Get a front row seat
Plays are written for the stage not the page, watching the play is invaluable so you can write as if you were in the audience:
- Develop a view, state it, explain it and support it - make the essay an argument!
- Whilst watching the play, react to the essay question: work out a stand or “take” that you can argue convincingly and use this as the basis for your essay.
- Use each paragraph to develop your central argument further, building each around the simple structure of raising a point with an example from the play and then explaining why this supports your argument. – should the teacher include an example paragraph here to show what he means?
Make sure you don’t retell the story
Focus firmly on “why” and “how” – avoid “what”. Why did the playwright choose this setting, this character, this mood, this foreshadowing or this juxtaposition?
- How did the playwright create the dramatic irony, tension, conflict or even humour?
- Re-tell what happens only when absolutely needed to make a point clear.
Make sure you're getting those extra marks!
You can gain marks by focusing on the literary and dramatic methods you have seen, the effects these create on the audience and the purposes intended:
- Whilst watching, keep alert to the effects of the playwright’s choices of language, stage action, development and structure.
- Be sure to comment on how different audiences – 18C and modern – might react to the play.
- Discuss alternative viewpoints and interpretations; in literature things are rarely onesided: “From a feminist’s viewpoint, Marlow might be deemed a bully and a coward but from an 18C male’s perspective, no doubt, he would be deemed a hero…”
- Use quotations to support each point and remember that there are two levels of comment you should be making about them: first discuss the effect, method and purpose at the point the quotation occurs (for example to develop plot, character, humour, tension, irony or mood) and secondly round off with a discussion of how the quotation operates more generally, contributing, for example, to the play’s themes.
Don’t make it personal.
Stay cool, distant and objective: avoid emotion. Whilst you can enjoy it as the audience, stay formal and never write of characters as people. For example writing, “Kate is pleased as punch when Marlow finally tries it on with her…” will irritate the examiner and lose marks.