Posts Tagged ‘Critical Study’

Module B is the most traditional of the Advanced English modules. It’s the one where you study the text and look at different interpretations. The key idea here is how the text has been received in different contexts. I suggest organising your summary like this:

Key Idea or Theme

  • quote + technique + explanation
  • note on how this theme has been interpreted in different contexts

Example from Hamlet

Political Corruption

  • “unweeded garden” – metaphor (extended metaphor) – Hamlet feels that the world is decaying due to the political corruption in the Danish court
  • Elizabethan audience: king embodies state – corrupted state = Claudius’ guilt
  • Modern audience: blase attitude to political corruption due to pervasive cynicism.

Example from Cloudstreet


  • “the knife never lies” – personification – reinforces the role of superstition in Lester Lamb’s life
  • Can be inspire empathy or pity in the audience, depending on differing values

Five or six major themes with three or four quotes/techniques for each and you should have what you need to start writing practice responses. If you find yourself short on ideas for a response, go back to your summary and add more detail.


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Unlike the Area of Study, Module C and, to some extent, Module A—which are concept based—Module B, the Critical Study, is text based. By this I mean that rather being about an idea (belonging, conflicting perspectives, context or the role of humanity), Module B’s focus is on studying the core text. The Module B Syllabus Rubric says,

This module requires students to explore and evaluate a specific text and its reception in a range of contexts. It develops students’ understanding of questions of textual integrity.

Each elective in this module requires close study of a single text to be chosen from a list of prescribed texts.

Students explore the ideas expressed in the text through analysing its construction, content and language. They examine how particular features of the text contribute to textual integrity. They research others’ perspectives of the text and test these against their own understanding and interpretations of the text. Students discuss and evaluate the ways in which the set work has been read, received and valued in historical and other contexts. They extrapolate from this study of a particular text to explore questions of textual integrity and significance.

Students develop a range of imaginative, interpretive and analytical compositions that relate to the study of their specific text. These compositions may be realised in a variety of forms and media.

Let’s break it down.

Reception in a range of contexts: students need to acknowledge that different people read texts differently and that these differences arise from variations in world view. World view is a useful idea. It means exactly what it sounds like: it’s how someone sees the world. This is influenced by historical, social and cultural context. Think about how your text was received in its original context and how that is similar to or different from how it is read now.

Example: The idea of the Divine Right of Kings was very popular in Europe during Shakespeare’s time. This notion, that kings rule because God wants them to, could be one of the reasons that Hamlet hesitates to kill his uncle. To a modern audience this makes less sense (living as we do after the French and Russian revolutions) so we look for answers in Hamlet’s character or in his personal ethical code.

If your text is a more recent one, such as Cloud Street, it might be useful to think about different communities within our modern society. Examine the significance of the house in the novel for an Aboriginal Australian who was a member of the Stolen Generation or what the novel might mean to someone who is unfamiliar with that aspect of Australian history.

Textual integrity: this is a tricky concept and the BOS uses the term differently from the way my university lecturers used it. In Module B, textual integrity means the way in which the different elements of the text work together to form an integrated whole.

Example: The plot, characters and language in Hamlet all work to reinforce the theme of decay and corruption. The gothic atmosphere of Moor House is integral to understanding the plot and character motivations in Jane Eyre.

Significance: another one of those tricky words with too many meanings. An interesting way to think of it is that meaning is the message of the text as the author intended while significance is the meaning of the text to a reader. This ties together the previous two ideas. If the elements (plot, setting, character, theme and style) all work together to create a message, then the text has textual integrity. The way message is interpreted or received in a given context is its significance.

I recommend reading CS Lewis’s essay on Hamlet entitled The Prince or the Poem. It very cleverly explains the way in which subsequent generations have read Shakespeare’s play, and how each critic has seen their own ideals and values reflected in the play’s titular hero.

Attacking this module might mean doing a little a self reflection and engaging with the world. What are your values, how are they shaped by your context and how do they affect your own reading of the text? That last question is important because it is your own reading of the text that the markers want to read. Don’t read a bunch of criticism and regurgitate in the exam. Engage with the text and its world, engage with yourself and your own world, think about the connections between the two and then write about it.

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