Flowers and fancies in Shakespeare

We all know if we ask for symbols of love, the rose is high up the list. Floriography – studying the meaning of flowers – has more or less dropped out of English custom. We might occasionally hear that lilies are better for funerals, but most of us don’t attach much symbolic meaning when our loved ones show up with a bouquet. Pre-twentieth century though it’s a different story. Victorians wrote whole handbooks on the meanings of flowers and dedicated time to deciphering the hidden messages of a buttonhole. Flowers in paintings back to the medieval period were also loaded …

Is Offred too passive to be satisfactory? (part 2)

Read part one of this blog here Thirty years of feminism later In the television series, Elisabeth Moss’s Offred is more feisty from the start, with out-loud sarcastic quips and internal bitchy comments. She still doesn’t fully rebel, but there is definitely something more spiky about her – a sense that she hasn’t given herself over to the regime of Gilead even for the self-protection that it offers: her mind is still her own. She offers comforting conversation to other handmaids, seeks out quiet private moments with the handmaids and Nick, and on several occasions bites back at Serena Joy’s …

Is Offred too passive to be satisfactory? (part 1)

The recent television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has been striking in its success. Critically acclaimed, it’s benefited from Margaret Atwood’s input in a way that the over-eroticised, over-dramatised, heavy-handed 1990s film didn’t. Contains details of plot, both novel and series. The washed-out grey of a dystopian colour palette The colours, a slightly washed-out palette, capture the grim reality of Gilead and provide an easy symbolism of the differences between before, and now. The adaptation is faithful in style, tone, and idea if not always in plotline. Some events, and even dialogue, are echoed from the original novel. But the …

How to write comparison essays in an exam

When you start writing essays this seems really complicated, but breaking it down can help. Remember these two simple facts: 1. Comparison means similarities and differences 2. Comparison means there has to be some link or connection The similarity, specifically literature and English Language, can be either technical – looking at a way of writing, for example a specific use of metaphor – or thematic – the way a similar idea is represented. Ideally the comparison is knitted together, so interwoven that you can’t pull one text apart from the other. That’s the ideal, but there are some ways to …

Planning comparison essays for GCSE and A Level

One of the most difficult skills to do well is, I think, comparison, and it’s often what distinguishes really good writers – the ability to hold both texts together and weigh them against one another. This post explores some ways to plan a comparative answer – before you’re in the exam hall! I actually think the A-Level style of questions works better to prompt good, focused comparison – so let’s compare the two: GCSE: Explore the way Browning presents painful relationships in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and one other poem from the Relationships cluster. A-Level: Dystopian writing often portrays a bleak future …

Learning quotations for English: is it really necessary?

Quotation or close reference? With closed book exams at GCSE and A-Level it’s easy to think that memorising lots of quotations is the way to go. It’s something concrete, solid to learn, and feels like you know a lot. But can you use them? I’ve written elsewhere about how and what to revise, and it’s also worth remembering that the assessment objective for analysis includes close reference, as well as form and structure – not just language. During the revision season, it’s a good idea to focus on detailed understanding of form, structure and micro-quotations, rather than trying to memorise whole poems …