Another work in progress, so please bare with me. For now I’m just going to record the questions that were asked in this years exam… but in time I hope to show you exactly how to answer each question and potentially provide you with a smoking hot essay example.
Section A: Drama
Oscar Wilde’s The Important of Being Earnest
Either *1 Read this extract, and then answer the question that follows it:
Cecily: It can wait, Merriman… for… five minutes.
Merriman: Yes, Miss.
Algernon: I hope, Cecily, I shall not offend you if I state quite frankly and openly that you seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection.
Cecily: I think your frankness does you great credit, Ernest. If you will allow me, I will copy your remarks into my diary. [Goes over to the table and begins writing in her diary]
Algernon: Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I?
Cecily: Oh, no! [Puts her hand over it] You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions and consequently meant for publication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy. But pray, Ernest, don’t stop. I delight in taking down from dictation. I have reached ‘absolute perfection.’ You can go on. I am quite ready for more.
Algernon: [Somewhat taken aback] Ahem! Ahem!
Cecily: Oh, don’t cough, Ernest. When one is dictating one should speak fluently and not cough. Besides, I don’t know how to spell a cough. [Writes as Algernon speaks]
Algernon: [Speaking very rapidly] Cecily, ever since I first looked upon your wonderful and incomparable beauty, I have dared to love you wildly, passionately, devotedly, hopelessly.
Cecily: I don’t think that you should tell me that you love me wildly. passionately, devotedly, hopelessly. Hopelessly doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?
Merriman: The dog-cart is waiting, sir.
Algernon: Tell it to come round next week, at the same hour.
Merriman: [Looks at Cecily, who makes no sign] Yes, sir.
[Merriman retires from the room]
Cecily: Uncle Jack would be very much annoyed if he knew you were staying on till next week, at the same hour.
Algernon: Oh, I don’t care about Jack. I don’t care for anybody in the whole world but you. I love you, Cecily. You will marry me, won’t you?
Cecily: You silly boy! Of course! Why, we have been engaged for the last three months.
Algernon: For the last three months?
Cecily: Yes, it will be exactly three months on Thursday.
Algernon: But how did we become engaged?
Cecily: Well, ever since dear Uncle Jack first confessed to us that he had a younger brother who was very wicked and bad, you of course have formed the chief topic of conversation between myself and Miss Prism. And of course a man who is much talked about is always very attractive. One feels there must be something in him, after all. I dare say it was foolish of me, but I feel in love with you, Ernest.
Algernon: Darling! And when was the engagement actually settled?
Cecily: On the 14th February last. Worn out by your entire ignorance of my existence, I determined to end the matter one way or the other, and after a long struggle with myself I accepted you under this dear old tree here. The next day I bought this little ring in your name, and this is the little bangle with the true lover’s knot I promised you always to wear.
Algernon: Did I give you this? It’s very pretty, isn’t it?
Cecily: Yes, you’ve wonderfully good taste, Ernest. It’s the excuse I’ve always given for your leading such a bad life. And this is the box in which I keep all your dear letters. [Kneels at the table, opens the box, and produces letters tied up with blue ribbon]
Algernon: My letters! But, my own sweet Cecily, I have never written you any letters.
Cecily: You hardly need to remind me of that, Ernest. I remember only too well that I was forced to write your letters for you. I wrote always three times a week, and sometimes oftener.
Algernon: Oh, do let me read them, Cecily!
Cecily: Oh, I couldn’t possibly. They would make you far too conceited. [Replaces box] The three you wrote me after I had broken off the engagement are so beautiful, and so badly spelled, that even now I can hardly read them without crying a little.
Algernon: But was our engagement ever broken off?
Cecily: Of course it was. On the 22nd of last March. You can see the entry if you like. [Shows diary] ‘Today I broke off my engagement to Ernest. I feel it is better to do so. The weather still continues charming.’
Algernon: But why on earth did you break it off? What had I done? I had done nothing at all. Cecily, I am very much hurt indeed to hear you broke it off. Particularly when the weather was so charming.
Cecily: It would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn’t been broken off at least once. But I forgave you before the week was out.
Algernon: [Crossing to her, and kneeling] What a perfect angel you are, Cecily!
How does Wilde make this proposal of marriage such a hilarious moment in the play?
†2. How does Wilde make the way Jack Worthing has to live his life so comically complicated? Support your ideas with details from the writing.
3. You are Gwendolen. You are being taken home by your mother after she has rejected Jack Worthing as a possible son-in-law.
Write your thoughts.
Section B: Poetry
Songs of Ourselves: from Part 4
Either *4. Read this poem, and then answer the question that follows it:
streets in dry August sunlight:
what offends us is
the houses in pedantic rows, the planted
sanitary trees, assert
levelness of surface like a rebuke
to the dent in our car door.
No shouting here, or
shatter of glass; nothing more abrupt
than the rational whine of a power mower
cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass.
But though the driveways neatly
by being even, the roofs all display
the same slant of avoidance to the hot sky,
the smell of spilled oil a faint
sickness lingering in the garages,
a splash of paint on brick surprising as a bruise,
a plastic hose poised in a vicious
coil; even the too-fixed stare of the wide windows
give momentary access to
the landscape behind or under
the future cracks in the plaster
when the houses, capsized, will slide
obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers
that right now nobody notices.
That is where the City Planners
with the insane faces of political conspirators
are scattered over unsurveyed
territories, concealed from each other,
each in his own private blizzard;
guessing directions, they sketch
transitory lines rigid as wooden borders
on a wall in the white vanishing air
tracing the panic of suburb
order in a bland madness of snows.
Author: Mr Sir
Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me. View all posts by Mr Sir