What’s Required

Information for Candidates outlines what you are required to do for Section A, question 1(b):

1. (b) Candidates are required to answer short questions on a passage from one of the prescribed texts for commentary. Passages will be set from each of the prescribed texts. Candidates will be required to show knowledge of one passage. Short questions will ask candidates to comment on various features that may include such things as diction, style and basic grammar used in the passage, and will invite candidates to comment on the literary qualities of the passage. Candidates may be required to translate certain phrases or words into modern English prose. Candidates are advised that this exercise will carry 15% of the marks for the paper as a whole, and they should allocate their time accordingly. (Information for Candidates taking Part I in 2014, p.4)

Chaucer_Troilus_frontispieceIn past years, examiners have accordingly asked candidates for question 1(b)(iii) to comment on the ‘style and literary qualities’ (2010-13) or, more specifically, to comment on the ‘relationship between syntax, metre and narrative development’ (2014) of a portion of the set passage. As you can see, the exact form of this question can vary, but the aim is to prompt you to consider not just what happens or what is said in a passage, but how it is presented or said.

The terms ‘style’ and ‘literary qualities’ are broad umbrellas. They allow you to consider a wide range of features – including diction, rhetoric, point of view, syntax, vocabulary, and verse form. Click on the ‘How to’ tab in the menu for basic guides that will help you think about how Chaucer’s lexical, syntactic and prosodic choices might effect an interpretation of a set passage.

Exam answers will vary in length. As a broad guide, questions asking you to translate lines or explain allusions require answers a few sentences long, while a question asking you to comment on style and literary qualities should be more expansive, taking up (depending on your writing) between a half and a full side of A4.  At most you should spend c.25 minutes on the Troilus or Piers Plowman part of Section A, allowing c.20 minutes to translate the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight passage.