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A Guide to Love Through The Ages

Ruth Owen | Tuesday April 16, 2013

Categories: Drama, Analysing Drama, A Lady of Letters, Equus, Hamlet, King Lear, Measure For Measure, Othello, Hot Entries, Poetry, Brooke, The Soldier, Eliot, The Waste Land, Graves, Symptoms of Love, Hardy, The Going, Your Last Drive, Heaney, Mid-Term Break, Lamb, The First Tooth, Letts, The Deserter, Shakespeare, Sonnet 130, Prose, Enduring Love, Great Expectations, On Chesil Beach, Writing, Analytical Writing, Drama Analysis, Literary Analysis, Poetry Analysis, Prose Analysis, AQA A Level English Literature A, LITA3, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level

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Guide Navigation

  1. Studying For The Exam
  2. Examples From Literature
  3. About The Exam
  4. Further Reading
  5. The Examination
  6. Symptoms of Love, Graves
  7. On Chesil Beach
  8. The First Tooth, Lamb
  9. The Deserter
  10. The Soldier, Brooke
  11. A Lady of Letters
  12. Sonnet 130, Shakespeare
  13. Measure for Measure
  14. Hamlet
  15. Othello
  16. King Lear
  17. Equus
  18. Great Expectations
  19. Enduring Love
  20. Mid-Term Break, Heaney
  21. Your Last Drive
  22. The Going
  23. The Waste Land, Elliot

Studying For The Exam

The title of this AQA A2 Unit is Reading for Meaning – Love through the Ages. It is worth taking a moment to consider the significance of the title. What are your thoughts? What ‘meaning’ exactly is the exam asking you to elicit? Is your interpretation of what a text means necessarily the same as someone else’s?

“Meaning” is created when language works to signify a response in the reader’s or viewer’s mind (in a play, but on stage, remember, there is much meaning created visually). Being human, much of the meaning we construct is linked to attitude, and thus “meaning and feeling” might be a better description for this unit. Indeed literature itself is reliant on meaning creating an emotional response from the reader or viewer. It is this that causes the immersion into the fictional world, leading to the necessary “suspension of disbelief” as the Romantic poet Coleridge called it, which is at the heart of the fictional experience – the ability of literature to cause the reader to forget that what they are reading or watching is no more than one person’s creative imagination at work. When viewed in this (rather reductive) way, literature can be seen for what in many ways it is – a very sophisticated persuasive device.

Why “persuasive”? Firstly a plot needs to be able to persuade the reader to “enter” into the fictional story-world and to want to stay there to find out “what will happen next”; and for the writer’s social or political “messages” or “themes” to “work” on the reader (i.e. to persuade the reader to see things the writer’s way), that plot needs to be emotional (so that the reader can relate to the protagonist, or detest the antagonist, for example).

A word on “theme”. A theme is an idea that runs through a literarily work, as a kind of “controlling idea”. A literary text is “ordered” and “coherent”, which is quite unlike life, even if the text seems convincingly “life-like”. The text exists for its themes. These ideas arise originally as a response by the author to some aspect of their context – often their social, political or cultural context; or to the dominant ideologies of the society in which they live. The “themes” therefore are the text’s “underlying messages”.

  • When you discuss context, therefore, be careful not to “bolt on” to your essay’s paragraphs historical ideas that you feel “might be relevant”; much better is to use the text itself to allow you to imagine what kind of contextual stimulus it represents, i.e. just what it was in his or her society the author was responding to.
  • Thus you should be able to derive your comments on context by referring directly to the text itself (as a part of your P>E>E paragraphs). It’s worth reminding yourself, too, that the reader’s context is also relevant and worthy of your consideration. Different readers from different contexts might well “read” or interpret a text rather differently, no matter now securely the writer has tried to “anchor” or pin down the response they originally wanted from the text. Writers, especially poets, enjoy creating meaning that is “ambiguous” to cause the reader to stop, dwell and think – but this is a rather different idea.

Consider also the phrase – Love through the Ages.  ‘Love’ is not, as may be initially assumed just a reference to romantic or sexual love; it incorporates all sorts of love and your reading in preparation for the exam will need to allow you to analyse unseen examples of literature with themes including fraternal love, Platonic love, parental love, friendship, the love of children for their parents; but, of course – and the exam materials to date suggest this to be so – a strong focus will need to be ‘romantic’ love, love that covers lust, heterosexual and homosexual love as well as reciprocal or unrequited love.  So the scope and range of this unit is limitless and offers the opportunity to explore a vast array of literature.
It’s important also to dwell for a moment or two on that complex word ‘love’. As Shakespeare shows all too clearly in his stage play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, love isn’t always (as it surely should be) a mutual emotion. Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, would surely assume he and his wife are in ‘love’; after all, they are married and have a child. But the nature of his love for Lady Capulet is presented as being clearly very one-sided and ‘patriarchal’, thus very different indeed from the mutual romantic attraction between his daughter and Romeo that Shakespeare seems keen to promote as an ‘ideal’ as a part of the play’s themes, however difficult that ideal might be to achieve in the real world of men and women. Thus, when considering romantic love, it is worth considering from whose viewpoint your text is written when ‘love’ is claimed to exist; and also, of course, always to remember that none of this is reality: literary fiction (see above) is an entertaining and persuasive ‘device’, however convincingly real the writer makes it all seem: that convincing sense of reality (called ‘verisimilitude’) is a part of the trick – the ‘art’ of the writer and the ‘artifice’ of the text.

  • The sheer breadth of texts can seem daunting but points to a key skill for you to perfect before exam day: to be able to analyse, compare and discuss, in an argumentative essay form, seen and unseen literary texts; and to be able usefully to bring into your analysis and discussion other writers’ uses of aspects of the form, structure and language in texts you have studied during the course as ‘wider reading’.

‘Through the ages’ is an interesting phrase too.  The specification requires you to reach back in time to Geoffrey Chaucer’s era. There is uncertainty about Chaucer’s exact date of birth, but it is generally thought that he lived from about 1343-1400. He was the first poet to be buried in a part of Westminster Abbey called ‘Poet’s Corner’.

Life was very different in 1343, of course, physical life at least, and thus the concept of ‘love’ may have been different from our ideas in the twenty-first century, but it seems unlikely that the differences were as wide as the differences in daily life itself. ‘Through the ages’ suggests that love is something that endures among human beings and perhaps that it is a part of what gives life meaning. Supporting that view is the poet, Philip Larkin, (1922 – 1985) regarded as one of the best poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. He claimed that, ‘All that’s left of us is love.’ A ringing endorsement of the specification for which you are about to study.


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