Tag Archives: leaving cert english

Article vs Speech

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement, March 2014.

It can be difficult to wrap your head around the difference between writing an article for publication and writing a speech to be delivered to a live audience. In order to help you to grasp the difference, I’ve taken the same topic, used the same structure and made the same points, but one is an opinion piece for publication in a newspaper and the other is a speech. Read them both and then play a game of SPOT THE DIFFERENCE…


Mia Murphy

[*Mia Murphy is a lawyer, a journalist & a human rights activist. She blogs at www.freedomfightersireland.ie or you can find her on facebook/freedomfightersireland or twitter @miamurphy]

We live in an era of unprecedented individual freedom. Unhappy with your parents? Divorce them. With your gender? Change it. With your life? End it.

The question begs to be asked however: is unlimited personal freedom a good thing for society? The answer, resolutely, is no. We are too eager to glorify people’s right to choose, too willing to ignore the reality that many people’s choices are often limited or foolish or self-destructive. In the very worst cases they are sometimes all three. So despite my fond notion that I am free to do what I want, in reality I know that my freedom is in many ways a construct of a good education and a well paid job. Without these two pillars of security in my life, my ‘choices’ might look very different indeed.

Let’s consider, for example, the idea “it’s my body and I should be allowed to do what I want with it”. At the simpler end of the spectrum, I can decide to shave my hair off for charity. I won’t really be hurting anyone – or myself – because the hair will grow back. Slightly more complex might be my decision to donate a kidney to a family member or friend. I get the warm fuzzy glow of saving a life, and hey, it turns out most people can survive perfectly fine with just one kidney! So even though it won’t grow back the way my hair did, who cares? Perhaps I could use my body as an incubator, could carry a baby for my fertility-challenged sister, or for my gay brother and his partner? There is no greater gift on earth than to give someone who would otherwise be childless the opportunity to experience the joys of parenthood.

So the freedom to do what I want with my body is a good thing, right?

Well only if I remain resolutely blind to the selfless utopian bubble I’ve created above, where motives are always pure and bodies and minds remain unharmed by the choices we make. This is simply not true. Many people sacrifice parts of themselves they would much rather keep sacred, through economic necessity. To really understand a person’s level of individual freedom, what matters is not so much what we do but rather why we do it.

Hair these days is big business. If I’ve got long locks, I can sell my ponytail for about €100. If my hair is blond, the rarest shade, I’ll get closer to €1000 for it. The hair extensions industry in Ireland alone is estimated by Hallinan Beauty Group to be worth about €2.5 million and significantly the vast majority of it is imported from abroad. But where does this hair come from? In most cases, it’s shave or die of the worst kind, where women in India, China and Eastern Europe sell their hair to stave off hunger and poverty or to pay for a better education for their children. In a world where long hair is still the benchmark of female beauty, this isn’t about personal freedom, this is about lack of options, lack of money, lack of choice. Or to be more precise, so that women in the developed world can feel beautiful, can have the ‘free choice’ to wear someone else’s hair and pass it off as their own, women in the developing world are making the not-so-free decision to privilege food, shelter and education over their own ‘beauty’. They are every bit as selfless as the wealthy westerner who shaves their hair off for charity but they are entitled to feel bitter that extreme poverty makes this not a choice but a necessity.

The freedom to do what I want with my internal organs is even more fraught with difficulties. Of course I can – and should – carry an organ donation card with me. If I die before my time, I might as well give my body parts to someone who can use them. But what about auctioning off my organs to the highest bidder whilst I’m still alive? Again, the issue of poverty, necessity and sometimes just plain old stupidity and greed raises its head, as a recent case in China illustrates, where a 17 yr old teen secretly sold a kidney for €3,500 before admitting to what he had done when his mother questioned how he could suddenly afford to buy a laptop, iPad and iPhone. His actions were not just a case of consumerism gone mad but were also unwittingly self-destructive, as his remaining kidney was subsequently revealed to have limited function. Ironically, he now finds himself on the organ donor waiting list alongside 1.5 million others, the organ shortage in China fuelling the very black market trade this boy fell victim to. Yes he made a free choice, but one he will undoubtedly regret for the rest of his life. What all of this reveals is that sometimes limiting people’s freedom is necessary in order to protect them from their own profound stupidity.

Nonetheless, there remain many miraculous things we can do with our bodies. Using them to create life is perhaps the greatest ability we have as human beings. We view the right to procreate as so fundamental that we are overwhelmed with sympathy for couples who are unable to conceive. Hence, many of us have no problem with the concept of surrogacy if the aim is to offer a childless couple the miracle of parenthood. However, once money enters the frame we become decidedly more squeamish. Is my body a commodity to be bought and sold? When I list my assets on my tax return, should I include my fully functioning womb? I can rent it out for maybe €15,000 per pregnancy. Heck, that’s more money than I’d get on the dole! Yet the emotional, psychological and ethical fallout from surrogacy can be horrendous.

What if, as happened recently in the U.S., the baby has foetal abnormalities? Can the surrogate be forced to abort the baby if the genetic parents decide they only want a ‘healthy’ child? If the surrogate falls ill, can she be forced to continue with the pregnancy against her will? Even if we put these relatively rare scenarios aside for a moment, the inconvenient truth is that most commercial surrogacy arrangements take place in poor countries where there is little regulation, countries like Thailand, Uganda and the Ukraine. Baby factories have sprung up all over India where the industry is worth $2bn and where estimates suggest 25,000 babies a year are born to surrogates. Many women are ashamed of their decision, hiding it from their existing children and in-laws but are lured in by the monetary reward which will give them a roof over their head or pay for an existing child’s education. It also carries less of a stigma than prostitution. However, despite the illusion that it is safer, many surrogates are risking their lives. Maternal mortality remains high in India, with 56,000 women dying during pregnancy or childbirth. Yet these women are being exploited, receiving only 10% of the amount being paid by commissioning couples and signing contracts waiving their right to health care in the case of miscarriage or complications after the birth.

We still live in a world where “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” so the next time you hear the defence “it’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it” spare a thought for those who use their bodies for profit because they are the only item of value they possess.

*NOTE: Thanks to a colleague for pointing out that it’s important to be aware of  and discuss with students the way that the opening series of rhetorical questions  “We live in an era of unprecedented individual freedom. Unhappy with your parents? Divorce them. With your gender? Change it. With your life? End it.” are deliberately facetious and are designed to provoke and shock. Of course none of us actually believe that anyone changes gender or takes their own life lightly but journalists often say something shocking or controversial to grab people’s attention.

*NOTE: some of the statistics I included I simply made up. Real journalists obviously can’t do this, but as a student in an exam without access to google, you’ve got no choice. You’ll have to make things up. You may also decide to exaggerate for dramatic effect. For example, the story about the 17yr old selling his kidney is true but I invented the subsequent kidney failure to add dramatic irony to the situation.I made up the name of the journalist so any resemblance to anyone real is entirely coincidental. 


To help you to appreciate the stylistic difference between writing an article and writing a speech, I used the same topic, same structure, same ideas but transformed it into a speech.

Your task is to SPOT THE DIFFERENCES between them (we’ve identified 8 in total but there may be more…)

Speech on Personal Freedom

Hi everyone, you’re very welcome to the Docklands Theatre for this lecture series and can I just say, I really appreciate the effort you’ve all made to be here. The bad weather probably had you jumping over muddy puddles outside like a possessed Peppa Pig, but you’re here now, so relax, kick your shoes off if they’re wet, switch off your phone and we’ll begin! For those of you I haven’t met before, my name’s Mia Murphy and if you’re tweeting this event I go by the not very cryptic twitter handle @miamurphy. I’m a journalist with the Irish Independent & a human rights campaigner and I’ve spent the last seven years of my life studying the way our freedom in the Western World limits the freedom of people in the Developing World.

We live in an era of unprecedented individual freedom. If you’re unhappy with your parents, you can divorce them. If you (point to someone in the front row) are unhappy with your gender (pause for laughter) – and I’m not suggesting you are, cause you look pretty good as a guy to me! – but if you were, you could just pop into a hospital and sort that out! Boom! You go from Phillip to Philomena in a heartbeat!

But what bugs me about all of this is the assumption that unlimited personal freedom is a good thing for society. That we’re all better off cause we can do what we want. I don’t buy that personally. I think we’re too eager to glorify people’s right to choose and we’re far far too willing to ignore the reality that people’s choices are often limited & foolish & self-destructive. While I might like the notion that I’m free to do whatever I want, the truth is that my freedom is guaranteed because I’ve got a good education and I live in a rich country.

One idea in particular that fascinates me is the statement you often hear people saying when they’re getting a body piercing or dying their hair purple: “it’s my body and I should be allowed to do what I want with it”. And I know that can sometimes be a good thing! I can shave my hair off for charity. I can donate a kidney to a family member. I can even be a surrogate for my sister if she’s having trouble getting knocked up and I’ll definitely help out my gay brother and his partner if they want kids because no matter how hard they try, they are definitely not gonna get pregnant!

The sad truth is, though, that lots of people shave their hair off and donate kidneys and act as surrogates for one very simple reason, and that reason is money!

How many of you know that hair these days is big business? I’ve got long brown hair (grab ponytail & wave it at audience) so I can sell my ponytail for about €100. But if my hair was blond, like this lovely lady in the front row (point) – would you mind standing up? – would you believe she could sell her hair today for €1000? So if you see her on the street next week and she’s doing an Emma Watson, you know what she’s been up to! And you should ask her to buy you coffee, cause she’s got €1,000 in her back pocket!

Seriously though, let’s talk about the real price of hair. The hair extensions industry in Ireland alone is worth about €2.5 million and the vast majority of this hair is imported from abroad. Women in India, China and Eastern Europe sell their hair to escape hunger and poverty and to pay for a better education for their children. This isn’t about personal freedom, this is about lack of options, lack of money and lack of choice. The sad truth is, so that you and I can feel beautiful with our flowing extensions like Kim Kardashian, women in the developing world are making the decision to privilege food, shelter and education over their own hair. And bear in mind that cutting their hair off means feeling ‘ugly’ for many of these women, because we’re not the only culture that associates long silky hair with sexiness you know!

You see this with organ donation as well! There was a case in China recently where a 17 yr old teenage boy secretly sold one of his kidneys for €3,500. But of course the mammy twigged that something was up when he could suddenly afford to buy a new laptop, iPad and iPhone and she forced him to admit what he’d done! Now this poor eejit didn’t need the money – he wasn’t starving – but I guess he wanted these signifiers of success pretty badly to go to this extreme. What he did was profoundly stupid, no question. But as yet there’s sadly no cure for stupidity in this world! Maybe that’s what my next research project should be! (pause for laughter)

Anyway, this kid then discovers that his remaining kidney has limited function! You won’t actually believe this but he’s now on the organ donor waiting list – I kid you not! – alongside 1.5 million others. And if this doesn’t prove that limiting people’s freedom is sometimes necessary to protect them from their own stupidity, I don’t know what does!!!

The last thing I want to mention, briefly, is surrogacy. Now I don’t have any moral qualms with a person deciding to be an oven for cooking up someone else’s baby, but it’s not as simple as setting the timer and waiting for the ping! I read about a case recently in America where at the twenty week scan, they discovered the baby had foetal abnormalities. The parents wanted the surrogate to have an abortion. But she didn’t agree with abortion, and she could already feel the baby kicking, so she refused. The baby was in her body but genetically the egg and sperm had come from the couple she was carrying it for. So they went to court looking for a court order to force her to have an abortion. And what did she do? She went on the run!

The point I’m making here is that it is never, never as simple as “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it”. Even leaving aside this extreme case, the truth is that most commercial surrogacy arrangements take place in poor countries where there is little regulation, countries like Thailand and Uganda and the Ukraine and India.

In fact, in recent years baby factories have sprung up all over India. The industry is worth $2bn and somewhere in the region of 25,000 babies a year are born to surrogates. But this is a country with poor hospital infrastructure. 56,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year. Not only are they putting their lives at rick, they’re also being exploited. They only get about 10% of the amount being paid and they’re signing these awful contracts which mean that as soon as the baby is delivered, they have no right to any further medical care. So if they get sick or die, the couple who now have their beautiful new baby have no further responsibility towards this woman who has given them the gift of becoming parents. And for me, that it sick and that is wrong. (Pause)

I want to leave you with a quote from George Orwell’s Animal farm where he said that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. So the next time you hear someone say “it’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it” I want you to just spare a thought, please, for those who use their bodies for profit because they are the only item of value they possess.

(Step back and bow. Pause for applause)

Thank you so much for listening (bow, wave, exit stage).



Summary of information, argument, persuasion etc…

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement, March 2014.

Language Types

The way we use language changes depending on the situation. The words you use in a job interview are obviously more formal than the words you choose when chatting to your mates. If you write a fawning comment to win a competition you’ll use lots of superlatives (think ‘biggest’, ‘best’, ‘brightest’) but for a political speech on bank debt you’ll use financial terminology.

The division of Paper 1 into language categories (information, argument, persuasion, narration/description and aesthetic language) reflects the fact that we use language in different ways in different contexts. These categories aren’t absolute, in fact they often overlap, but understanding the basic rules for informing, arguing, persuading, describing and narrating will make you a more discerning reader (i.e. better at comprehensions) and a more skilled writer (i.e. better at QB & composing).

Language of Information

What is it?
Writing whose main purpose is to communicate information.

Report, leaflet, instructions, travel guide, encyclopaedia.

The reader wants to glance at the page and select the information they are looking for instantly. Present the facts using a logical, easy to follow structure. Use headings, sub-headings and bullet points or numbering. However, if you are writing an informative essay, full prose paragraphs, rather than bullet point lists, will be expected.

Your focus needs to be on facts and statistics. Every point you make should be backed up by a specific example. If you are giving advice, it needs to be specific – think “count your daily fruit and veg intake and try to gradually increase by one a day until you reach your target” rather than the so-vague-as-to-be-almost-completely-useless “eat more healthily”. You can make statistics up, but you’ll have to make them sound believable. One way to do this is to name the source of the statistic – researcher, title & institution e.g. “According to research carried out by Dr. Hazel Nolan, sociology professor at Harvard University, one reason for the increase in smoking amongst teenage girls is because it is perceived as a good way to control weight gain”. However, your statistic must be convincing! I once had a student write that “92% of teenage girls in Ireland are now smokers”. You only need to look around you (or sniff those around you!) to know this couldn’t possibly be true.

Your language must be appropriate to your audience. Reports commissioned by the government or by an organisation such as the Central Statistics Office (CSO) or the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) adopt a very formal and professional tone and use subject-specific vocabulary. However, a leaflet offering advice to teenagers on staying safe online would need to adopt a much less formal approach, otherwise the people it’s aimed at (teenagers) would stop reading.

Language of Argument

What is it?
Writing which offers personal opinions & refutes opposing views logically is argumentative.

Speeches, debates, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, election material.

The headings and bullet points you used for the language of information are generally speaking not appropriate here. You are expected to write in complete sentences, alternating between short snappy sentences and longer more complex ones. You need to build up a series of inter-connected ideas paragraph by paragraph, with each one flowing into the next. Election leaflets, however, will use headings, bullet points, etc…

Argumentative language is logical, rational and convincing. Obviously there is a certain amount of overlap with the language of information, with a focus on facts, statistics and examples. However, unlike the language of information, you are not presenting all of the facts and allowing the reader to decide for themselves. Instead, you are emphasising only those facts which support your point of view and offering logical reasons why those who disagree with your viewpoint are wrong.

A strong argument uses logic and reason:
1. to arrive at a particular point of view
2. to defend this position and
3. to refute counter arguments.

Once a person stops utilising the facts to prove their point and resorts to personal insults, they are no longer arguing, they are now persuading.

Language of Persuasion

What is it?
Writing which draws you in emotionally to manipulate how you feel and how you think is persuasive.

Advertisements, competition entries, sermons, inspirational speeches.

It depends on the genre. Advertisements pay close attention to layout and use a wide variety of headings and font sizes for captions, slogans, statistics etc. A persuasive speech will use a traditional essay-style layout. A competition entry or proposal will have a clear structure – introduction; details (3 – 4 paragraphs); what you expect to happen next.

Rather than purely factual (information) or logical (argument), persuasion manipulates your emotions to make you feel strongly about an issue. The writer draws on personal experiences to lure the reader or viewer into feeling certain emotions – sympathy, distress, disgust, admiration, pride, anger, fear, amusement. Once you are emotionally ‘hooked’ it becomes harder to analyse, assess and accept or reject the writer’s message logically because the heart, not the head, is now in the driving seat! Asking rhetorical questions, making urgent references to time, using emphatic, superlative and emotive words, repeating a key phrase, adopting collective personal pronouns, creating vivid imagery, hyperbole, contrast and humour are all effective ways of manipulating people’s feelings. Argument & persuasion often overlap – logic and emotion is a great combination if you want to win people over. You’ll also find significant overlap between the language of persuasion and descriptive writing, which also draws people in emotionally.

Language of Description / Narration

What is it?
Narrative language tells a story, descriptive language paints a picture using words.

Novels, short stories, memoirs and diary entries narrate. Travel writing, personal essays and feature articles describe.

All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Hemmingway’s six word short story “For sale, baby shoes, never worn” has all the ingredients of a compelling story:
set the scene, rousing the reader’s curiosity (for sale)
draw the reader into the action emotionally (baby shoes)
finish with an unexpected development (never worn)
Obviously you need a more fully developed plot, setting and characters for a 1,000 word short story. Descriptive essays are less demanding because they do not require a plot, but they too must draw the reader in emotionally to what is being described.

To write descriptively, you must choose specific verbs. Rather than writing “Susan walks over and says she’s really excited” select verbs which add energy and movement: “Susan bounces over, squealing with excitement”.
Adjectives add details about the size, shape, texture, location etc of the noun being described. Rather than writing “As rain fell from the sky, my daughter began to cry” include adjectives which add vivid detail “As heavy rain thundered from the dark grey sky, tiny tears flooded my daughter’s pale face”. However, be careful not to overload your sentences – too many adjectives can make your writing slow and cumbersome.
Evoke all five senses (sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch) to add depth to your writing. Rather than writing “A van pulled up and a burly man jumped out, ran into the shop, pulled out a gun and demanded that the shop assistant open the till” instead create a multi-sensory experience for the reader: “A shiny black van screeched to a halt and a burly man jumped out, bursting through the double doors and barrelling into the shop. Reaching for the cold metal butt of his revolver, he growled at the trembling shop assistant “open the f**king till!”.

Aesthetic Language

What is it?
Language which is crafted to create something beautiful. Only the language of information deliberately avoids trying to be beautiful & engaging, choosing instead to present the facts in a purely objective fashion. All other types – argumentative, persuasive, narrative and descriptive – aim for beauty as well as clarity.

Poetry, song lyrics, novels, plays. Any great work of art: think William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Seamus Heaney or equally Emily Bronte, Sylvia Plath, Eavan Boland.

There are no rules, there is only beauty. Emily Dickinson ignored all the ‘rules’ of grammar to create an aesthetic effect; so did James Joyce. Great writers master their craft by obeying the rules at first but they will also experiment and play with language to create something new.

Similes, metaphors, personification, symbolism, contrast, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, rhythm, recurring motifs, pathetic fallacy, allusion, foreshadowing, dramatic irony, poetic justice. However, just using literary techniques won’t necessarily make your writing aesthetically pleasing and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, so what I might consider beautiful, you might consider boring.

Lady Macbeth Jigsaw

Recently, I decided there were 3 things I’d really like all of my students (not just those who always get A’s) to understand about essay writing. They were

STANCE – you have to take up a position, interpret events, offer an opinion. The same facts can lead to different conclusions for different people (mostly agree, balanced view, mostly disagree)

STRUCTURE – you must create tightly woven paragraphs, with depth, flow and sophistication. See the “perfect paragraph project” for a simplified version of this idea.

SEQUENCE – for character and theme essays you’ll probably follow the chronological order of the play. You don’t have to, but it probably helps to follow the order in which events unfold. Also, starting with the murder of Lady Macduff, then jumping back to Duncan’s murder, then hopping to the sleepwalking scene and then back to the Banquet scene wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, now would it? The danger here is that you need to avoid telling the story. ONLY include details relevant to answering the question.

(WARNING: certain questions require a non-chronological response, for example “Relevance to a Modern Audience” or “Shakespeare’s play offers a dark and pessimistic view of human nature” because each paragraph will most likely focus on a different character or theme or scene).

To teach these concepts, I came up with the following lesson, designed for a double class period:

Below you’ll find 15 paragraphs on Lady Macbeth all mixed up in no particular order. 

5 of them, arranged in the correct sequence, create an essay which takes a very positive interpretation of her motivations and behaviour.

5 of them, arranged in the correct sequence, create an essay which takes a balanced view of her motivations and behaviour.

5 of them, arranged in the correct sequence, create an essay which basically slates her! 

I didn’t include introductions or conclusions – I felt that would makes the ‘jigsaw‘ too easy.

I gave the fifteen paragraphs, out of sequence, to my Leaving Certs. I asked them to decide which 5 paragraphs belonged in the positive essay; the balanced essay; and the negative essay. (Thus they were reading for a specific purpose)

Then they had to arrange them in the correct order. As they completed the exercise, I gave them a photocopy of each essay in the correct sequence so they could check the correct order and see how they’d done.

Next I asked them to highlight any words/phrases or ideas they didn’t understand and I explained what they meant. (Again, reading for a specific purpose)

Their next challenge was to figure out what the essay title was!

Finally, I gave them 3 essay titles. For homework they had to select one and write an essay as a response.

Here are the essay titles I gave them:

Lady Macbeth is the architect of her own downfall” – Discuss

We feel little pity for Lady Macbeth in the early stages of the play, but as her remorse grows, so does our sympathy for her” – Discuss

Lady Macbeth is motivated by selfish ambition and lacks a moral conscience” – To what extent do you agree with this assessment of her character?

Below you’ll find the paragraphs in mixed up sequence:


Lady Macbeth did not make a positive first impression on me. She sees nagging as a form of bravery, vowing to “chastise [Macbeth] with the valour of [her] tongue” and views kindness as a weakness, criticising her husband for being “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way”. This moral confusion and inability to distinguish between right and wrong makes her in some ways similar to the witches who claim that “fair is foul and foul is fair”. However, unlike them, evil does not come easily to her – she knows she will need help to behave in an immoral way, hence her demand “come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts…. fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty”. Furthermore, she may be doing the wrong thing but she’s doing it for the right reasons: she is utterly devoted to her husband. She knows he wants to be King but may not be willing to do what she feels is necessary to realise this goal (“thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition but without the illness should attend it”)  and hates the thought that he might live to regret his inaction in the face of the prophecy. Thus, although I don’t approve morally of Lady Macbeth’s behaviour I found it easy to understand her, to empathise with her motivation and thus to like her somewhat despite her flaws.


From the very first moment she appeared on stage, Lady Macbeth struck me as a manipulative, domineering wife with zero moral conscience. She immediately jumps to the conclusion that they will have to engage in acts of “direst cruelty” in order for Macbeth to become King, despite the fact that her husband never suggests that they use violence to achieve “what greatness is promised”.  This evil streak is further evident in her commentary on her husbands’ personality: she views his humanity and empathy as negative traits, describing that fact that he is “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” as a weakness. Her eagerness to “pour my spirits in [Macbeth’s] ear”, her willingness to be possessed by evil spirits (“come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…”) and her delight in embracing the darkness (“come thick night and pall thee in the funnest smoke of hell”) are all to me strong evidence of her fundamentally immoral outlook and domineering personality. I certainly would not like to be married to her. 


Lady Macbeth’s reaction to Macbeth’s letter about the witches prophesy introduced me to a devoted wife who will go to any lengths to help her husband achieve his potential. Her belief that her husband is “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” and lacks the ruthlessness necessary to fulfil his ambitions is what drives her on. She is determined to “chastise [him] with the valour of [her] tongue” because she hates the idea that her husband will one day look back on his life and feel as if he let opportunities for greatness pass him by. It’s also clear that Lady Macbeth in not inherently evil – she in no ways relishes the idea of committing the sin of regicide. In fact, she knows she will need to be possessed in order to see it through, hence she proclaims “come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty”. Thus, my initial reaction to Lady Macbeth was quite positive: here was a woman willing to do whatever it took to support her husband in achieving his dream of one day becoming King.


Whilst some critics point to Lady Macbeth’s failure to carry out the actual murder, this does not endear her to me. Duncan’s coincidental similarity to her father (“Hath he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t”) is not enough to make her re-consider their plan. She fakes comforting words (“these deeds must not be thought of after these ways; so, it will make us mad”) to try and snap Macbeth out of his reverie but in my opinion she is motivated entirely by self-interest here – she doesn’t want them to get caught. Her lack of compassion reappears as she lambasts her husband for bringing the murder weapon from the crime scene (”infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers”) and without hesitation, she returns to Duncan’s chamber to “gild the faces of the grooms” with blood, thus framing them for the murder. She will do whatever it takes to get away with murder, including her false fainting spell, designed to draw attention away from Macbeth. She is a selfish, ruthless, immoral individual whose lack of empathy or remorse is best summed up in her flippant remark “a little water clears us of this deed”. As you can see, I do not like this woman, nor do I buy into the notion that she is guiltless simply because she did not “bear the knife [herself]”.  


However, ultimately I found myself devastated to witness her intense suffering during the sleepwalking scene, and this I took as proof that despite her significant flaws, I had grown fond of her. I found her horror as she relived their crimes (“the Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now?”) and her devastating realisation she would never again be free of this guilt (“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”) truly heartbreaking. She made a mistake and this mistake destroyed her, her marriage, her happiness and her future. Thus I liked her despite her flaws, yet I could nonetheless understand why Malcolm described her as a “fiend-like queen” given the havoc and destruction wrought upon Scotland by her and Macbeth’s crimes.


This devotion to her husband is again evident when she convinces him to murder Duncan. Although her tactics are quite manipulative (suggesting he doesn’t truly love her if he doesn’t keep his promise) Lady Macbeth is once again concerned only for the regret he will feel if he backs out now. She warns him that he will have to “live a coward in thine own esteem” forever and worries about the negative impact this would have on his self-esteem. Her obsession with Macbeth’s future happiness is actually quite easy to understand. Firstly, she loves her husband. Secondly, she knows that he is deeply ambitious. Thirdly, it’s possible that she feels guilty that she has not provided him with a living heir; after all, a woman’s role in this era was primarily to get married and produce children. We know they have had at least one child (“I have given suck and know how tender tis to love the babe that milks me”) who, for reasons unknown, has died. It is possible that she feels guilty that she has failed to fulfil his dream to be a father and this in turn has made her doubly determined to see him achieve his other life’s goal, which is to be King. She may be convincing him to do the wrong thing, but she is doing it for good reasons and as a result I could not help but like her. 


The sleepwalking scene is generally highlighted as the moment of greatest empathy and connection between the audience and Lady Macbeth but I personally found myself unmoved by her suffering. Yes, she is reliving their crimes, which is no doubt unpleasant, but she also reminds us here of her part in convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan (“Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier and afeard?”) and of her filthy smearing of his royal blood on the chamberlains (“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”). In this context, is it any surprise that she asks the question “what will these hands ne’er be clean?In my opinion, it is about time that the horror of her crimes registered with her properly, but it stretches the bounds of human empathy too far to expect me to feel pity for this “fiend-like queen”.



My fondness for Lady Macbeth increased tenfold when her intense remorse finally surfaced. She learns too late that “a little water” will be wholly inadequate to clear them of this deed as she realises that “noughts had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content”. I empathised with her deep suffering as she began to envy Duncan’s peaceful sleep of death, observing sadly “tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy”. Yet she conceals her inner turmoil from her husband, pretending that everything’s fine so that he won’t worry about her. Her desire to comfort and protect him never wanes as she advises him that “things without all remedy should be without regard”. Even as he pushes her away (“Be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck”) she continues to protect him, both during the banquet (“Sit worthy friends, my lord is often thus and hath been since his youth”) and afterwards (“You lack the season of all natures, sleep”). Her humanity has never been more evident and my sense of her as an essentially good, if misguided woman, was strengthened even further here.


Lady Macbeth’s humanity is briefly evident when she finds herself unable to murder Duncan and this glimpse of a conscience (“Hath he not resembled my father as he slept I had done’t”) made me like her a lot more. Her desire to help her husband (“these deeds must not be thought of after these ways; so, it will make us mad”) and save him from insanity is touching, as is her naive belief that they will be able to simply forget their crime (“a little water clears us of this deed”) and move on with their new life as King and Queen. However, just as I was starting to like her, she lambasted her husband for bringing the murder weapon from the scene of the crime (”infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers”) and without hesitation, she returned to Duncan’s chamber to “gild the faces of the grooms” with blood, thus framing them for the murder. Once again I found myself on a roller-coaster, unsure how to feel about the Machiavellian yet vulnerable Lady Macbeth.



Immediately prior to Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth’s behaviour is bullying, manipulative and quite shocking, making it difficult for us to like her. She mocks her husband, demanding dismissively “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?”; emotionally blackmailing him by suggesting that he doesn’t really love her if he backs out; painting a horrific picture of a future filled with self-loathing (“and live a coward in thine one esteem”) if he passes up this opportunity; calling his manliness into question (“when you durst do it, then you were a man”) and most disturbingly of all, describing in vivid detail how she would commit infanticide – would pluck her nipple from her beloved child’s suckling mouth and dash his brains out on the floor – rather than break a promise to her husband. However, all of this is motivated by her love for her husband and her awareness of his ‘vaulting ambition’. I also found myself feeling very sorry for her when I discovered that she had given birth to and lost a child. Hence, almost despite myself, I found myself quite liking this determined forceful woman who would let nothing get in the way of her husband achieving his ambition.



Lady Macbeth finally begins to realise that evil actions have very real consequences (“nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content”) but this was not sufficient to make me actually like her. Yet again her focus was entirely on her own happiness, and I found it particularly twisted that she would have the cheek to ‘envy’ Duncan (“tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy”) because he is ‘safe’ in death. I’m sure given the choice he would have swapped death for life in a heartbeat – but Lady Macbeth did not give him the option to live and now she has the gall to suggest that he’s better off dead! Her utterly selfish desire to protect her own power and position is again evident in the Banquet scene. She first blames Macbeth’s erratic behaviour on epilepsy and when it becomes clear that this is an inadequate explanation, she dismisses their guests unceremoniously “stand not upon the order of your going but go at once”. Combined with her sarcastic mockery of Macbeth (“Why do you make such faces? You look but on a chair”), I found Lady Macbeth an utterly contemptible character with few, if any, redeeming characteristics.


Even in the moment where Duncan is murdered, Lady Macbeth’s humanity is in evidence. She gets the chamberlains drunk, yet when it comes to committing a truly evil deed, she does not have what it takes to murder an old man in his bed, commenting sadly that Duncan “resembled [her] father as he slept”. Once there is no going back, yet again her wifely concern surfaces as she tries to shake Macbeth out of his trance insisting “these deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad”. She is naive in believing that “a little water clears us of this deed” but naivety is not a trait I normally associate with evil people and her fainting spell may well have been genuine shock when faced with the reality of their crime. Alternatively, even if her faint was fake, it was nonetheless inspired by a desire to protect her husband, lest anyone get suspicious following his admission that he killed the chamberlains. Thus, despite her immoral scheming, I continue to see her humanity and like her as a person. 


The ultimate testament to Lady Macbeth’s character comes in the moments before her suicide. In the sleepwalking scene, I found her guilt as she relives their crimes (“The Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now?”) and ultimately recognises that she will never again view herself as anything but a killer (“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”) truly heartbreaking. She made a mistake and this mistake destroyed her, her marriage, her happiness and her future. I liked her despite her flaws,  was devastated to hear that she “by self and violent hands took off her life” and could never see her as Malcolm did, as nothing more than a “fiend-like queen”


My negative impression of her was further strengthened when she bullied Macbeth into agreeing to murder Duncan. She mocked her husband, demanding dismissively “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?”; emotionally blackmailing him, suggesting that he doesn’t really love her if he backs out; painting a horrific picture of a future filled with self-loathing (“and live a coward in thine one esteem”) if he passes up this opportunity; calling his manliness into question (“when you durst do it, then you were a man”) and most disturbingly of all, describing in vivid detail how she would commit infanticide (would pluck her nipple from her beloved child’s suckling mouth and dash his brains out on the floor) rather than break a promise to her husband. Her manipulation of him was so profound, so morally bankrupt and so effective that within minutes she had transformed him saying “we shall proceed no further in this business” to moments later agreeing to kill Duncan “I am settled and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat”. How anyone could like this woman or defend her behaviour is absolutely baffling to me.


Lady Macbeth’s remorse, when it surfaces, does help us to like her, yet her failure to confide her doubts and fears in her husband is a frustrating aspect of her personality that lessens our fondness for her. She admits to us that “nought’s had, all’s spent where our desire is got without content” and that she would rather be dead like Duncan (“tis safer to be that which we destroy”) than living the hellish uncertainty she now inhabits (“than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy”), terrified at any moment that they will get caught. However, her pretence that everything is fine (“what’s done is done”) and later, during the banquet, her scorn for her husband’s suffering (“this is the very painting of your fear”…. “Shame itself! Why do you make such faces? You look but on a chair”) made me waver in my affection for her. Every time I find a reason to like her, she provides me with a very good reason not to.



Remember, there are no introductions or conclusions but you MUST include both.

Finally, the essay title was the very simple “Lady Macbeth is not a likeable character” – Discuss.

Linking Phrases

To say the texts are similar:

  • Similarly
  • 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 _______

Here’s another list of linking phrases: http://jamietuohy.com/2012/04/12/essential-words-for-the-comparative-question-jamie-tuohy/


Walled Gardens

I’ve been aware for a while of the dangers of walled gardens on the internet. Basically this means that an online platform (like facebook, twitter, youtube, iTunes etc…) keeps you within their ‘walls’. They try to discourage you from leaving their ‘garden’ and to control what parts of the internet you have access to.

This can be done for very good reasons, for example to protect children from accessing porn. In schools, filters are often used so students won’t be exposed to ‘inappropriate’ material when browsing the web but filters also function to stop students from accessing facebook when they should be doing something else that’s (presumably) more ‘educational’!

However, creating ‘walled gardens’ on the internet is also a way of making money. If you are a big company like Google (who own youtube), facebook or twitter and you can prove to advertisers that your users don’t regularly navigate away from your site or keep returning repeatedly to your site, you can charge companies more money to advertise in your ecosystem.

Facebook isn’t a traditional ‘walled garden’ because within your feed, links to other websites are ubiquitous. However, the social nature of facebook gets you to return again and again to this feed meaning that you spend a lot of time in their garden. It might help instead to think of facebook as a walled garden with lots of windows.

So how does it work? Well, the more I feed my feed, and the more my friends feed their feed, the more time all of us spend in that facebook garden, being targeted by ads aimed directly at us personally. Facebook knows your age, interests, education level, profession, location… it knows because you and I freely gave them this information and now they are using this information to sell us stuff that they think we might like to buy. Change your status to engaged and watch the ads for wedding venues in your location pop up. Put a new baby announcement up and watch the adds for nappies appear almost instantly. It’s all a bit creepy but we’ve all agreed to the terms and conditions (which they keep changing) and we’re all addicted to connecting with and/or spying on our friends, families, colleagues and acquaintances. So are we all going to en-masse delete our facebook accounts? Somehow I can’t see it happening.

Like me, you’ve probably noticed that your facebook feed has recently become clogged up with ads (it’s so infuriating! If I see one more ad for Candy Crush I will scream!). That’s because most of us were simply ignoring the ads down the side and if we ignore the ads, facebook can’t make as much money from selling advertising space. They also know it’s harder for us to ignore something in our feed. We start reading it before we realise that it’s not something one of our friends posted, it’s an ad. And if the ad is well enough targeted at our interests, obsessions, insecurities, our interest might be piqued, we might click on it anyway even though we know it’s an ad.

What’s even odder is how facebook want us to start advertising ourselves to our friends. The new and weird notion of paying to promote a post makes me feel a little sick inside. Imagine being so desperate to get your friends to pay attention to you, that you pay money to pop up at the top of their feed? I mean, I can understand why businesses might take advantage of opportunities to advertise on facebook but regular people paying money just so that people bother to read their facebook posts? I’m sorry, that’s just sad. Sad pathetic AND sad tragic that someone might be so lonely that they would resort to this to get people to interact with them. It’s sad and wrong to exploit people’s insecurities and narcissism in this way.

Of course it’s not just facebook who are targeting us, google, youtube, twitter, instagram and amazon are at it too. If these companies can make us regular users of their service, we might at some stage ‘pay’ for premium features and, if they succeed in making us addicted to the service they provide, we the users will tolerate ads because we want to watch youtube videos, or see what our friends are up to on facebook, or take funky looking pictures or whatever it is that we like to spend our time doing online. The more time we spend online (and remember, time is money people!) the more money can be made out of us. We’re having a great time, sure, but we’re like worker bees in a hive who don’t even realise they’re working. Or who they’re working for. Or how they’re being exploited.

Another way in which we ‘pay’ for space online is when we want to sell something. If I want to upload my music onto iTunes and sell it, that’s no problem, but I must first agree to give 30% of each sale (not 30% of profits) to Apple in exchange for permission to sell my product in this online shop. It’s not unlike renting a shop space I suppose, it’s just a very small virtual space! It makes it harder for me to make any profit because presumably it has already cost me money to create the music (recording studio, mixing, session musicians, vocal coaching!) and now it’s going to cost me money to sell it as well. That’s always been the case I suppose; it’s just that record companies used to spend the money on advertising and selling the music. Now many of those who want to sell their music online do all the advertising and promotion themselves whilst also paying a large chunk to the virtual shop which is selling their product.

Don’t get me wrong, I think online entrepreneurs have a lot to offer. Lots and lots of websites, big and small, use a ‘freemium’ model. This basically means that they give away lots of free content but they keep some content in reserve that you have to pay to access or purchase. Online “cottage industries” have popped up all over the place; small family-run websites that want to sell something. They make their money and pay the wages of the people who run the website if and when we, the public, buy things. On the one hand there’s nothing particularly wrong with this. Just like you have free will when you walk into a shop in deciding whether or not to spend any money, you also have that discretion on the internet. So if you buy the only thing I’m selling off this website, which is my poetry podcasts, you are paying extra for ‘premium’ content. That’s your choice, but if you don’t want to spend any money, you can just browse the free content to your hearts content.

In fact, in one way the internet has an advantage for users here. If you browse a shop for a few hours, the shop assistants will probably get a bit pissed-off with you and possibly even suspicious. By contrast, because no-one is judging you for only using the free stuff online, you can do what most people do and ignore the bits of the website that ask you to spend money. One potential downside of this is that the website might shut down because they can’t cover their costs. This often happens with smaller sites because they don’t really make any money from advertising so no sales means they are out of business! It’s not unlike the small corner shop disappearing because Tesco can offer better deals by buying in bulk and the little guy just can’t compete.

Take it from me, making money from ad boxes on your site is really difficult. Unless people CLICK on the ad, you don’t get any money at all from hosting these ads on your site. Each click gets you a few cents, maybe 20c per click. If you just sit at your computer clicking the ads on your own site, there’s an algorithm which will detect that all the clicks are coming from the one computer so you don’t get any money from this behaviour. That’s why I’ve kept ads on my site to a minimum – they’re not making enough money to cover the cost of hosting the website anyway and they just piss people off.

A more serious downside of the freemium model exists however, particularly when using sites which rely on user-generated content. You are basically giving your content away for free but someone else is making money from your effort. The more content you provide (videos, photos, comments etc.), the more money the ‘big bad corporations’ make. In many ways you are working for them for free!

That’s the biggest difference between a small scale online business and a massive online social network. The small internet entrepreneur isn’t asking you for anything in return. They don’t expect you to contribute content. If you like what you see, you can buy it, but generally speaking, they’re not using you to make money. The big companies ARE using you to make profit. You do get something in return (to use facebook or youtube or whatever) but in return for this ‘space’ to host your content, you do pay a price. You encourage people to visit this content (or they are inherently motivated to visit it because they are nosy and want to read about your life on facebook and see videos of your cute kid on youtube) and you thus become like a virtual sandwich board for that site. Don’t assume this is a particularly new phenomenon – it’s not unlike walking around with a massive Nike logo on your t-shirt.

I’m not saying there’s nothing in it for you – if there wasn’t you wouldn’t use the site. But please don’t be naive. At the CESI 40 conference recently Professor John Naughton used a clever analogy to explain it. He stated that if you use ‘walled garden’ systems and social networks, you are in many ways like a sharecropper. In return for some virtual ‘land’ online, you are paying a ‘rent’ of sorts. You are attracting ‘tourists’ to their site through your content but you’re not getting paid any money, you are just being paid in kind by being allowed to use that virtual land as you see fit.

This is what happened to freed slaves after the American Civil War. Legally they had to be given a salary for their labour but, once they had paid back the rent they owed for the land and shack that was on it, plus the cost of seed to plant, there was very little, if any, profit in it for them. Many of them ended up working for free. They got trapped in a cycle of working, working, working, but never really seeing the fruit of their labours, never really escaping their slavery in anything but name.

How frustrating that must have been; how frustrating that is. Many try to convince us that we just need to be ‘better’ at what we do, that the market will reward the best and the brightest who develop a following of their own (think of the people who spend their lives being paid to create youtube content but remember also that youtube get a big slice of the action). I heard this referred to recently as ‘darwikianism’ – the survival of the fittest content.

To be honest, I don’t buy it.