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Defining France Exam

Section A: The Commentary

The rubric

Write a commentary on ONE of the passages set below. Be prepared to comment on: linguistic features; the link between textual form and content; what the passage reveals about the historical and cultural context in which it was written.

Linguistic features
  • What do your lectures have to say about the linguistic features of the texts set? Draw up a list for each text.
  • Are any of these features linked with the technologies of textual production used at the time the text was written?
  • Can any of the features be considered innovatory? If so, how? Are they typical of the genre? If so, how?
  • Are any of these features linked to the anticipated audience for the text? If so, how?
The link between textual form and content

Here you need to think about the theme, mood and tone of the passage, and then to examine HOW the writer conveys that tone and mood through his or her choice of language, vocabulary, form and so forth.

Here's a tutorial that will help you think about the link between form and content:

Commentary Writing Tutorial

Here are some formal features you could look out for :

  • Sentence structure
  • Tense usage
  • Word order (balance or lack thereof, harmony, repetition, parallels)
  • Figurative language (imagery, metaphors, similes, symbolism, allegory, personification, myth, antithesis, irony, paradox)
  • Characterisation (or lack thereof)
  • Punctuation
  • Vocabulary
  • Alliteration, assonance, rhyme (poetry and prose)
Historical and Social Context

Again, go back to your lectures and note key points here. Note also the secondary sources that will give you a good grounding in the historical and social context for each text. Aim to find a general overview in the first instance, before you narrow your focus.

Next think about what in the given passage can be related to these wider questions of context. You might look for features such as (and this list is certainly not exclusive!):

  • How the passage given might relate to any paratextual material associated with the text (prefaces, dedications, and so on)
  • Whether the passage makes reference to particular historical events. Does it do this directly, or obliquely? Is it satirical or polemical? Does it make use of symbolic language to allude to a particular event?
  • How far the passage may represent features of the society in which it was written. For instance it might have something to say or show relating to:
    • gender roles
    • rank or class
    • political affiliation / beliefs
    • religious affliation and religious ideas
    • forms of ritualised behaviour
  • Whether the passage directly addresses its audience / readership. If it does, why, and how, does it do this?

Sample commentary, Louise Labé, sonnet VIII(Word Document)

Revision worksheet for week 3's class (PDF Document)

Commentary writing workshop slides(Powerpoint Presentation)

Close reading: Boule de Suif (PDF Document)

revision workshop: essay writing (part 2 of exam) (Powerpoint Presentation)