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Shakespeare from GCSE to A Level

Richard Gent | Monday July 13, 2020

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Focusing on Assessment Objective Two

In GCSE the AO is stated as follows:-

Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant terminology where appropriate.

In drama we are concerned with language not only in terms of what the characters say: but also what they say to, about and behind the backs of other characters. It is the writer's sole means of developing the characters and the situations that develop around them: in drama there are no summaries or authorial comments and intrusions. The writer has to stand right back and enable the characters and what they say and do complete the effects he is after, both locally and in terms of the play as a whole. His only other way to guide the players is by the use of stage directions. Very few of Shakespeare's stage directions remain: what is in your edition has almost certainly been added later.

Tone, style and register therefore all need specific and detailed attention if we are to get to the relevant Level 6 band descriptor:-

Detailed and well-developed analysis of the writer's use of language form and structure to create meanings and effects.

The structure of Shakespeare's plays (although, again, imposed on them at a later date) is consistent and straightforward: five acts with anything up to six or more separate scenes. These subdivisions form two very broad functions: to provide continuity and coherence to the narrative structure: often, for example, in the creation of suspense. But secondly in providing a series of contrasts to create complications and inconsistencies: dramatic irony for instance.

Form more generally and usually applies to poetry and the way it is written: blank verse, the sonnet, rhyming couplets etc. They are means to intensify what is expressed to a greater (or much greater) extent. As you will have seen, form is an equally present part of drama as it, too, and in Shakespeare especially, is after...


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