Category Archives: Leaving Cert Paper 2

Paper 2 advice and notes.

Single text options…

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word supplement on Tuesday 27th January 2015.


If you are sitting Honours English for the Leaving Cert, you have to study Shakespeare but you don’t have to do it as your single text. You can include it as one of your comparatives and answer instead on one of the prescribed novels for the 60 mark single text question.

This years list (2015) of single texts to choose from if you’re doing honours English and are using Othello as part of your comparative are:

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. All My Sons by Arthur Miller

Because most of the country study Shakespeare for this section, you do have a certain psychological

advantage over your Bardic peers: any examiner will relish a break from the monotony of correcting the same content over and over again! However, when you see how easily students from other schools can get their hands on sample answers for every aspect of every character and theme in Othello, you may find yourself silently cursing your teacher. Fret not – your teacher knows exactly what they’re doing! No student ever did well by learning off sample answers prepared by other people. Nonetheless, it can be annoying to have few – if any – actual exam paper questions to work off, so here I’ll examine elements of character, theme and style it might be wise to revise.

Pride and Prejudice


  • Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennett – her strengths and weaknesses, your level of sympathy and/or admiration for her, her journey as a character and the extent to which she has changed over the course of the novel. Her search for her true self & whether or not Mr Darcy encourages or gets in the way of this quest.
  • Mr Darcy – his strengths and weaknesses, his relationship with and influence over Lizzy.
  • Mr Collins and Mr Wickham as foils to Mr Darcy and love interests for Lizzy.
  • Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia and the representation of women they offer.


  • Marriage as an obsession is the central theme of Pride and Prejudice
  • Despite many setbacks, romantic love ultimately triumphs in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • Pride and Prejudice explores power and powerlessness in a world where women are second class citizens
  • “In Pride and Prejudice, all of Austen’s characters have trouble distinguishing between appearance and reality
  • Social class concerns dominate the world created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice


  • Austen uses many literary techniques in Pride and Prejudice to communicate the snobbery of the Regency Era
  • Our view of events is limited by the use of first person narration, but expanded when necessary by Austen’s inclusion of letters as a literary device


  • Despite the happy ending, Pride and Prejudice offers a very negative view of the world the Bennett sisters inhabit


Never Let Me Go


  • Kathy – her strengths and weaknesses, your level of sympathy and/or admiration for her, her journey as a character and the extent to which she has changed over the course of the novel. Her search for her true self & whether or not Mr Darcy encourages or gets in the way of this quest.
  • Tommy – as above
  • Ruth – as above
  • Madame, Miss Emily, Miss Lucy – Examine the impact they have upon the central characters & the way they illustrate various themes.


  • The central theme of Never Let Me Go is the loss of innocence”
  • Never Let Me Go is a coming of age story which horrifies even as it enthralls
  • Moral questions dominate Never Let Me Go but are never fully resolved
  • Love and friendship are beacons of hope in the otherwise bleak novel Never Let Me Go
  • The search for self, for one’s true identity, for what it means to be human, is both memorable and tragic in Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go
  • In Never Let Me Go, as the future becomes bleak, characters obsess over the past


  • The true horror of this novel lies in the narrator’s calm acceptance of her nature & her fate
  • Kathy is an unreliable narrator in, yet this only adds to the pathos of her plight”


  • “Never Let Me Go is a timely novel which demands that we ask difficult questions about morality and the regulation of science”


The Great Gatsby


  • Nick Carraway – his role as narrator, his individual strengths and weaknesses, your level of sympathy and/or admiration for him, his journey as a character and the extent to which he changes over the course of the novel.
  • Gatsby – his strengths and weaknesses, your level of sympathy and/or admiration for him, his journey as a character and the extent to which he changes over the course of the novel.
  • Daisy – as above
  • Main supporting characters – Tom, Jordan, George, Myrtle, Meyer Wolfshiem. Examine their impact upon the unfolding plot & the way they illustrate various themes.


  • The Great Gatsby powerfully illustrates both the allure and the folly of the American dream
  • Idealism gives way entirely to despair in The Great Gatsby
  • The Great Gatsby memorably evokes the social upheaval and decadence of the roaring twenties
  • Obsessive love dominates The Great Gatsby, ultimately leading to ruination and despair”
  • “The Great Gatsby at its heart is a novel about ego and ambition”


  • “The title of “The Great Gatsby” is entirely ironic. Indeed irony, as a device, is used to devastating effect in the novel”
  • “Poetic language and rich symbolism make The Great Gatsby a seductive and beautiful work of art”


  • “The Great Gatsby offers an entirely depressing vision of human nature” Discuss


All My Sons


  • Joe – as a tragic hero; as an ‘everyman’; his strengths and weaknesses, your level of sympathy and/or admiration for him, his journey as a character and the extent to which he changes over the course of the play.
  • Kate – her strengths and weaknesses, your level of sympathy and/or admiration for her, her journey as a character and the extent to which she changes over the course of the play.
  • Chris – as above; plus his relationship with his parents, particularly his father.
  • Ann – as above; plus her relationship with Chris, with her father and with Larry
  • Minor characters: George, Larry, Frank, Jim – dramatic function in the play. Extent to which they illustrate various themes.


  • The central theme of Miller’s play ‘All My Sons’ is father-son relationships”
  • “In ‘All My Sons’ secrets and lies shimmer beneath the ordinary surface of everyday life”
  • “The destructive power of guilt is unleashed to devastating consequence in ‘All My Sons’
  • “The past haunts the present in ‘All My Sons’ and in many ways determines the future”
  • “Justice and morality are central themes in Miller’s play”


  • In ‘All My Sons’, Miller plays with time to powerful dramatic effect
  • Scenes of compelling drama in All My Sons prove that Miller is a master playwright”


  • “The moral of Miller’s play is that we cannot escape the consequences of our actions”


Ordinary Level Single Texts

Students sitting the ordinary level paper have a wider choice of texts. They can choose any one of the following for their single text:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston
  • Home Before Night by Hugh Leonard
  • All My Sons by Arthur Millar
    Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey
  • Othello by William Shakespeare

Tackling the Comparative

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word supplement on Tuesday 27th January 2015.


Knowing your individual texts is a vital starting point, but there’s more to comparative than knowing your texts. You also need to be clear what your modes of comparison are so you can draw connections between texts, analysing similarities and differences. The idea behind this section is, after all, the comparison of texts to each other. Once they stand in sharp contrast to each other you’ll find that you can see each text more clearly. With that in mind, consciously embedding linking phrases in your writing (until they flow naturally), answering the question that’s asked (not the one you wish was asked because you’ve it prepared) and aiming to achieve depth in your comparisons are three further skills you need to develop.

  1. Modes of comparison

At higher level, your modes for 2015 are theme or issue, general vision and viewpoint and literary genre. [At ordinary level, theme is also one of the modes, alongside relationships and hero, heroine, villain]. If you’re not entirely sure what the modes mean, google it, there are plenty of definitions out there. Every year the modes change, so if you’re sitting the LC in 2016, 2017 or later, make sure you check which modes apply to your year.

For theme or issue you might consider some of the following:

  • How is this theme introduced? How does this theme affect the central character/characters?
  • How is this theme developed? Do the central characters embrace or fight against it? How?
  • Do other characters influence how this theme unfolds?
  • How does the text end & what are our final impressions of this theme as a result?

Asking the same question of each text allows you to come up with the all important links (similarities & differences) but try not to over-simplify (more on this later).

For general vision & viewpoint you might ask yourself some of these questions:

  • How do I feel as I read/watch this text?
  • What view is offered of humanity (are the main characters likable or deplorable?)
  • What view is offered of society (is this society largely benign or does it negatively impact on the characters)
  • How does the text end & what vision are we left with (positive or negative) as a result?

Alternatively you could just take a beginning, middle, end approach but you must at all times focus on whether the vision/feelings/atmosphere is positive or negative and how this impacts on the reader/viewers experience. Be specific about the atmosphere in the text; the feelings experienced by the audience or reader. Showing an awareness of the way this vision is communicated (through the musical score, the editing, the use of symbolism, stage directions etc…) may also be important, depending on the way the question is phrased.

For literary genre, things are a bit more complicated. Literary genre deals with how a story is told and it’s worth remembering that ‘genre’ has multiple meanings. It can refer to whether a text is a tragedy, a comedy, a morality tale etc. It will also denote the conventions of certain types of stories – science fiction, thriller, romance, horror. On a basic level, it also references the fact that texts tell their stories differently depending on whether they are a novel, play or film. For the novel, this involves the use of descriptive prose with a narrator(s) unfolding the plot for us. In a play, the story is told through dialogue and stage directions. While we may study drama by reading its text, it is often easy to lose sight of the fact that playwrights intend for their work to be performed on stage and not simply read in a classroom. In this light, the performance of actors and indeed the production will be as critical as the text. This also applies to film but we don’t study a film by reading its screenplay or simply watching it, we engage instead with the language of cinema; with framing, camera angles, editing, mis-en-scene, the musical score etc…

You must focus on the aspects mentioned in the question – possibly some of the following, but this list is not exhaustive and you may well focus on other aspects:

  • Genre – differences between novel/play/film
  • Literary devices specific to that mode of storytelling
  • Narrator / point of view
  • Characterisation
  • Chronology – flashback / flashforward
  • Climax / twist


  1. Linking phrases

If you’re not used to making comparisons, at first your use of these phrases may be a bit clunky. The only way to achieve a natural flow is to practice, practice, practice until making the links happens organically, unconsciously. This is what will lead to good comparative writing.

To say the texts are similar:


In the same way / In much the same way

In ______, we also see ___________

These characters react in the same way, both __________ because _____

These characters react similarly but for completely different reasons….

Both texts reveal that __________

This is also obvious in ________ when _______, just like ____ decides __________

We also see this in ________

Likewise, in __________

This is mirrored in _________

The two texts share a similarity in that __________


To point out differences:

By contrast, in _________

In a different way ________

The opposite is seen in _________

Unlike _________

A completely different situation is clear in _________

In direct contrast to this, in _________, _________

The reverse is true in ________

Nothing like this is evident in _________ because they don’t value _______

These two texts could not be more different, particularly in thier outlook on _________

This is very different to ___________

This is somewhat different to _______


  1. Answer the question asked.

Again and again we’re told that those who genuinely engage with the question on the paper are rewarded and those who reproduce a stock learnt off answer are not.

Here’s an extract from the Chief Examiner’s Report

examiners were pleased when they saw candidates trust in their own personal response and demonstrate a willingness to challenge the ‘fixed meaning’ of texts. The best answers managed to remain grounded, both in the question asked and in the texts”.

Examiners complained that students had pre-prepared answers which they refused to adapt to the question asked. Don’t get confused here: in the comparative section you have to have done a lot of preparation prior to the exam. The similarities and differences are unlikely to simply occur to you on the day under exam conditions and the structure of comparing and contrasting, weaving the texts together using linking phrases and illustrating points using key moments is not something you can just DO with no practice. It’s a skill you have to learn. But you MUST be willing to change, adapt, and select from what you know to engage fully with the question asked.

  1. Depth

As we’ve already established, there are two fundamental errors you’re in danger of making when writing your comparative answers

  1. You fail to answer the question.
  2. Your links are weak and superficial.

Let’s look at depth in more detail now. Imagine the question is “What did you enjoy about exploring the general vision & viewpoint of the texts you studied?”

Below is the kind of answer that will get you a D2 ( I made up this answer. I’m not slagging off a real student’s work)

“I really enjoyed studying the general vision and viewpoint of my three texts. The opening scene of DAL is quite nostalgic as Michael looks back on his childhood in Donegal but it’s also pessimistic because he says things weren’t really what they seemed and he mentions Fr. Jack coming home but not being nearly as impressive as they expected. We then see the Mundy sisters together, they are a close family but Kate tends to boss them around and the others resent this, particularly Agnes. When she decides they can’t go to the harvest dance the sisters are pissed off but Kate thinks it wouldn’t be right. Similarly the opening scene of IID is quite pessimistic. Michael sits on his own in Carrigmore home for the disabled and he can’t communicate because he is handicapped and can’t speak properly. He tries to warn one of the workers that there’s a cable that might get snagged and someone will trip but they don’t understand what he’s trying to say. He seems really frustrated and I would hate to be in his situation. The first scene in HMB is also pessimistic. Alec is waiting to die and he won’t get in touch with anybody in his family to tell them what’s happening. He doesn’t seem to even care and when the priest comes in he sends him away after making jokes about his own death. So I enjoyed seeing how awful some people’s lives can be because mine is way better and that made me happy”

What’s wrong with this answer?

  • Question is thrown in at the beginning and end of the paragraph but no effort is made to actually engage with the question.
  • Sentences go on – and on – and on. The writer clearly has no control over what they’re trying to say. It comes out in a stream of consciousness onto the page.
  • Informal conversational language and slang “she bosses them around” “pissed off” “he doesn’t even care” “mine is way better”
  • Inaccurate and vague details: “handicapped” instead of “cerebral palsy”, “can’t speak properly” instead of “has a speech impediment”, “he says things weren’t as they seemed” instead of including the quote “I had an awareness of a widening breech between what seemed to be and what was”, reference to the “priest” instead of the “padre”.
  • Texts dealt with separately with superficial links barely established “similarly” “also”.


Now let’s have a look at how to do it really well (this is a difficult skill to master):

“Studying the general vision and viewpoint of my three texts offered me a fascinating insight into the quiet lives of desperation many people lead and I found myself on tenterhooks, rooting for the central characters as they attempted to create a better life for themselves. The opening scene of DAL is full of nostalgia as Michael the narrator launches into a flashback of the summer when Fr. Jack returned from the missions. Despite the closeness of the family unit (Michael remembers his aunts dancing wildly to the music from the wireless) there is an aura of mystery and foreboding, an awareness “of a widening breach between what seemed to be and what was”. This aura makes DAL in many ways similar to HMB (from the beginning of both texts the reader feels something bad is about to happen) but the atmosphere of fear and foreboding are much more pronounced in HMB. The opening scene fills us with unease as Alec waits to die. Unlike the Mundy sisters (DAL) we have no sense that he feels close to his family – in fact he bluntly admits “I love no living person, I am committed to no cause…I have not communicated with either my father or mother”. I found his indifference to his plight deeply unsettling. Thus although I felt compelled to read on, I cannot say I ‘enjoyed’ watching him suffer.

The same is true of IID, where the central character’s difficulties fill the reader with sympathy. Michael’s cerebral palsy and speech impediment isolate him from the other residents but what makes this film subtly (yet significantly) different to HMB is that in IID we can see Michael’s frustration, through a series of close-ups of his face as he tries to communicate with Eileen and warn her of the impending accident (he has seen a vacuum cable snag and knows it will trip someone up). By contrast Alec (HMB) expresses no desire to escape the awful situation he finds himself in. Yet there are also interesting similarities between HMB and IID , for example the complete lack of family support and in some ways this makes DAL the most positive of the three – no matter what their difficulties at least the Mundy sisters have each other. Thus I can honestly say that all three texts captured my imagination, roused my curiosity and engaged my sympathy for the central characters in the opening scene, thus adding to my enjoyment and compelling me to read (or watch!) on.

Why is this so good by comparison?

  • The question is fully engaged with throughout by the writer.
  • Sentences are complex but highly controlled (writer uses brackets if adding something significant that would make the sentence unwieldy).
  • Formal language of critical analysis is used at all times.
  • Details are accurate and specific, including occasional use of quotes (perhaps four or five in total in your essay is more than sufficient).
  • Texts are interwoven; links are complex, recognising obvious similarities and differences but also going further to establish subtle distinctions.


NOTE: Always check the list of texts to see which ones are prescribed for your year. Above two of the three texts I mention are not on the list for 2015. For our purposes, that’s no harm: I want you to ignore the content and focus on the style of writing instead. But if you write on a text that’s not on the list for your year in the exam you will lose all of the marks available for discussing that text.

Reading Shakespeare (Othello)

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word supplement on Tuesday, 27th January 2015.IMG_0304

Plays are meant to be performed on a stage, not dissected in a classroom! Right?

Well, wrong actually. An either/or debate with performance on one side and close reading of the text on the other is completely pointless. Plays are meant to be studied and performed.

Let’s imagine a bunch of actors are preparing to put on a performance of Othello. They will both study the play and perform the play and crucially, they could not perform it well without studying it closely. For this reason, in rehearsal, they will treat the play script like their bible.

A close reading of the text will assist them in figuring out:

  • Othello, Iago and Desdemona’s motivations [perhaps a quest for respect, revenge and freedom respectively?] and state of mind.
  • the relationships between them and how they change and evolve
  • the themes which dominate [jealousy, revenge, deception, betrayal and corrupted love?]
  • the key moments which best embody these themes
  • setting and cultural context [Venice as civilised but sexist, Cyprus as a volatile unruly hothouse, the complex issue of racism and attitudes towards adultery, honour and justice]
  • how the beginning grabs the audience [Iago’s secret scheme]; where the most compelling moments of drama occur [the temptation scene]; the dramatic climax [Othello murders Desdemona]; and the impact of the ending [horror, shock, disgust…].
  • the flow of the plot and the speed at which events unfold [Shakespeare’s text contains contradictions but it’s most likely that Othello murdered Desdemona within a few days of and possibly as little as a day and a half after, his arrival in Cyprus]
  • the impact of the dramatic and literary devices used. [For example, Iago’s soliloquies make us feel complicit in his crimes; foreshadowing is created through recurring imagery, particularly jealousy as a monster; the symbolism of the handkerchief as a sign of loyalty and the foreboding we feel as this symbol comes to represent ‘proof’ of Desdemona’s betrayal; and dramatic irony drips from every page as the gulf between appearance and reality gets wider and wider and wider, all thanks to Iago’s machiavellian scheme].

We tend to think that these features come to life more fully embodied in the flesh, rather than read on a page, and so they do, for an audience. But the actors job works in both directions, moving from the page to the stage and back again; engaging in a constant interplay between the two until what is on the page becomes so fully a part of the performer that he no longer needs to script.

Will actors look at other performances of the play as they prepare? Perhaps, but always in a comparative way. There is no ‘correct’ interpretation of Othello. Examining the differences in the interpretations various actors have taken might help, but an actor won’t copy and paste a performance. They wouldn’t get much praise or admiration for a ‘karaoke’ version; an actor needs to put their own stamp on the character!

You may well say ‘this is all quite fascinating but bottom line, as a student in a classroom, where should my focus be? Am I the actor figuring out how to perform the role? Am I the audience member, swept up in the emotion of the drama? Or am I the theatre critic, analysing how the various elements all hang together?

The truth is, you are expected to be all three!

You’ll need to think like an actor, constantly interrogating the play script to figure out all of the same things as the actor listed above – characters, themes, setting, plot, dramatic devices etc. The complicating factor is that you need to do this for all of the characters, not just one, so perhaps your role is closer to that of director than actor.

You’ll also need to think like an audience member. Your experience of watching a play undoubtedly matters and the emotions you feel should not be ignored or discarded or dismissed. In fact, one of the most common examination questions on the Shakespearean play asks you to trace your fluctuating levels of sympathy for the central characters, so tune in to your human visceral response as the play unfolds.

And finally, you need to think like a critic. How well put together is this play? What devices are used and how do they impact on the audience? What ‘version’ of each character is being presented to you in each performance you watch?

This is all very abstract so let’s try and make it real.


Imagine you’re an actor playing the role of Iago.  Will you play Iago as a vindictive twisted little man who’s throwing all the toys out of the pram because he didn’t get what he wanted (promotion and the social status that goes along with it)? If that’s the version of him that makes the most sense to you, you’ll create a performance akin to Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder. Sneaky, sly, manipulative and ultimately dislikable. But if you take Iago more seriously and see him as a dangerous sociopath, utterly devoid of conscience, then your version of Iago will more closely resemble Tom Vaughan Lawlor as Nidge in Love/Hate. A remorseless, ruthless, single-minded psycho with an indefinable charm. The kind of person who will smile in your face even as he stabs you in the back.


These two versions will in turn have very different impacts on the audience. We’ll be amused by the Blackadder-esque Iago but we’ll also view him as somewhat pathetic. His vindictiveness will disgust us and we’ll want him to get caught. But if we’re viewing a Nidge-esque portrayal of Iago, we’ll be constantly on the edge of our seats, terrified by yet weirdly drawn to this magnetic psycho. We’ll know he deserves to get caught but we’ll feel conflicted about whether or not we want that to happen.


What is it about the way Shakespeare has written the part of Iago that makes us wonder why the play’s not named after him? He is not the eponymous hero of the title and yet, without Iago, there is no play. How does he drive forward the plot? What language and imagery emerges from his mouth? How does the irony at the centre of the play hinge almost entirely on his contradictory words and actions? How does his behaviour at the end effect the atmosphere in the theatre as the play ends and the curtain comes down?

So should you study the play or see it performed?

The answer is not either or, but both!

Let it flow…

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word supplement on Monday January 2th 2015


Good writers value flow. When an idea works, they grab it, massage it and make it their own. When it doesn’t, they cut it loose and, like Frozen, they just ‘let it go’.

I’m not saying they don’t get writer’s block – they do!

Nor am I saying that words and ideas flow out of them like water from a tap. Their words are just squiggles on a page, the same as the rest of us. And thank god, or we’d have lots of empty taps and sopping wet pages on our hands, not to mention the cost in water charges!

But what good writers understand, in their deep heart’s core, is the importance of generating flow for the reader. Ideas need to be linked to each other; paragraphs need to be sequenced logically and the reader needs to be eased in – and eased out – of the reading experience.

So how, good reader, do you achieve this in your writing?


First and foremost you should do something with that brainstorm your teacher insisted you create! The ideas are there but which one will you start with? Something to really seize the reader’s attention? A quote? A shocking statistic? Now where will you go next? What ideas have something in common, even something tenuous, that will enable you to segue from one to the next so that they seem like logical progressions akin to steps on a staircase to wisdom? And when the journey’s over and the essay is nearly done, how will you loop back to your starting point yet add a depth that did not exist when the reader stepped out bravely on this journey with you?


Secondly, you need a thread which ties everything together. It can help to think of the paragraphs in your essay as the seven dwarfs. Each one has it’s own defining identity: not sleepy or dopey hopefully, but with recognisable features that make it distinct from all of the others. Yet there’s no question that they belong together! You can look from one to the next to the next and see how they all form an inseparable unit that would be weaker if any one of them went missing or was left behind.


Now that you’ve got a plan, a certain amount of flow will emerge from the sequence you’ve decided to implement. However, you need flow within your paragraphs as well as between them. This is where the third vital element of connectives comes in. These are words which form bridges, both within and between sentences. You’ll see a list of examples below but a word of warning here: connectives used well are almost invisible. Used badly, they’re like your Dad at a wedding with his trousers rolled up, wearing his tie as a headband and playing air guitar. They just look all wrong!

Here’s an example of connectives used well:

Ireland undoubtedly has a tradition of neutrality. Clearly this is the will of the people. However, it would be foolish of us to assume that this desire to remain neutral will continue indefinitely into the future. We live in an era of growing global terrorism and were we to be targeted by terrorists we would need to respond, not just for our safety but also for the safety of our neighbours. Furthermore, we are socially, economically and emotionally tied to Europe and so an attack on Europe would also be an attack on us.”

And here’s an example of connectives used badly:

Ireland has a tradition of neutrality. Furthermore this is the will of the people. Nevertheless it would be foolish of us to assume that this desire to remain neutral will continue. We live in an era of growing global terrorism and were we targeted by terrorists we would need to respond. At the same time we are tied to Europe socially, economically and emotionally so to conclude an attack on Europe would also be an attack on us.

Just typing that second example was like scrapping my nails down a blackboard and reading it back is like jabbing hot pokers in my eyeballs.

The bottom line is this: using connectives for the sake of it or because some teacher in the Indo supplement told you to won’t work. You need to understand the words you’re using. You need to know how they work to create flow in your writing.

There is no shortcut to this knowledge. You won’t just innately know how to use connectives properly, unless you’ve been reading voraciously from an early age and engaging in family debates around the dinner table on a daily basis all of your life, so you’ll need to practice. Reading a lot and reading the right kind of material (speeches, debates, newspaper articles, academic essays) will increase your familiarity with connectives and help them to flow more naturally into your own writing.

Sample connectives:

  • First of all…secondly…thirdly

  • In the beginning… then… ultimately…finally

  • Nonetheless, nevertheless, although, even though, however

  • Furthermore, in addition, above all, essentially

  • Thus, therefore, hence, as a result

  • On the other hand… alternatively… besides

  • Clearly, obviously, evidently, logically

So you’ve got the guidelines. You’re good to go. And now, to paraphrase Frozen once more, it’s time to ‘Let it flow, let it flow, can’t hold it back anymore…’

King Lear questions

King Lear

First of all let’s look at the broad categories questions usually fall into:



You may be asked to discuss the following when it comes to characters:

King Lear:

  • a tragic hero? (does he recognise his flaws and gain self-knowledge?)
  • his nobility (is he a good man? / strengths & weaknesses / virtues & flaws)
  • his relationship with his daughters & treatment of / by them
  • the extent to which he is responsible for the tragedy which occurs
  • our level of sympathy for him


  • his nobility / is he a good man? / strengths and weaknesses / virtues and flaws
  • our level of sympathy for him
  • his relationship with his sons & treatment of / by them
  • his dramatic function in the play

Lear & Gloucester:

  • how and why their stories mirror each other
  • the extent to which they bring about their own downfall
  • our level of sympathy for them


  • too good to be true or a believable character?
  • virtues and flaws / our level of sympathy for her
  • dramatic function in the play?

Goneril and Regan:

  • treatment of their father
  • extent to which they present a very negative view of women


  • an admirable villain? or a sociopath?

Edmund and Edgar:

  • contrast in their characters and personalities

Kent and The Fool

  • dramatic function and believability

All characters:

  • contrast the extremes of good and evil presented in the characters in the play
  • the play is very pessimistic about human nature
  • the play is very pessimistic about human relationships / family / parent – child dynamics


The major themes in the play are:

  • Justice
  • Family
  • Loyalty & Betrayal
  • Blindness
  • Appearance vs Reality (Deception/Manipulation)
  • Madness
  • Love
  • Good and Evil
  • Suffering
  • Forgiveness
  • Kingship

For each theme – no matter what the wording – ask yourself

WHO does this theme apply to?
HOW / WHY does this character have to deal with this issue?
Do they CHANGE over the course of the play?
Are there any SCENES which highlight this theme specifically?
What are our FINAL IMPRESSIONS of this issue?


  • Relevance to a modern audience
  • Pessimistic play?


  • Language & Imagery
  • Dramatic Irony
  • Compelling Drama – scene or scenes


In each case you are given a statement which you can fully agree with, partially agree with or completely disagree with. In the most recent Chief Examiner’s Report, students were advised to avoid taking an overly simplistic approach (“I agree 100% that…”). It’s understandable that this would be your first instinct under exam conditions, but remember that a single sentence rarely sums up accurately the complexity and nuance of an entire play. Yes, you’ll look for evidence that supports the statement, but you’ll also need to display an awareness that different phases in the play contain different truths. Your attitude to a character, theme, relationship in the play will change and morph as the play unfolds and the plot develops…

King Lear

King Lear is a man more sinned against than sinning” – Discuss

Lear is a ‘foolish fond old man’ who deserves everything he gets” – Discuss

Lear embarks on a harrowing journey through suffering to self-knowledge. At the end of the play he is a better and wiser man

The play King Lear is a realistic tragedy that depicts the tragic consequences of one man’s folly

King Lear is not a tragic hero, but rather a victim of circumstances


“Gloucester is a weak and gullible man, but at heart, a decent one”

“Gloucester serves an important dramatic function in making Lear’s circumstances more credible”

“Discuss the dramatic significance of the Gloucester story in the play King Lear”

Lear and Gloucester

“Neither Lear nor Gloucester are deserving of the love and service they receive from their followers”


“Cordelia shares with her father the faults of pride and obstinacy”

“Cordelia’s dramatic function in the play is twofold: her wisdom highlights her father’s foolishness; her goodness  highlights her sisters’ malevolence” 

Goneril and Regan

“Lear’s evil daughters allow Shakespeare to present a very negative view of women in the play”


“Edmund is a sociopath: a charming liar, incapable of remorse, who views men and women merely as obstacles or aids to his ambition”

“Edmund is an admirable villain. At the beginning of the play he has nothing; by the end he is almost King”

Edmund and Edgar

“Gloucester’s sons represent the very best and the very worst in human nature”

Minor characters: Kent & The Fool

“The Fool serves as Lear’s conscience in the play. When he disappears, it is because Lear no longer needs him”

“The fool is an unnecessary distraction in the play King Lear”

“Kent is too loyal to be believable as a real human being”

General character questions

“The play King Lear offers characters who represent the very best and the very worst in human nature”

“Shakespeare’s King Lear presents a dark and pessimistic view of humanity”



“Cosmic justice is denied, yet human justice prevails in the play King Lear”


“The relationship between parents and children is unrealistically portrayed in the play King Lear”

Loyalty (&/or Betrayal)

“It is only the loyalty of loved ones that enables Lear and Gloucester to endure their sufferings”


“The theme of blindness – both physical and emotional – is dramatically presented in the play King Lear”

Appearance vs Reality (Deception/Manipulation)

“In King Lear, whilst characters are initially fooled by appearances, they gradually come to see the truth”


“In King Lear, ‘sane’ characters frequently behave in a crazy manner, whilst ‘mad’ characters at times seem perfectly sane”


“Love as a redemptive force is a major theme in the play King Lear”

The play King Lear memorably explores the meaning of love

Good and Evil

“King Lear examines the nature of good and evil but neither force emerges triumphant”


“Learning through suffering is central to the play”


The importance of self-knowledge and forgiveness is strikingly evident in the play King Lear”


“The play King Lear explores what it means to be a good King”


“The play King Lear offers us one central experience: pessimism”

“Shakespeare’s vision of the world is not entirely pessimistic in the play King Lear”

“King Lear is one of the greatest tragedies ever written”

“Scenes of great suffering and of great tenderness help to make King Lear a very memorable play”

“The two plots of King Lear are closely paralleled in theme, character and action, to great dramatic effect”

“What, if any, relevance, does the play King Lear hold for today’s readers?”


“King Lear is a play filled with striking images and symbols which heighten our experience of the play”

“Dramatic irony is used to tragic, and occasionally comic effect, in Shakespeare’s King Lear”

“The way characters speak accurately reflects their personality in Shakespeare’s King Lear”

King Lear contains many scenes of compelling drama, but the extremity of the cruelty and violence presented prevents the audience from achieving catharsis. Rather than a release, we feel haunted by what we have witnessed