdone (and other women) in such a way? Perhaps he is pointing out the injustices of the patriarchal system, or how uncertain a woman’s life was in his contemporary time.
“Measure for Measure” truly is an incredible text. This blog post is by no means an exhaustive list of all its quirks and complexities. This play’s relevance has survived centuries, and I believe it will continue to be pertinent to audiences well into the future. You are very lucky to be studying a text with such universal themes and ideas that you can carry with you even after high school.
When it comes to studying a text for the text response section of Year 12 English, what may seem like an obvious point is often overlooked: it is essential to know your text. This doesn’t just mean having read it a few times either – in order to write well on it, a high level of familiarity with the text’s structure, context, themes, and characters is paramount. To read a detailed guide on Text Response, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Authors structure their texts in a certain way for a reason, so it’s important to pick up on how they’ve used this to impart a message or emphasise a point. Additionally, being highly familiar with the plot or order of events will give you a better grasp of narrative and character development.
It’s also a good idea to research the life of the author, as this can sometimes explain why certain elements or events were included in the text. Researching the social and historical setting of your text will further help you to understand characters’ behaviour, and generally gives you a clearer ‘image’ of the text in your mind.
The overarching themes of a text usually only become apparent once you know the text as a whole. Moreover, once you are very familiar with a text, you will find that you can link up events or ideas that seemed unrelated at first, and use them to support your views on the text.
For each character, it is important to understand how they developed, what their key characteristics are and the nature of their relationships with other characters in the text. This is especially crucial since many essay questions are based solely on characters.
With all this said, what methods can you use to get to know your text?
Reading the text itself: while this may seem obvious, it’s important to do it right! Read it for the first time as you would a normal book, then increase the level of detail and intricacy you look for on each consecutive re-read. Making notes, annotating and highlighting as you go is also highly important. If you find reading challenging, try breaking the text down into small sections to read at a time.
Discussion: talk about the text! Nothing develops opinions better than arguing your point with teachers, friends, or parents – whoever is around. Not only does this introduce you to other ways of looking at the text, it helps you to cement your ideas, which will in turn greatly improve your essay writing.
External resources: it’s a good idea to read widely about your text, through other people’s essays, study guides, articles, and reviews. Your teacher may provide you with some of these, but don’t be afraid to search for your own material!
Authorial intent is without a doubt one of the most important parts of any analytical essay in VCE English because talking about it is what offers the deepest level of analysis and shows the examiners that you have thought deeply about the text at hand. If you can discuss authorial intent effectively, you’ll be able to show that you have a solid understanding of what you are talking about and that you’re not working exclusively with surface-level ideas.
What Is Authorial Intent?
When we talk about authorial intent, what is really being referenced is the author’s reason for writing their piece in the way that they have and what messages they are trying to convey. Essentially, it’s what your teacher wants you to think about when they ask you things like “why is the door red?”. More generally speaking, why has the author made a point of telling us as readers the weather at that time? Why has that character been given that particular line of dialogue? Why have they brought in that specific tone for this part of the text? These are all the kinds of questions that you should be asking yourself when you’re reading through material that you have to analyse.
You might also hear authorial intent talked about as the writer’s ‘views and values’. If you’re unsure what views and values actually mean, you can kind of think of it as though the ‘views’ are how the author sees something and the ‘values’ are how the author thinks about something. Essentially, their opinions and perspectives are their views, whereas their morals and principles are their values. These two elements will often be central to the overall intention behind writing their text.
Why Is Authorial Intent Important?
Authorial intent plays a major role in your interpretation of the text; if you can’t figure out what the intent is, you will often miss out on key points and messages throughout the text. If you are lucky, the author will make it really clear to you as a reader what their intent is; however, this often is not the case. That being said, whether their intent is stated or implied doesn’t matter - there will always be something there for you to talk about.
How To ‘Find’ Authorial Intent in the Text: Key Identifiers To Look Out For
If you come across a text that makes it a little bit more difficult to discern what the author is actually trying to say, a good place to start is to look at the context behind the piece of writing.
The time period the novel/movie/play is set in is often a good indicator of what the author is saying. The author will often be using their text as a means by which they can comment on or critique one or more elements of that society, or perhaps as a metaphor for events that are occurring at the time the text is/was written. Alternatively, they may be portraying their view about the events that actually occurred during that time. For example, if you have a text that is set in the Georgian era, it is likely that the author’s message has something to do with colonialism or imperialist mindsets (zeitgeists) because this was a very dominant theme in that society.
Some other reasons you might consider an author having could include:
to highlight the importance of something
to criticise a behaviour or mindset
to ridicule certain actions
to warn against something
to discourage people from doing something
to convey certain political messages or controversial opinions
Realistically there is a broad range of things that the author could be saying, it's your job to pinpoint what that really is.
Once you’ve determined what it is the author is generally talking about, you then need to start thinking about the way that this has been represented. This is where you start to bring in the characters, the events, the dialogue, the inner monologues. Basically, you start looking for the elements that the author has added, not necessarily for a story-telling purpose but, more so, to convey their views and values through the text. This isn’t always going to jump right out at you so there may be a bit of deeper thinking involved.
Another good place to start is to try to identify the central themes of a text. This might be something like ‘Judgement’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Guilt’, etc. The author wouldn't have made these themes so relevant if they didn't have anything to say about them. Once again, this is where you look at the quotes, the setting, the characters and other features (as mentioned before) just with a more theme-focused approach.
Useful Vocabulary & Sentence Examples
When you come to actually putting together a paragraph, it is really important that you don’t forget to include authorial intent at some stage (at least once per paragraph). If you work with a TEEL structure (watch from 05:10) as the baseline, these kinds of comments about the author’s intent would usually be located within the ‘explanation’ section. A good way to double-check that you’ve incorporated authorial intent is to go back through your paragraph and make sure that the author’s name is in there somewhere. If you’ve talked about authorial intent you likely will have said something like:
‘In doing so, (Author) condones the (whatever it is they condone).’
Below are some sample sentence structures that you might think about using throughout your essays. Obviously, the particular vocabulary will vary depending on what your text is and which message you are talking about, but these are good as a guide.
Through (example from text) AUTHOR (offers, provides, asserts) a (condemnation, evaluation…) of (idea, theme, concept, action…)
E.g. Through emphasising the internal struggle faced by Rooke during the floggings, Grenville offers a condemnation of the Empire’s heinous approach to loyalty, as the threat of ‘wirling at the end of the rope’ essentially forces individuals to value duty over conscience. (The Lieutenant)
In doing so, AUTHOR (establishes, condemns, reveals…)
E.g. In doing so, Miller reveals the self-destructive nature of religious extremism in breeding instability and conflict. (The Crucible)
(scene, event…) allows AUTHOR to (suggest, convey, assert,…) that
E.g. Her sorrowful pleas that ‘she beg me to make charm’, fraught with grammatical errors, allow Miller to saliently illustrate the gulf that exists between the vulnerable outcasts such as Tituba and more privileged individuals within a community, in this case, Reverend Parris. (The Crucible)
AUTHOR’s depiction of (character) as (courageous, morally conscious, selfish…) emphasises their belief that…
E.g. Ham’s depiction of Teddy as a morally conscious and genuine individual emphasises her belief that it is possible to transcend the social codes enforced by one’s community.(The Dressmaker)
AUTHOR’s suggestion that… (serves as a reminder, highlights, emphasises the importance of…)
E.g. Euripides’ blatant suggestion that the fate of most of these women is in servitude and sexual slavery is a damning reminder that the victims of war are not just those killed during the conflict. (Women of Troy)
(Hence, thus, as a result…) AUTHOR asserts that…
E.g. Thus, Euripides asserts that victory in war ultimately proves futile as loss will inevitably be suffered somewhat equally by both sides. (Women of Troy)
Evident through AUTHOR’s (characters’ actions/dialogue/section of text…) is the idea that…
E.g. Evident through Miller’s depiction of the struggles faced by Goody Osburn and Goody Good is the idea that where geographical isolation and strict moral codes render a community intolerant, the marginalisation and ostracisation of those who do not fit the societal mould is inevitable. (The Crucible)
Through (action, quote, scene…) AUTHOR seeks to…
E.g. Through highlighting the harm which can result from individuals utilising their power to manipulate situations, Ham seeks to expose the damages caused by ignoring the truth, particularly when done so for personal benefit. (The Dressmaker)
If you’ve gotten to this point then hopefully that means that you are starting to get a better understanding of what authorial intent actually is, the thought processes that go into finding it and why it is such a useful and important element to analyse. Most importantly, I hope that you can at least start recognising the way that the author’s voice comes through in the particular texts that you are studying, and that you can start looking at including some of those observations and ideas when you're writing your responses.
Ah, language analysis. It’s that time of year again, which sees us trade our novels and films for newspapers and blog articles, and our knowledge of characters and themes for the never-ending list of persuasive language devices which we will soon begin to scour our texts in search of.
Once again we must put ourselves in the mind of an author, only this time it’s a little different. No longer are we searching for hidden meanings within the text, instead we search for techniques and appeals to emotions which our daring author uses to persuade us to stand in solidarity with their view. My, how times change. Just when we think we’re getting the hang of something, VCE English throws us a curveball. Typical VCAA.
There's a lot that goes into a strong Analysing Argument response and it can be difficult to know where to start, so here's a specific breakdown of an A+ essay to help you elevate the quality of your own writing! Just before we get started, if you'd like to find out more about Language Analysis, head here for a comprehensive overview of this area of study.
Now, before you get too deep into this step - and I know how eager you must be to dive into that juicy analysis – you first need to decide on a structure. In this particular case of Language Analysis, we are comparing two articles, meaning we have a couple of different structures to choose from. That is, we now need to decide whether we will be separating the analysis of each article into its own individual paragraph, or rather, integrating the analysis and drawing on similar ideas from each of the texts to compare them within one paragraph. Tough decisions, eh?
While most examiners prefer integrated paragraphs, as it shows a higher level of understanding of the texts, sometimes the articles make implementing this structure a little difficult. For example, maybe one article focuses more on emotional appeals, while the other uses factual evidence such as statistics to persuade the reader. What do we do then? If none of the arguments are similar, but we still want to use that amazing integration technique, what can we do?
Well first of all, remember that we are comparing two articles. Comparisons don’t always have to be about similar things, in fact, the true spirit of comparison should take into account the articles’ differences too. So what does this mean for us? We can still integrate our paragraphs, however, we will be focusing on how two contrasting techniques seek to achieve the same result of persuading the audience.
Next, now that we’ve got structure out of the way, we can work on the actual analysis part of planning. That is, scouring through the articles for those various language devices the author has used to turn this article from an exposition to a persuasive text, and then deciding on how we shall be using this in our essay.
I absolutely cannot stress this enough, but: PLAN YOUR ESSAYS! Yes, I happened to be one of those students who never planned anything and preferred to jump straight into the introduction, hoping all my thoughts would fall into place along the way. Allow me to let you in on a little secret: that was a notoriously bad idea. My essays always turned out as garbled, barely legible messes and I always managed to talk myself into circles. Trust me, planning is crucial to an A+ essay.
It is also crucial that you know what exactly should be going into the planning process. There are two main aspects of planning that you need to focus on for a Language Analysis essay: analysis and implementation. I know that might not make much sense right now, but allow me to explain:
This includes reading through your articles and picking out all the pieces that seem like persuasive techniques. For example, you might find a paragraph using inclusive language such as "our problem” to convince the reader that this is an issue that they need to be directly concerned about, or perhaps you may find a sentence describing the “excess of funds” being poured into the initiative that demonstrates to the audience how big of a problem it is. This step typically includes underlining areas of interest in the articles, making arrows between similar arguments which you think should be linked and doodling in the margins of the paper with all your immediate thoughts so you don’t forget them later. This part is the lengthiest and it may take you some time to fully understand all of the article.
Next, comes implementation.
This is the part where we make ourselves an actual essay plan, in which we decide how to implement all the new information we’ve collected. That is, deciding which arguments or language devices we will analyse in paragraph 1, paragraph 2 and so on. This part is largely up to you and the way in which you prefer to link various ideas.
Below is an example of how you might choose to plan your introduction and body paragraph. It may seem a bit wordy, but this is the recommended thought process you should consider when mapping out your essay, as explained in the following sections of this blog post. You may want to skip ahead and read those first so you know what we’re talking about when you see CCTAP (explained in Step 2: Introduction) or TEEL (explained in Step 3: Body Paragraphs), but otherwise it’s pretty straight forward. With enough practice you may even be able to remember some of these elements in your head, rather than writing it out in detail during each SAC or exam (it might be a little time consuming).
Sample Introduction Plan
Note: Sentences in quotation marks ('') represent where the information has been implemented in the actual introduction.
Context: Detention of Asylum Seekers is currently a popular topic of discussion, 'issue regarding the treatment and management of asylum seekers'.
Contention: Detention of Asylum Seekers is wrong, 'detention as a whole is inhumane'.
Tone: Conviction, 'tone of conviction'.
Audience: Those in favour of Asylum Seekers, 'supporters of his resource centre'.
Purpose: Allow Asylum Seekers into the country, '[barring them from entering the country]…should be ceased immediately'.
Sample Body Paragraph Plan
Topic: Inhumanity of detention
Evidence: Article 1’s Emotive Language
Example: 'harsh', 'brutal regime', 'needlessly cruel' to invoke discomfort.
Evidence: Article 1’s Expert Opinions
Example: Amnesty International, UN, etc. 'repeatedly criticised'.
Evidence: Article 1’s Humanisation of Asylum Seekers
Example: Depicts as individuals who’ve been 'arbitrarily punished'.
Evidence: Article 2’s Invitation to Empathise
Example: Writes he 'cannot imagine the horrors', inviting readers to try too.
Evidence: Article 2’s Emotive Language
Example: 'pain', 'suffering', 'deprivation of hope' to invoke sympathy.
Evidence: Article 2’s Placing of Blame
Example: Blames Australian Government for the 'suffering inflicted'.
Link: Restate topic sentence in relation to entire essay
Step 2: Introduction
Now that you’ve got all the planning out of the way, next comes beginning the essay and writing up your introduction. Having a top notch introduction not only sets the standard for the rest of your language analysis, but it gives you a chance to set yourself apart from the crowd. Your teacher or examiner will be reading heaps of these kinds of essays within a short period of time and no doubt it’ll begin to bore them. Thus, having a punchy introduction is bound to catch their attention.
In addition to having a solid beginning, there are a few other things you need to include in your intro, namely, CCTAP. What does CCTAP stand for and why is it so important, you may ask? Well, the nifty little acronym stands for Context, Contention, Tone, Audience and Purpose, which are the five key pieces of information you need to include about both of your articles within your introduction. In addition to all the various language devices we collected during planning, you will need to scan through the articles to find this information in order to give the reader of your essay the brief gist of your articles without ever having read them.
For an example on how you would accomplish this all in one paragraph, here’s my introduction:
In recent years, the issue regarding the treatment and management of asylum seekers has become a topic of interest for many Australian citizens, with the debate focusing centrally on the ethics of their indefinite detention, and the reliability of this initiative as a working solution. Many articles intending to weigh-in on the debate depict the Australian Government’s favoured solution in various tones, with two pieces, written by news source, The Guardian, by authors Ben Doherty and Helen Davidson, and activist Kon Karapanagiotidis, respectively, asserting that the initiative is the wrong approach to a growing problem. In their piece, 'Australia’s offshore detention regime is a brutal and obscene piece of self destruction', the former of the authors speaks with an accusatory tone to their audience of regular readers of the popular news publication site and debates the practicality of the 'arbitra[y]' detention of these asylum seekers, as well as calls into question the humanity of the act and assesses whether it is an effective use of Australia’s wealth, intending to persuade readers to be similarly critical of the initiative. Likewise, the author of the open letter, 'Stand in solidarity with people seeking asylum this holiday season', writes to supporters of his resource centre in a tone of conviction, asserting that asylum seekers deserve the safety of asylum within Australia, that detaining or barring them from entering the country is inhumane and the root of much suffering, and that overall, it is morally wrong, and thus should be ceased immediately. Both articles contend that Australia’s current solution to the growing issue is incorrect, with Doherty and Davidson specifically believing that there is a better solution that must be sought, and Karapanagiotidis believing that detention as a whole is inhumane and should not be further employed by the government.
Step 3: Body Paragraphs
And now we reach the meat of your essay - the body paragraphs. A typical essay should have at least three of these, no less, although some people might feel the need to write four or five. While this may seem like a good idea to earn those extra marks, you should never feel pressured to do so if you already have three good paragraphs planned out. You have limited time to write your essay and getting as many words on the page as possible won’t always improve your score, especially if you traded quality for quantity. What your teachers and examiners are really looking for is a comprehensive understanding of the texts and the way in which you organise your ideas into paragraphs. So sure, writing an extra paragraph may be useful if you have the time and technique, but never feel pressured to expend the effort on one if it costs you time to the point where you’re turning in an unfinished essay. You can achieve an A+ essay with only three paragraphs, so don’t stress.
Now, onto writing the actual paragraphs. There are various little acronyms to help you through this process, such as TEEL, PEEL or MEAT. Some of these you may have already heard of before and you might even have a preference as to which one you will use. But regardless of what you choose, it is important that you add all the correct elements, as leaving any of them out may cost you vital marks. Make sure you include a Topic sentence, Evidence, Example and Link (TEEL). Once you have the structure down pat, there’s one other thing you need to consider during a Language Analysis essay: don’t forget to analyse the picture.
Seriously, it’s pretty crucial. A requirement of this kind of essay is to analyse imagery, whether it be the newspaper’s header, a cartoon or an actual photograph. This step may involve analysing the image for what it is, or linking the imagery with an already existing argument within the article. Whatever you deduce it to mean, just make sure you slip it into one of the paragraphs in your essay. [Note: an analysis of imagery is not included in following paragraph].
While both articles make very different arguments on the same topic, in one particular case they give voice to the same issue, namely, the inhumanity of detaining refugees, in which both articles become advocates for the abolition of offshore detention. Authors for The Guardian write that it is 'needlessly cruel', 'harsh', and a 'brutal regime', using emotive language to give weight to their argument and invoke a sense of discomfort within their readers, particularly towards the government’s chosen solution. They call on the opinions of a number of other sources who have 'repeatedly criticised', the operation, such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other similar experts on the matter. The authors depict Asylum Seekers as individuals who are 'arbitrarily punished offshore', and who 'have been accused of no crime', and are therefore, by the judgement of the authors, being treated immorally. In agreement, Karapanagiotidis writes of the abuse endured by asylum seekers in detention, including their separation from loved ones, their arbitrary incarceration, and stating that he, himself, 'cannot begin to imagine the personal toll detention has had on [them]', implying further damage has been done and inviting his audience to similarly place themselves into the figurative shoes of an asylum seeker. The author writes that the offshore detention of asylum seekers causes 'pain', and 'suffering', as well as the 'depriv[ation] of [their] hope', using emotive language to invoke sympathy and understanding within his readers. Karapanagiotidis hands the blame for such 'suffering inflicted', on the Australian government, a similar tactic which The Guardian employed throughout their piece. Overall, both articles use a range of language devices and expert sources to agree that the act of detention is inhumane, and the root of much suffering.
If you'd like to see more sample A+ body paragraphs and essays, all with annotations to see exactly what makes them high-scoring, check out our How To Write A Killer Language Analysis ebook for an in-depth guide to nailing your Language Analysis.
Step 4: Conclusion
You’ll be glad to know that this is the final part of your essay, hooray! And some might argue it is in fact the easiest, because now all you need to do is summarise all of those body paragraphs into a concise little one. Simple right?
Conclusions typically don’t even have to be all that long, I mean, you’re only restating what you’ve already written down, so there’s no new thinking involved. Under no circumstances should you be using your conclusion to add in any new information, so just make sure you give a brief description of your previous arguments and you should be good to go!
And one more thing: never start your conclusions with 'In conclusion'. Seriously, that may have worked in Year 8, but we’re writing for a whole different standard these days and starting your conclusions off like that just isn’t going to cut it.
The two articles, in their discussion of Australia’s offshore detention initiative, bring light to several key points. Authors for The Guardian use various appeals, emotive phrases and evidence of reported monetary statistics to sway the reader to share their opinion, as well as arguments regarding the lack of reliability the initiative provides in its ability to deter boats, the sheer cost of the program, and the morality of the issue. Similarly, Karapanagiotidis, the author of the open letter, uses a humanising image, appeals to the values of the readers, and employs phrases with pre-existing connotations known to the audience, to assert main contentions: that asylum seekers deserve asylum, that barring them from settling in the country is the root of much suffering, and that their indefinite detention is not only inhumane, but morally wrong.
- Written in 1945 by George Orwell, Animal Farm is an allegorical novella about the 1917 Russian Revolution and the repressive Stalinist period which followed.
- As a democratic socialist, Orwell was an adamant critic of Joseph Stalin and his totalitarian dictatorship over Russia.
- Thus, Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a satirical fable against Stalin’s tyrannical control, stating that he wrote it with the intention of ‘fusing political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole’.
- The novella is set in Manor Farm, located in Willingdon, England at an undisclosed time.
- As the events of Animal Farm symbolise the power struggle of early 20th century Russia, this ambiguity of time is intended to prevent Orwell’s warning against repressive tyranny from becoming dated.
- Orwell’s use of a farm as the main setting is also notable, as farms represent nations in Animal Farm; both require a vast amount of work in order to function properly. Thus, the act of the animals cooperating to cast the humans out of the farm symbolises a workers’ revolution against their oppressive leadership.
Main Character Analysis:
- Based on Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, he emerges as the leader of the Farm after the Rebellion.
- He consolidates his control over the farm with the violent force of his nine attack dogs, having raised them as puppies; these directly symbolise Stalin’s military force.
- He never contributes to other animals’ efforts at revolution, as he is only a corrupt individual who seeks to take advantage of opportunities created for him by others.
- Based on Soviet rebel Leon Trotsky, he challenges Napoleon for control of the Farm after he takes control of the leadership.
- Similar to the leader he is modelled after, Snowball is eloquent, charismatic, intelligent and persuasive - thus, he wins the loyalty and support of other animals easily.
- Extremely devoted to the farm and the Rebellion, Boxer symbolises what Orwell believed to be the best qualities of the proletariat, or the exploited working class, such as loyalty, strength, camaraderie and hard work, perceivable by his personal motto of ‘I will work harder’.
- However, he simultaneously suffers from typical weakness of the working class, such as a naive trust in the intelligentsia and a slow-witted oblivion to political corruption, represented by his other motto of ‘Napoleon is always right’.
- Manipulative and highly persuasive, he spreads Napoleon’s propaganda throughout the farm to intimidate uneducated animals into supporting Napoleon’s ideas and policies.
- Orwell uses the character of Squealer to warn against politicians’ deliberate manipulation of mass media in order to gain social and political control.
Old Major (boar):
- Based on the socialist revolutionary Karl Marx, as well as Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, Old Major’s dream of a socialist utopia acts as a major motive for the Rebellion.
- Major’s death creates a political vacuum in the farm, leaving Napoleon and Snowball in a power struggle for control of his followers.
Themes and Motifs:
- By allegorising in Napoleon dictator Joseph Stalin, Animal Farm is first and foremost a satirical critique of politicians’ tyrannical misuse of power.
- This is epitomised by the deceitful methods Napoleon uses to gain support, such as lying to the other animals that Snowball is a political traitor in order to banish him from the Farm.
- Animal Farm explores the need for the working class to be educated, as the inability of the farm animals to question Napoleon’s authority directly leads to the perpetuation of his oppression.
- Thus, Orwell presents to his readership that the working class may suffer not only due to dictators’ abuse of power, but also from their own naive unwillingness to question the intentions of the authority.
- Orwell accurately exhibits treacherous aspects of the human condition in his portrayal of dramatised relationships between humans and animals.
- Just as the pig rulers of the rebellion eventually betray their own idealistic visions, the theme of alliance is shattered between Frederick and Napoleon when the latter learns that the former has been forging banknotes while buying firewood from him.
- Thus, Animal Farm depicts the idea that alliances formed in a tyrannical dictatorship are merely veneers of camaraderie, which hide each person’s capability to destroy others in their path towards control.
Analysis of Quotes:
‘Four legs good, two legs bad.’
- From Chapter 3, this slogan is based off of Old Major’s speech before his death about the need for animals to unite in the face of human oppression and tyranny.
- The quote is a noteworthy example of propaganda in Animal Farm, as the leaders utilise language in order to essentially brainwash the working class animals.
- Although it initially helps the animals to remember their goals, the phrase later loses its meaning of solidarity as it becomes a nonsensical noise made by sheep when used to drown out the voices of challengers to the regime.
‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’
- This quote exemplifies the pigs’ abuse of logic and language to keep their power over their followers.
- The evidently senseless and illogical meaning behind this phrase is an example of the methods that the leader of the Farm takes in order to brainwash his followers.
- The quote also suggests that the pigs’ real intention to create an animal utopia is not, in fact, to rise up against the oppression of the humans, but to become part of the elite; the ‘some’ that possess greater rights and power than the rest of the underprivileged society.
5 Types of Essay Prompts
Your approach to each essay will depend on what type of prompt is being asked. Be aware that not all essay prompts are the same, which means that sometimes your preferred essay structure simply won’t suit the type of prompt asked. That's why it's important to be aware of the 5 types of essay topics – what you should watch out for and how you could approach your essay writing. The topics used in this blog post have been curated by Lisa's Study Guides.
1. Theme-based prompts :
Animal Farm is first and foremost a satirical critique of politicians’ tyrannical misuse of power.
Usually your paragraphs will be based around particular themes. For example in this case, paragraphs may be based on ‘love’, ‘escape’, ‘horrors of war’ etc. These paragraphs can have character discussions embedded within them in order to demonstrate how the characters represent each theme. Discussion of the author’s choice of language such as symbols or imagery can be essential to the analysis of a theme.
2. Character-based prompts :
Boxer is the only animal with redeeming qualities. Do you agree?
These prompts focus on one or more characters. In this case, you can structure your essay paragraphs based on particular characters or something in common with a set of characters. Essays can become quite repetitive if each paragraph is based around one character so try to add in discussion about themes or the character’s relationships with other characters. Remember that minor characters can be just as important as major characters.
3. How-based prompts :
How does Napoleon exert control over the farm?
These prompts are usually structured, ‘how does the character do this,’ or 'how does the author do this'. In this case, since the prompt is focused on one main character, try to weave in the main character’s interactions with other characters and how other characters influenced them.
4. Metalanguage-based prompts :
The language in Animal Farm is crucial to Orwell's storytelling.
These types of prompts are the rarest of the 5 prompts but don’t be surprised if you’re asked one. They focus more on the language part of the text; rather than the plot, themes or characters. Your discussion will revolve around the author’s use of language (metaphors, prose, syntax etc.). These discussions are typically viewed as ‘harder’ prompts because you need to think about how the author achieves a particular message about character or theme through their choice of words. Check out our blog post on metalanguage and what you need to look out for.
'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ How is this true in Animal Farm?
These prompts can be character- or theme-based. However, it differs from other essay topics because it includes a direct quote from the text. Remember that the quote is part of the prompt, so ensure that you address it. One of the best ways of doing so is to incorporate the quote into the essay itself.
When faced with unknown prompts in a SAC or your exam, it's reassuring to have a formulaic breakdown of the prompt so that your brain immediately starts categorising the prompt - which of the 5 types of prompts does this one in front of me fall into?
To learn more, I discuss this and offer you practical strategies (so you never mind-blank again!) in my ebook, How To Write A Killer Text Response. Feel free to check it out, and good luck!
If you are anything like me, the thought of standing up in front of a classroom, or even a small panel of teachers, having to hold the floor for five minutes, and being assessed on your performance is just about as terrifying as it gets. Where other students thrived on the oral presentation SAC, embracing its change of pace in comparison to the other written tasks, I dreaded it. I knew the feeling all too well: legs jelly-like and quivering, breath short and rapid, palms sweating, tongue uncomfortably heavy as the words tumble out too fast to keep up with…essentially (as I, a true master of the English language, would put it) the absolute worst.
Fast forward to the present day and, I hate to break it to you, I am still not a fan of public speaking. But guess what? I did my oral presentation and I’m still alive to tell the tale. Plus, as a bonus, it did not involve me passing out, and as a double bonus, I still ended up with a great result. So I am here, my fellow members of the ‘Might Go Ahead and Drop Out of VCE so I Don’t Have To Do My Oral’ club, as proof that it can be done and to help you get through it.
What Do We Mean by ‘Overcoming’?
As I have already mentioned, emerging triumphant from your oral does not require you to magically become a public speaking fanatic. Let me manage your expectations right now: that probably isn’t going to happen overnight, and likely never will. But you can still be good at public speaking, perhaps great at it, even if it scares you. Trying to figure out a magical formula of preparation that will have you breezing through the oral in total zen-mode is not only going to waste your time, but will likely also make you more frightened when you realise that you can’t completely shake the nerves. So, by accepting the reality that the fear probably isn’t going to go away any time soon we can start to learn how to manage it, at least succeed in spite of it, and hopefully even use it to our advantage.
“an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.”
This becomes particularly significant for someone dealing with a fear of public speaking because of this basic principle: when you care about something it is easier to talk about, even in front of other people. This means that you don’t just need to choose a topic that will engage your audience, but also one that you yourself find engaging.
Fear is an intense emotional response to a situation, and as we know it can easily consume us in the moment. If your oral topic is boring and does not interest you on a personal level then what is going to be the strongest emotion you feel when delivering it? Fear. However, passion is another intense emotional response, and so if you are passionate about the arguments you are making then, although your fear will still be there, you will feel another strong emotion that can balance it out.
So how do you find a contention that you care about? Often the best place to start is to think about the things that affect your life. We know that your topic has to have been in the media since September of last year, but lots of things are on the news and they don’t only matter to the older generations. Think about issues that relate to schools, jobs, climate change, animals, drug-taking, fashion – these are all aspects of our lives that you might be able to form a personal connection to, and that personal connection will help you find the passion you need to get through the speech, and also get through to your audience. Check out our 2021 Oral Presentation Topics for some topic inspiration, and then learn how to create a killer contention here.
More About the Voice, Less About the Words
It is quite likely that if you know you struggle with the delivery of oral presentations, you might try to compensate by overreaching with your script. For someone who feels more comfortable with written assessments, it can be easy to try to make the oral as close to one as possible by writing it almost as you would an essay – using lots of impressive vocabulary, complex sentences and a formal structure. This approach is all well and good until you try to say it all out loud. This isn’t to say that your command of language isn’t important to the oral, but by trying to craft a safety net of eloquent, written words you are simply distracting yourself from what makes this SAC unique; you can’t avoid the fear by avoiding the task altogether. So, you need to write a speech that you can say, not just one that sounds good on paper. Writing with the wrong sense of tone is one of the points we touch on in 5 Common Oral Presentation Mistakes.
During the writing process, you need to make your speech work for you rather than make yourself work for it. This means constantly thinking about what the words will sound like in front of an audience, and not making the performance unnecessarily hard for yourself before you even start practicing. When you’re already nervous about speaking in front of other people, the last thing you want to have to worry about is tripping over difficult language to make convoluted arguments. So, simplicity and punch is always better than verbosity and pretence. Here are some ideas of how to use this strategy:
Make your arguments short, sharp, and to the point. Avoid going off on any tangents, and just stick to the main points you need to get across. You are trying to persuade your audience, not confuse them.
Use a mixture of long and short sentences, because a script that uses varied sentence structures is easier to say out loud without stumbling due to nerves. Short, bold statements are both less prone to being mangled by nerves and more memorable for your listeners – just make sure you don’t only use short sentences and prevent your oral from flowing.
Think about where you can schedule in pauses for emphasis, because these will give you space to stop and catch your breath without revealing your nervousness.
Write like you speak! Of course you want your tone to be assertive and intelligent, but it is possible to maintain this whilst also incorporating some relaxed language. You are allowed to use the first person in this task, so take the opportunity to personalise what you say, which will help you appear more comfortable and also form a personal connection with your audience. Remember that an oral is essentially a conversation with your audience, even if they don’t get to speak back, and this means that as long as you don’t use slang you can have some fun with your delivery.
Don’t rely on an essay-like structure. Your audience won’t know when a paragraph ends, so the way the script looks on the page is largely irrelevant. Make it easy for yourself to follow.
Remember, when you struggle with a fear of public speaking it is difficult to make what you say in the spotlight sound natural. To overcome this, you want to prepare yourself to almost sound unscripted (as ironic as that sounds). Without slipping into an overly casual or informal voice, it is best if you sound comfortable and relaxed when addressing your audience. This is of course the exact opposite of how you might feel going into the assessment, so you write a speech that will make you seem like you aren’t worried about passing out. The ancient adage ‘fake it ‘til you make it baby’ definitely rings true here. However, that said, really believing what you are saying and caring that the audience believes it too, as we advised earlier, will also help you avoid sounding forced and uncomfortable.
Preparation and Memorisation
Another mistake often made when attempting to compensate for a fear of public speaking is to rely too heavily on cue cards in the oral. Having your entire speech on hand when you complete the assessment just in case you get lost might seem like a good idea, but it is most likely actually going to hold you back from giving your best performance. Ideally, you want to have done enough preparation so that you do not need to look at your notes at all. As we discussed earlier, having a script that is as simple as possible, and that mimics your speech patterns, will help you sound less fearful – and will also be easier to memorise.
Memorise your speech by practicing it as much as possible. Make sure to get your script written as far in advance as you can, so you have plenty of time to practice without stressing yourself out further. When you do practice, do so standing up, envision an audience in front of you (or practice in front of friends or family), and rehearse how you might move around the space as you talk. You can start by having your whole script with you, but eventually you should work up to only needing a few dot points for each section that can jog your memory if you forget. This strategy might seem to make the speech even scarier, but in reality not reading off a script will help you relax into the performance, and allow you to focus on your movements and voice. Practicing enough to have the speech memorised will also help build your confidence.
Making the Most of Your Nerves
As much as I would love to tell you that you can be ‘cured’ of your fear of public speaking, it is best to accept that the nerves are going to be there and learn how to succeed in tandem with them, rather than just hoping that they go away. Instead of being convinced that fear is going to be your downfall, try to think about how, as impossible as it sounds, you can use the nerves to your advantage. Apart from making you jittery and uncomfortable, nerves also boost your energy and adrenaline, and with the right attitude you can turn this energy into confidence. Instead of letting your nerves cause you to close up, you can use them to help you open up. Often those of us who fear feeling exposed in front of a crowd have quiet, reserved personalities that we might think of as preventing us from being able to perform. However, when our bodies are flooded with nerves this ‘wired’ feeling can be used to help us project our voices and to take up space, therefore driving us to appear more outgoing. Instead of just making you feel ‘on edge’, a manageable amount of nervous energy can give you an edge that will amp up your performance.
Even if all of this sounds completely different to your experience of fear, what I am trying to communicate is that the way you frame the oral, and the nerves that come with it, in your mind makes all the difference. If you convince yourself that you are too scared of public speaking to ever succeed with this task, you are severely limiting your chances of achieving a positive outcome. So, focussing on retraining your mindset in the lead up to delivering your speech is very important. Try not to think of this one assessment task as being a make or break five minutes, and instead view it as a learning experience that you can use to your advantage. After all, public speaking is something most of us will have to deal with multiple times over the course of our lives, so you may as well work on getting better at it. That said, my number one piece of advice about the oral presentation is to…*drumroll please*...not take it too seriously! This might sound unrealistic, and I am definitely not telling you to put in less effort, but the more pressure you put on yourself the more nervous you are going to be. Choose a topic that interests you, believe in your contention, make use of humour and personal anecdotes, and just have fun with what you say! Your fear is probably going to be your biggest obstacle, so make it as easy as you can on yourself and the rest should fall into place…as long as you put in the work.
Frankenstein is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
2. Historical Contexts and Setting
4. Feminist Interpretation
5. Sample Essay Topics
6. Essay Topic Breakdown
Frankenstein is a Gothic novel. The genre emerged in the eighteenth century, and was characterised by elements of mystery, horror and the supernatural. Such elements are manifested in the novel by Shelley’s use of isolated settings and dark undertones. Through her main plot of raising the dead to create a living creature, Shelley stays true to Gothic elements by allowing her characters to cross boundaries between mortal and supernatural worlds.
The novel is told in the epistolary form - written in a series of letters. This effectively integrates the reader into the story by allowing them to feel as if they are receiving a personal account of the events of the novel, adding an element of immersion.
Frankenstein is also a frame narrative, a form which examines the dark, internalised consciousness of each character that narrates the events of a story in each frame. Unlike in an omniscient narrative perspective, each storyteller is a character with concomitant shortcomings, limitations, prejudices, and motives.
Historical Contexts and Setting
Born in London, 1797, Mary Shelley was the only daughter of notable intellectual radicals. Her father, William, was a philosopher who condemned social institutions as corrupt and instead advocated for reason to guide people’s decisions.
During the 18th century, the traditional and metaphysical understanding of the meaning of life were replaced by more secular ideologies. It was during this period that galvanism was born; Luigi Galvani’s experimentalism with electrical currents to stimulate muscle movement. Shelley took inspiration from this to form the crucial plot device of Frankenstein.
The context of Frankenstein was also the backdrop of the French Revolution. There has been critic speculation that Shelley’s creature is an emblem of the French Revolution itself – originally created in order to benefit mankind, but the abuse of which drives it to uncontrollable destruction.
Thus, in Frankenstein, Shelley explores not only the scientific possibilities of human existence, but also the nature of man and self awareness of ambition. The novel is designed to make the reader wonder - is scientific exploration an exciting or terrifying thing? How much ambition is too much - and does having it offer more good or harm to humanity?
Pursuit of dangerous knowledge
Victor’s personal torment throughout the novel arises as a result of his attempt to surge beyond accepted human limits of science. Walton mirrors this pursuit by his attempt to surpass previous human explorations in his endeavour to reach the North Pole. Shelley evidently warns against such pursuits, as Victor’s creation causes the destruction of all those dear to him, and Walton finds himself critically trapped between sheets of ice, with only his deep loneliness to keep him company. A key difference between Victor and Walton’s fate, however, is that while Victor’s hatred of the creature drives himself into misery, he serves as a warning for the latter to pull back from his treacherous mission, proving just how dangerous the desire for knowledge can become.
The sublimity of the natural landscape is a typical Romantic symbol throughout the novel, as it acts as a source of emotional and spiritual renewal for both Frankenstein and his creature. Depressed and remorseful after the deaths of William and Justine, Victor retreats to Mont Blanc in the hopes that its grandness will uplift his spirits. Likewise, the creature’s ‘heart lightens’ as spring arrives, delivering him from the ‘hellish’ cold and abandonment of the winter. Such as this, nature acts as an instrument through which Shelley mirrors inherent similarity between Frankenstein and the creature. Nature is also constantly depicted as a force stronger than that of man, perceivable by its punishment of Frankenstein for attempting to violate maternal laws in his unnatural creation of the creature. As such, Shelley suggests that Frankenstein’s hubristic attitude towards nature ultimately results in his damnation.
Beauty and Monstrosity (Societal Prejudice)
The creature is rejected almost solely due to its hideously ugly physical appearance, standing at ‘eight feet tall’ and described as ‘a thing even Dante could not have conceived’. Prejudice against outward appearances becomes apparent throughout the novel, as despite educating itself and developing a ‘sophisticated speech’, the creature continues to be judged solely on its appearance and is shunned and beaten due to its repulsiveness. Shelley condemns the extent of this prejudice through the character of William, who, despite the creature’s belief that he is far too young to have ‘imbibed a horror of deformity’, demonstrates intense loathing at the ‘ugly wretch’. In stark contrast to this, the reader can perceive a prevalent social privilege of beauty, as numerous characters are favoured solely for their outward appearances. Safie, similar to the creature in that she is also foreign and unlearned in English, is admired for her ‘countenance of angelic beauty’. While the ‘demoniacal corpse’ of the creature is perceived by society as ‘a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned’, Safie’s beauty marks her as a cherished individual who ‘infuses new life’ into souls.
Victor’s obsession with creating life is shrouded in secrecy, and his obsession with destroying his creation remains equally secretive until his revelation to Walton near the end of the story. However, while Victor chooses to remain reclusive due to his horror and guilt, the creature is forced to do so merely by his hideous appearance. Despite this, the theme of secrecy also links the creator and creature through the character of Walton; in confessing to Walton of his crimes before he dies, Victor is able to escape this stifling secrecy that ruined his life, just as the monster desperately takes advantage of Walton’s presence to force a human connection, hoping to find someone who will empathise with his miserable existence as ‘a monster’.
Frankenstein has been perceived by many as a feminist novel, as Shelley’s weak representation of women acts as a critique to patriarchal ideals of females.
During the eighteenth century, a woman’s finest characteristics were described by Rousseau himself: ‘The first and most important qualification in a woman is good nature or sweetness of temper.’
Thus, in Frankenstein, women are almost always perceived through a male’s perception. The women in the novel are thus excluded from all spheres; not given voices in telling their stories, nor truly figuring in the male characters’ romantic lives.
Female representation is purposefully excluded from the novel in order to accentuate this flaw in society. As such, the women that do appear are symbols of the ‘ideal women’ of the eighteenth century - they are presented as reflections of their male counterparts; as mothers, daughters, sisters, or wives, rather than strong individual entities.
It is important to note that most of Shelley’s idealised women in Frankenstein all die in the end, and the character traits that had defined them as idealised women were the cause of their deaths. For example, Caroline Beaufort dies directly as a result of her acting as a dutiful caregiver, and looking after Elizabeth when she contracts scarlet fever. By emancipating her from her stereotypical role as a woman through death, Shelley suggests that her Enlightened society must depart from this systematic oppression of the female sex.
Author's Views and Values
Frankenstein depicts a variety of Shelley’s views and values. Some ways to word these in an essay would be:
Shelley suggests through Frankenstein’s downfall that an individual cannot succeed in isolation.
Shelley visibly condemns the misuse of intellect and scientific discovery for one’s own personal gain.
In Frankenstein, Shelley depicts the creature’s mistreatment to oppose the societal judgement that beauty is reflective of character.
Shelley offers a moral edict that superfluous pride leads to downfall.
Shelley denounces the naïve ideals of revolution ideology through the tragic and violent consequences of Frankenstein’s discovery
Focus on how Shelley depicts women as merely weaker, sacrificial reflections of their male counterparts.
Margaret Saville, Walton’s ‘dear sister’, is only present in the novel through his narrative portrayal of her. She is described as the ‘angel [of] the house’, and while her brother is exploring to ‘accomplish some great purpose’, Margaret is at home, passively waiting for his letters.
Caroline Beaufort, Victor’s mother, is also only perceptible as the archetypal female, encompassing the roles of wife, mother, and daughter. After her father dies, leaving her as an ‘orphan and beggar’, Caroline is reduced to a damsel in distress in need of saving by Alphonse Frankenstein, who comes to her ‘like a protecting spirit’.
In this paragraph, you could focus on how females are valued primarily as objects of physical beauty, rather than individual human beings of autonomy.
Elizabeth is selected from the orphan peasant group merely due to her ‘very fair’ beauty. Thus, it is this ‘crown of distinction’ which affords Elizabeth her subsequent life of happiness in the Frankenstein household. However, beauty for women also induces objectification, as she is ‘given’ to Victor as a ‘pretty present’, and he views her as his ‘possession’ to ‘protect, love, and cherish’.
Safie is also physically beautiful, with a ‘countenance of angelic beauty and expression’. It is this attractiveness of Safie which affords her marginalised power as a woman. Unlike the creature, who is rejected by the De Laceys because of his ‘hideous deformity’, the foreign Safie ‘[diffuses] happiness among’ the De Lacey household through her ‘exotic’ beauty.
Shelley’s deliberate exclusion of women from romantic and reproductive spheres in Frankenstein condemns the societal oppression of females.
Frankenstein encompasses an immense focus on male relationships. There exists an almost homosexual ‘brotherly affection’ between Walton and Frankenstein, as Frankenstein can be perceived as the figure fulfilling Walton’s ‘bitter… want of a friend’ and companion for life; something that would conventionally be found in a wife.
Homosexual undertones are also evident in Frankenstein’s ‘closest friendship’ with Henry Clerval, who he treasures arguably more than Elizabeth. The murder of Frankenstein’s ‘dearest Henry’ exacts from him ‘agonies’ in the form of ‘strong convulsions’, as he subsequently falls physically ill for two months ‘on the point of death’. In contrast to this, the strangulation of Elizabeth is received by a brief period of mourning, implying that Frankenstein does not require as much time to grieve Elizabeth.
Finally, the male creature and his assumption that a female creature ‘will be content with the same fate’ as himself further emphasises male dismissal of female autonomy.
Essay Topic 2: ‘Life, although it may only be awn accumulation of anguish, is dear to me and I will defend it.’ How does Shelley use paradox to show the complexity of the human condition?’.
As the creature’s education by books teaches him contradictory lessons on human nature, Shelley portrays the acquisition of knowledge as a paradoxical double-edged sword.
Through intertextual references to the books through which the creature ‘[studies] human nature’, Shelley presents the paradoxical characteristics of mankind.
Although The creature is propelled to suicidal thoughts of ‘despondency and gloom’ by Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther, the book also reveals his empathy, as he becomes ‘a listener’ to the ‘lofty sentiments and feelings’ of humanity.
Plutarch’s Lives instils in him the ‘greatest ardour for virtue… and abhorrence for vice’; two traits, the creature realises, that simultaneously and paradoxically manifest in society.
Milton’s Paradise Lost allowsthe creature to compares his rejection by Frankenstein with that of Satan by God. This results in his own paradoxical turn in character - as he subsequently declares ‘ever-lasting war against his ‘accursed creator’, ’evil thenceforth [becomes his] good’.
Shelley purposefully pairs the grotesque physicality of the creature with potent verbal power to showcase his complex humanity.
The creature’s humanity despite his ‘physical deformity allows him to be perceived by the audience as human rather than a ‘wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition’.
For De Lacey, the hideous appearance of the creature is eclipsed by his eloquence, which ‘persuades [him] that [he] is sincere’. Shelley portrays through his initial acceptance of the creature that he is a ‘daemon’ only in appearance, and thus criticises the ‘fatal prejudice that clouds [the majority of society’s] eyes’.
This idea is furthered as Felix’s perception of the creature’s ‘miserable deformity’ results in a ‘violent attack’ upon him. However, the creature abstains from defending himself out of human goodness - despite his capability to tear ‘[Felix] limb from limb’, the creature instead showcases his sensitivity.
Thus, the paradoxical antithesis of the creature is the way in which human actions, such as those of Felix, diminish his own humanity and mould him into the monstrous animal his appearance presents him as.
The symbolism of fire and ice in ‘Frankenstein’ serves as a moral reminder of the paradoxical essence of human ambition.
The motif of fire symbolises the seductive quality of scientific aspiration, as Frankenstein’s ‘longing to penetrate the secrets of nature’ is described as literally ‘warming’ his young imagination. Despite being life-giving, fire is also evidently death-dealing, as fifteen-year-old Frankenstein perceives a vicious storm during which lightning causes the destruction of an oak tree into a ‘blasted stump’ issuing a ‘stream of fire’. As such, the powerfully antithetical nature of fire complicates his ambition, as he muses, ‘How strange… that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!’.
In contrast, the motif of ice represents the perils of superfluous ambition. The icy sea of Mont Blanc serves as the backdrop of Frankenstein’s dialogue with his ‘filthy creation’. The creature utilises his familiarity to the icy climate to overpower his ‘master’; there is a disturbing reversal in roles as the creature forces Frankenstein to follow him into the ‘everlasting ices of the north’, and wishes for him to suffer ‘the misery of cold and frost to which [he himself is] impassive’.
The paradox of fire and ice in Frankenstein culminates in the creature’s dramatic announcement of death by fire, surrounded by ice. This acts as a bitter and ironic parody of both Walton's and Frankenstein's dream of the fire, underscoring its tragic fatality. This is emphasised by the creature’s final words, ‘I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames… my ashes will be swept into the sea by winds’.
The Crucible and Year of Wonders are studied as part of VCE English's Comparative. For one of most popular posts on Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing), check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
The events of The Crucible begin with a group of young girls from Salem being discovered dancing and playing at witchcraft with Tituba, the slave of the town’s religious leader Reverend Parris. When his daughter Betty falls ill as a result, they and others seek to deflect blame away from themselves and simultaneously exact revenge against those they feel have wronged them. To do this, they are led by Parris’ niece Abigail Williams to begin a spree of accusations of witchcraft which result in the hangings of many of the other townspeople, including John Proctor, with whom Abigail once had an affair. For a full detailed guide on The Crucible as a solo text, head over to our The Crucible Study Guide.
Plague strikes a small, isolated Derbyshire village called Eyam in 1666 when it is brought there by a tailor carrying a bolt of infected cloth from London. The village’s population is decimated as a result, and in the resulting Year of Wonders shows her burgeoning strength as a healer and ultimately her escape at the conclusion of the novel to a new life.
3. Character analysis
Year of Wonders
4. Sample paragraphs
Prompt: How do The Crucible and Year of Wonders explore the role of Christianity in their respective communities?
In both The Crucible and Year of Wonders, the Christian faith is a central tenet of the lives of all characters, as both texts tell the story of strongly religious communities. It also acts as a strong driver of the conflict which occurs in both cases, but in quite distinct ways, and propels the action and development of many characters.
While it is not the root of the troubles that develop throughout the courses of the texts, religion and the need to adhere to a belief system are central to their propagation and ultimate resolution. In Year of Wonders, the cause of the plague is as simple as the arrival of a disease carrier in Eyam, but is framed as a ‘trial’ sent by God for the villagers to face. Likewise the scourge of accusations of witchcraft that befalls Salem is simply a result of people straying outside the bounds of good behaviour dictated by their community, but is instead seen as an outbreak of witchcraft and consorting with Satan. As such religion becomes the lens through which both crises are viewed, and is used to try to explain and resolve them. Before the advent of more modern scientific practices, one of the only ways that inexplicable events such as outbreaks of infectious disease or mass hysteria could be understood and tamed was to paint them as either benign or malignant spiritual acts. This allowed people to lay the blame not at their own doors, but at that of something beyond them; for the people of Eyam, something which in truth was a chance epidemiologic event could be seen as ‘an opportunity that He offers to very few upon this Earth’. Because in both Eyam and Salem faith was already a familiar, stalwart part of everyday life, framing their respective disasters as acts of God or the Devil took away some of their fear, as they chose to see a terrible thing as part of something they had known since infancy.
Religion is far more than part of the everyday life and prayer of the common people of Year of Wonders and The Crucible; it is the foundation of their moral code and their way of explaining events which are frightening and make no sense. It also acts as a driving force within individuals as well as communities, deciding one way or another their actions and ultimately their characters.
Both texts are rich narratives on their own, but they are also strongly grounded in historical events that you may not have studied in great depth and which significantly influence the plot and characters’ actions – this is especially relevant when discussing the religion portrayed in the texts. You may miss many of the authors’ intended messages if you’re not aware of the full context of the books. Here are some ideas in this area that you might want to research:
The Crucible also has a very interesting place in modern history as Arthur Miller’s comment on the rampant McCarthyism of 1950s America. Do some research on Miller’s life and views (the introduction or foreword of your novel might have some useful hints).
Also note that The Crucible is a play whereas Year of Wonders is a novel; how does each format uphold or reveal the author’s thoughts and ideas? How does the format of the text affect its other features (narrative, characters, voice etc.)?
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