Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

What worked for me in Leaving Cert poetry – Jamie Tuohy


Ah, Leaving Cert poetry – the bane of most Irish students’ Leaving Cert experience. The idea of having to know thirty plus poems for a 50 mark question in an exam can be enough to induce terror into the mind of even the coolest and collected class genius. Many students are tempted to cut corners, but trust me – cutting corners will undoubtedly lead to bumping into obstacles!

  • As attractive as it may seem to rely on apparently sound and reliable predictions, a prediction, by its very nature would find it near impossible to be either ‘sound’ or ‘reliable’ – just asked the class of 2001, when nearly the very same poets came up two years in a row.
  • When discussing the work of a poet, try not to focus on the biography. You are being asked to write about the poem – not the life of the poet. Students lose marks because they keep talking about Sylvia Plath’s mental problems, or endlessly recall the hardships of Robert Frost’s life, rather than focusing on the poem.
  • It’s great to know about the poet’s life and you can certainly refer to certain aspects of his or her life, but the examiner wants to read about your engagement and reaction to the poetry of Seamus Heaney and not a factual article about his life, whereby you use the poems as evidence to support your facts.
  • Remember that all the questions are essentially a personal response, even though few questions will explicitly state so. It is really important to give your opinion throughout the answer. Teachers will have advised you to have a positive reaction to the poetry, which might seem like it’s defeating the purpose of an ‘opinion’, but if you’re going to criticise a poem, you will need extremely sound references and points, which are often hard to find.
  • P.Q.E: Point, Quote, Explain. This is the basic formula that every student should be adhering to when answering a question. Make your point, find your evidence in the poem and then explain what you have written, stating your own opinion as well. It’s no good saying “this poem is a poem of sadness, written in a trochaic tetrameter” and leaving it at that. By doing this, you’re only stating a fact – follow it up with evidence and analysis or description.
  • Don’t go into the exam without knowing at least five poets. This point is self-explanatory, but it’s essential to reinforce it.
A Personal Response to the Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh:

If Patrick Kavanagh isn’t one of the poets you’ve been focusing on, then this is a good chance to brush up on him. Nobody knows who is going to come up, so if you’ve Plath and Heaney well prepared, Kavanagh is a great one to have in your back pocket in the exam.


  1. 1.      “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” – Imagery
  • Kavanagh manages to capture the atmosphere of that ‘July Evening’ by combining effective imagery with his own emotional feelings towards the night.
  • “The bicycles go by in twos and threes” – this gives us a sense that Inniskeen is a close knit community, as everyone is travelling to the dance together.
  • However, this camaraderie among the locals does not extend to Kavanagh, who is “king of banks and stones and every blooming thing”.
  • Is he isolated by virtue of being a poet? Does Kavanagh create an image for himself that sets him apart from society? Do you sympathise with the poet’s condition?
  1. “Canal Bank Walk” – Language Techniques
  • Kavanagh opens the poem with a neologism combined with alliteration, saying “leafy with love”.
  • Through poetry, Kavanagh is free to express himself and despite writing in the form of Shakespearean sonnet, his poetic licence gives him the liberty to remain unique.
  • His clever use of language techniques allow us to become enthralled by the words before us and the repetition of the letter ‘l’ creates an image in my mind where things are in full bloom and it is sensually evocative.

“Lines Written on a Seat in the Grand Canal” – Language Techniques

  • Where by a lock Niagarously roars” – neologism.
  • By using this neologism, I feel that Kavanagh’s reverence, joy and love for the Grand Canal are all juxtaposed in this line. He is comparing the canal – a man-made river, to the breath-taking natural beauty of Niagara Falls.
  1. “Epic” – Title and Form
  • The title is paradoxical, as one expects a lengthy poem, recanting the exploits of an ancient hero, but instead Kavanagh’s poem is somewhat of a ‘mock epic’.
  • However, the seemingly trivial dispute between these two families is elevated to the status of the Trojan War, rather than reduced to an insignificant parochial squabble.
  • In choosing the sonnet form, Kavanagh reminds himself that art and literature do not need grandiose inspiration to be successful. Indeed, the best poetry is created from the parochial, as he believed it was universal because it dealt with the fundamental aspects of society.
  1. 4.      “The Great Hunger” – Theme and Content
  • This poem communicates themes of isolation, despair, missed opportunity and filial duty.
  • Patrick Maguire is defined only by the love he holds for his land – “clay is the word and clay is the flesh”.
  • He suffers the flaw of passive acceptance and his life has been reduced to a dull pattern of farm chores and familial obligations by a series of submissions to his mother, to the land and to the Church.
  • The poem becomes a polemic in which Kavanagh criticises these aspects of rural life in Ireland in the early to mid-twentieth century.
  • The themes of the poem create an atmosphere of gloom and in the final lines; Kavanagh personifies “Imagination” because it’s the very thing that Kavanagh lived without.
  • “He lives that his little fields may stay fertile when his own body is spread in the bottom of a ditch under two coulters crossed in Christ’s Name”. It seems rather fitting, yet poignant that Maguire would be buried in the very land that held him in impoverished servitude, but tragic that his resting place is marked by the symbol of the religion that so impeded his sexual and emotional fulfillment.

What Worked For Me:

  • As I’ve already mentioned, it’s great to open essays with a quote and this is particularly effective when it comes to poetry. Try to find a quote that in some way embodies the essence of the poet’s work and still adheres to the question. For example, if there’s a question on ‘power’ in Adrienne Rich’s poetry, a good quote might be “These are thing that we have learned to do who live in troubled regions” from her poem “Storm Warnings”.
  • Something that helped me to memorise quotes was to write out the quote and leave out or substitute a word. By doing this, you’ll train your mind to remember the word that was left out and subsequently memorise the quote. For example, in Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror”, if you say “I am silver and exact. I have no judgements”, a light bulb will go off in your head, saying “NO! It’s “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions”.
  • Make a statement of the obvious! Think of the most obvious and general thing you can about the poem and write it down. Then you can deconstruct it and analyse the sentence. For example, “Seamus Heaney’s “Bogland” is about a bog”. When you consider this statement and break it down, taking into account all the different elements of the poem from imagery to language, you’ll soon have many more ideas on how the poem expresses Heaney’s relationship to the Irish landscape and its people.
Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Last minute Hamlet advice – Jamie Tuohy



Hamlet is renowned for being one of the greatest tragedies in English literature and is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, but it is also one of his most complex pieces. Just like its titular character, Hamlet is a play that is multi-faceted and rarely straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard to comprehend.

Here are some pointers for you to expand on in your essays:


The Role of Women in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:


  • Open your essay with a quote. This grabs the reader’s attention and immediately shows your engagement with the question and knowledge of the play.
  • “Frailty thy name is woman”. These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet that highlight the role of women within this tragedy.
  • Women are characterised as weak and subservient and as obedient and acquiescent.
  • Gertrude and Ophelia play a passive role in the play’s proceedings, but are crucial to exposing the play’s central themes and the titular character’s misogyny.



  • Gertrude is living in the shadow of two kings and in this sense; she is wholly dependent on men.
  • Claudius describes her as the “imperial jointress to this war like state”. However she does little to prove this.
  • She is too weak to challenge Claudius and her role as the Queen of Denmark is constantly undermined and overshadowed by his dominance.
  • Gertrude portrays the fickleness of women. There are suggestions she had a relationship with Claudius, even when Old Hamlet was still alive. According to the Ghost, Claudius “won by shameful lust, the heart of my most seeming virtuous queen”.
  • Women are characterised in a one dimensional manner – they cannot live without a man and constantly need one in their lives. Gertrude’s “o’er hasty marriage” to Claudius exemplifies this.
  • As a queen, Gertrude is ineffectual and as a mother, she is insensitive and blind to her son’s distress.
  • Gertrude cannot understand why Hamlet persists with his melancholic demeanour and agrees with Claudius when he says “tis unmanly grief”. Gertrude lets her own opinion of Hamlet’s mental state be influenced by Claudius.
  • However, Gertrude’s redeeming feature is her propensity for goodness.
  • None of Gertrude’s actions are premeditated, so it seems rather fitting that she dies drinking from the poison chalice – completely unaware of what is in it.
  • Through her death, Gertrude highlights the position of women within this tragedy – completely obedient and totally oblivious to the corruption around them.



  • Ophelia, like Gertrude is a woman who is led and controlled by the men in her life. She is described by her brother Laertes as “a sweet sister and a kind maid”. Ophelia’s primary role is to showcase Hamlet’s warped view of women.
  • Out of all the characters in the play, she is the one who cast in the most one dimensional manner.
  • Ophelia has the potential to be a tragic heroine, to overcome her father’s control and gain Hamlet’s love, but due to her submission and conformity, she is merely tragic.
  • Shakespeare uses Ophelia to portray the fickleness of women.
  • As Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia is extremely obedient. When he tells her not to speak to Hamlet anymore, she obliges, saying “I shall obey my lord”.
  • Ophelia resigns to the fact that Hamlet is “subject to her birth”, simply because her brother Laertes told her. She accepts these ‘truths’ because she is too weak to challenge male authority.
  • There are recurring tones of misogyny throughout the play and Ophelia’s acquiescence; combined with Hamlet’s maltreatment of her showcases this.
  • He uses guttural language when speaking to her, saying “get thee to a nunnery, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners?” This is a grossly offensive remark to the “sweet and innocent Ophelia”, but she simply agrees to do as Hamlet tells her, possessing no strength of character to stand her ground.
  • It is notable that Gertrude – a woman announces Ophelia’s death, elucidating women’s ability to empathise with each other.
  • Ophelia kills herself because of the men in her life – her father is dead and her love for Hamlet is unrequited. She cannot function without a man and therefore, is driven to insanity.
  • Gertrude’s elegiacal speech on Ophelia’s death highlights the frailty of women and portrays the poignancy of her death. “Sweets for the sweet”, she says, as she places flowers on Ophelia’s coffin.
  • Ophelia’s association with nature – the flowers, the willow tree in the lake, all display “a young maiden” who was pure, virtuous and fatally innocent.


The Importance of the Soliloquy:

This question was one of the expected questions for last year and didn’t appear, but I wouldn’t rule it out for this year. The reason I decided to include this question as opposed to another one is because it’s all encompassing. This question lends itself to exposing the themes of deception, revenge, corruption, filial duty, loyalty and is also one that can deals with Hamlet’s and Claudius’ characters.

For this question, Hamlet and Claudius are the two best characters to write about, partly because their soliloquys are often spoken about each other and partly because they speak some of the most famous lines in English literature. I chose four soliloquys by Hamlet and two by Claudius. I never worried about logistics or ratios – this is English, not maths and Hamlet has more memorable speeches anyway!



  • Act 1, Scene 2: “O that this too too solid flesh would melt…”
    • This is an extremely telling and revealing soliloquy, as we see a deeply depressed and saddened Hamlet, as he is grieving for the loss of his father, but also expressing his disgust towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”.
    • This speech portrays Hamlet’s love for his late father and his anger and hatred towards Claudius – even before he knows that he is the murderer of his father.
    • We see Hamlet as powerless, as he must “hold his tongue” and therefore, we sympathise with him and forgive his misogynistic generalisation of women.
    • He is ultimately motivated by filial duty.


  • Act 2, Scene 2: “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I?”
    • Hamlet’s self-directed harangue not only expresses his annoyance at himself for not acting sooner, but it also develops the plot and provides us with a dramatic irony.
    • These lines display Hamlet’s true inner conflict – he is on a quest to avenge his father’s death and kill Claudius, but he hesitates on carrying out this cold and callous act because he condemns himself as a “coward”, even though he has “the motive and the cue for passion”.
  • Act 3, Scene 1: “To be or not to be?”
    • Hamlet is a thinker and philosopher, rather than a man of action.
    • It is important to note that Hamlet does not directly relate this soliloquy to his own cause, but instead uses inclusive pronouns like “we” and “us” and the indefinite “who”.
    • This allows the audience to be a part of the play and even though Hamlet’s mental nadir is evident through his soliloquy – he is speaking on behalf of everyone who is torn and faces a similar dilemma.
    • He tells us that even though death may be preferable to life, we are restricted from action by fear and moral judgement. Perhaps this is the explanation for why Hamlet cannot kill Claudius?
    • This is an extremely important soliloquy, as it develops the character of Hamlet and gives us an insight into the numerous facets of his complex mind.


  • Act 3, Scene 3: “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying…”
    • He has evidence that Claudius is the killer, but cannot do so, because he believes that Claudius is praying and will be sent to heaven if he is killed mid-prayer.
    • In terms of dramatic function, this soliloquy allows us to delve into Hamlet’s mind and see that he is motivated by revenge, but he is also guided by his morals and his conscience.
    • It also exemplifies Hamlet’s procrastination and portrays his constant vacillation from action to inertia.



  • Act 3, Scene 3: “O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven…”
    • This speech portrays Claudius as a villain with a conscience.
    • He wants to pray for forgiveness for his “most unnatural crime”, but he is unwilling to give up the merits of his anomalous act – namely “my crown” and “my queen”.
    • This is his most important soliloquy, as it presents Claudius in a three-dimensional manner. He isn’t the cold-hearted villain we thought he was, as he knows that he will always be “struggling to be free”.
    • It also provides dramatic irony. We know that Claudius isn’t praying, but Hamlet does not.
  • Act 4, Scene 3: “The present death of Hamlet, do it England…”
    • Once again, we see Shakespeare creating dramatic irony as we are informed of Claudius’ intentions towards the unsuspecting Hamlet.
    • Claudius sees Hamlet as a “desperate disease” and recognises him as a threat to the state, but more importantly his crown.
    • It also shows us that Claudius isn’t the noble king he would like everyone to think he is – he is ruthless and callous and willing to commit even more grievous acts to remain in power.


What Worked For Me:

  • I had a few tricks for gaining top marks in any Hamlet question and one of them was to read any relevant speeches or soliloquys and then explain them to myself out loud, as if I were teaching them to a class. Admittedly, this drove my family mad, as each night I would just speak to myself in the Bard’s language. However, you will be amazed how much information you will retain from reciting quotations out loud. It will also allow you to use quotes that aren’t obvious and not the usual ones that all students use. Adopting the broody demeanour and sullen gaze of the Danish prince, while whaling “to be or not to be”, is of course, optional.


  • I mentioned how important characters are when it comes to Hamlet and I had a handy method for being prepared for any question on the text. Take a character each night for a week and write down all their traits, then compare them to all the other major characters of the play. For example, tonight, take Hamlet and write down all his characteristics and then compare and contrast him with Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia. By the time you’ve all the characters done at the end of the week, you’ll be sorted for any question.


  • I always tried to have a piece of information that not many other students would have and this involved a little bit of secondary reading, which is good practice for college! A great point for Hamlet is the “Oedipal Complex”, developed by the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. He argued that Hamlet delays in killing Claudius because Claudius has acted out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. Knowing this doesn’t mean you should give a psychoanalytic reading of the text, but it’s a great additional point for talking about Hamlet’s character or his relationship with Gertrude.
Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Question A: The Comprehension – Jamie Tuohy


I have received a few emails and tweets asking me for tips on how to tackle the ‘comprehension question’, so I decided to dedicate a blog post to the topic. The comprehension question (question A, Paper 1) is one of those questions which is very easy to master and do well in, but it also equally as easy to mess up on and lose invaluable marks. Traditionally, Paper 1 is infamously ignored by students because it’s viewed as the paper that you can’t study for. However, the key to succeeding in Paper 1 resides in the amount of practice you put into doing each of the questions and hopefully, these tips will help you to achieve the full 50 marks. If you haven’t practiced these questions before the exam, you can easily be caught out by tricky questions, specifically about style. With practice and some useful techniques, you will see that the comprehension format tends to be repetitive and easy to manipulate to your advantage.

  • This question is testing your ability to read the text in a comprehensive manner and elucidate on its content.
  • The important thing with this question is to show some evidence of ANALYSIS.
  • Don’t just answer the question by quoting from the passage and leaving it at that – tell the examiner what you think the quote represents, or possibly relate it to personal experience. It’s so important to show the examiner that you possess the ability for CRITICAL THINKING.
  • This means that you don’t just ‘read’ the text – you use it as something to provoke your thought.
  • Before read the passage, you should LOOK AT THE QUESTIONS.
  • If you do this, you’ll pay attention to things that relate to the questions throughout the passage, and you should always HIGHLIGHT THEM.
  • It’s all about timing, and if you read the text, then read the questions, you’re going to waste time going back over something you’ve probably already read twice to find suitable answers.
  • The first two questions tend to be very general and usually relate to your understanding of the piece, but there is usually one ‘awkward’ question where students tend to be caught on and lose marks.
  • This is the infamous STYLE QUESTION– no student should go into the exam without being familiar with all the different elements of style. This really shouldn’t confuse students as this question is actually quite liberal – here are just some things you can pick up on in relation to style:
    • Language techniques (alliteration, similes, onomatopoeia etc.)
    • Structure – how are the paragraphs presented? A good one for this is ‘a long paragraph followed by short one’, giving relief etc.
    • Anaphora – repeating the same word at the start of each sentence for EMPHASIS.
    • Punctuation.
    • Imagery (the creation of imagery).
    • With all of the above, it’s so important to comment on their EFFECT as well as stating what style techniques the writer uses.

As I am on summer holidays and have a bundle of free time, I decided to log onto and get some questions to answer (such a geek). I decided to answer on the 2008 PAPER – TEXT 1 – TEENAGE IDENTIY. My sample answer should shed some light on the topic and also employ the above hints and tips. Remember to read the text with the questions in mind and your highlighter is your best friend in the exam – HIGHLIGHT everything that’s relevant. Obvious, but invaluable! I have written significantly more than you would need, just to make sure everything is included and to give you more ideas on what to talk about.

  1. 1.      “Teenage culture in not a modern phenomenon”.  Give three pieces of evidence that the writer, Jon Savage, uses to support this statement.

In this extract from Jon Savage’s book “Teenage, the Creation of Youth, 1875-1945”, Savage makes a number of statements which claim that the modern teenager who is inextricably linked to commercialism in not a “modern phenomenon”, but is someone whose origins pre-date the 20th century. Throughout this passage, Savage draws on a number of different references to support his claim that teenage culture is not something which is new and radical, but rather exists as something which has evolved from the 19th century.

In the third paragraph, Savage states that the phrase “juvenile delinquent” first came into the mainstream around 1810 and it was coined in response to gangs of youths who hung around street corners, and had distinctive behavioural habits. Savage also tells us that teenage culture manifested itself in Victorian literature, as Clarence Rook’s novel The Hooligan Nights dealt with “a highly strung 17-year-old male”. It’s perceptible that the modern teenager often characterised by anti-conformity already existed in popular culture hundreds of years ago.

Savage elucidate on this point as he refers to the American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall. The author tells us that Stanley Hall was responsible for defining the word “adolescence” in 1898, terming it “a period of ten years, from twelve or fourteen to twenty-one or twenty-five”. The modern teenage characteristic of unsociability also appeared in this early definition, as Stanley Hall characterised adolescence as a period of “storm and distress”. His philosophy was almost avant-garde, as he envisaged teenagers as a “new generation” who were separated from their elders, not only through age, but through different ideals and often values.

Lastly, Savage makes reference to the publication of Seventeen magazine, which he describes as “a landmark crystallization of teenage identity”. The magazine, which was published in 1944, not only supports Savage’s statement that “teenage culture is not a modern phenomenon”, but reinforces the fact that teenagers came to be recognised a “separate consumer grouping” and even back then, companies recognised teenage culture a key market for monetary gain. Throughout the passage, Jon Savage exposes how teenage culture been present in everything from Victorian literature and intellectual study, right though to 20th century popular culture – showcasing that the commercialism and capitalist gain which often goes hand in hand with this echelon of society is certainly not a modern phenomenon.

  1. 2.      Comment on THREE features of the style of writing which contribute to making this an interesting and informative text. Refer to the text to support your answer.

This passage is an extremely well written piece which flows very cleverly to make an interesting and informative read. Jon Savage uses various style techniques to enhance not only the quality of the piece, but to make the piece accessible to the reader.

Savage follows a CHRONOLOGICAL STRUCTURE throughout the passage. He is arguing that “teenage culture is not a modern phenomenon” and he does this by charting the rise of teenage culture throughout history, from its origins in 19th century America and its appearance in Victorian literature right through to the “Roaring Twenties” and the Second World War. At each juncture, Savage comments on how teenage culture was ever present and ever evolving, stating that the twenties introduced “an international party scene” which comprised of “bright young people” and explains how this then manifested itself in popular culture in 1944’s Seventeen magazine.

Savage doesn’t merely make his argument based on his own observations. He uses HISTORICAL REFERENCES AND QUOTES EXPERTS IN THE FIELD to elucidate and exemplify his argument. He draws on the work of American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall, as he was the person who developed the term “adolescence” and stated it was the beginning of new generation, in which teenagers should be treated with “sympathy, appreciation and respect”. This is a clever style technique which grabs the reader’s attentions and expounds the author’s argument.

Finally, Savage uses DESCRIPTION to great effect in this passage, creating vivid and lively images of teenage culture. When describing the “decade of the Roaring Twenties”, he writes of the female swing fans “with their sporty outfits and dance-ready shoes, screamed en masse for Frank Sinatra and laid the groundwork for gyrating rock’n’rollers, Elvis Presley fans and “Beatlemania”.” The clear description of the hysterical young girls becomes the embodiment of the decade’s carefree nonchalance and is extremely evocative and sensual.

In this passage, Jon Savage’s clever stylist features illustrate the author’s message and also make the piece interesting and informative to read.

  1. 3.      Do you think the writer of this text is sympathetic to the modern teenager? Give reasons for your view with reference to the text.

Yes, after reading this text, I think that Jon Savage is sympathetic towards the modern teenager, albeit slightly cynical about the technological advances of their generation and the commercialism which goes hand in hand with teenage culture. At times, his position can seem thwarted or slightly ambivalent, as he is heavily influenced by historical sources and references, but overall, I feel that Savage is understanding of and ultimately sympathetic towards the modern teenager.

When referencing the American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall, Savage expresses his own opinion on Stanley Hall’s definition of “adolescence” as a time of “storm and distress”. The author impresses me as being aware of the teenage mentality and recognises that teenagers exist as a separate generation from the adult world, which he characterises as “relentless” and “industrial”. He comprehends the fact that teenage culture is built not necessarily upon ideals which are so commonly perceived to be in opposition to those of the adult world, but merely on ones that are different. He writes of youth as being “a separate class, with its own institutions and values”. He encourages adults to foster a sense of appreciation and respect towards teenagers, underlining his comprehending of and sympathy towards the modern teenager.

At times, the author’s tone can be slightly parodic – portraying teenage existence to be a hedonistic way of living, but I feel that Savage’s general perception of his subject is based upon respect and understanding and this is communicated through his references throughout the passage. He tells us about the “Woodcraft Folk” in Britain who were a group that offered young people “contact with nature and loyalty to their community” and makes references to a similar group in Germany called the “Wandervogel”. Perhaps the most effective piece of evidence to communicate the author’s outlook comes from the last paragraph, when he quotes Aristotle. Savage says that Aristotle said of young people “their lives are lived principally in hope” and by including this quote, it displays not only Jon Savage’s sympathy for the modern teenager but showcases his belief that youth is a period of prosperity and possibility.


I hope this helps you guys – I spent about 30 mins writing those 3 answers, so you could probably afford to spend another few mins on them. I wanted to give you very comprehensive answers that you could pick and choose what to take and what to leave out, so I hope that these three answers are sufficient. You could read all the tips in the world on QUESTION A, but the only way to master it is to take those tips and PRACTICE!

Good Luck,


Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry, Uncategorized

A Personal Response to “Design” by Robert Frost – Jamie Tuohy

A Personal Response to “Design” by Robert Frost


  • I’m well aware that Frost came up last year and many students seem to ignore poets based on that very reason.
  • This is one thing I would never do; in fact, it’s the opposite of what I’d do.
  • Never rely on predictions! Every student in the country expected Wordsworth to come up last year – he was ‘guaranteed’ and the audible gasps of horror around the exam hall when we received the paper were the all too obvious inclinations that many students had relied on predictions. NEVER ASSUME YOUR TEACHER’S PREDICTIONS ARE GOSPEL.
  • In 2010 and 2011, there were questions on Yeats and way back in 2001 and 2002, Bishop and Longley made appearances on the paper in both years.
  • When it comes to Leaving Cert English, be prepared and expect the unexpected. Cover all bases.
  • This is a little post on “Design” by Robert Frost – a close study if you will, which will allow you to see the kind of points you should be making in your own personal response question.

“Design by Robert Frost is a deeply metaphorical poem in which he portrays the destructiveness of nature and questions God’s grand design. In this poem, Frost presents the dark face of the natural world through which he expresses that evilness is an innate part of nature. In saying this, Frost demonstrates the possibility that there is no grand plan governing the universe and that everything exists and arises simple from a preordained design.

The poem is appealing for its use of unusual and ironic imagery which is extremely thought-provoking. “Design” is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet and the octet is dominated by the image of the spider engulfing a moth. Frost says

 “I found a dimple spider, fat and white on a white heal-all”.

This is a paradoxical image, as we usually associate white with innocence and purity, however, in this instance, it’s representative of death and deception. I feel that through this image, Frost is communicating the destructive aspect of nature and highlighting its unforgiving qualities.

In the sestet, there is a change of mood and a departure from the vivid and descriptive imagery of the octet. Frost queries why such a thing would happen. He says

“what brought the kindred spider to that height then steered the white moth thither to the night?”

This is an extremely effective line, as, in my opinion, it exemplifies how this was meant to happen – there’s nothing contrived about the scene, because its brutality and cruelty is a testament of reality. It’s almost like the flower and the spider have conspired to trap the moth, thus underscoring how everything that happened was by ‘design’.

However, the poem closes with Frost saying

 “what but design of darkness to appal? If design govern in a thing so small.”

There is an underlining pessimism and scepticism to these lines, as Frost questions whether or not life is predestined and led by a design which has been created by something beyond human stature. I enjoyed reading this poem, not least for the unusual and vivid imagery, but moreover for the way in which it provokes thought and offers us insights into the human experience.



Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Is Hamlet a noble hero?

  • Apologies for the lack of posts recently!! I’ve had SO MUCH READING AND STUDY TO DO! Taking a 30 min study break to do this essay for you guys!
  • This is just a question that I have made up which should cover any Hamlet character question.
  • It’s quite a broad question which should hopefully provide the scope for discussing a wide variety of his traits and characteristics.
  • One thing I always do in an essay, and it’s something which I’ve forgotten to draw your attention to and that is OPEN WITH A QUOTE. This is a fantastic way to immediately catch the attention of the reader/examiner and it shows your knowledge of the text INSTANTLY.
  • The reason why I’m doing this question as opposed to a more specific question is because this allows me to present both sides of Hamlet’s character and most of the question on Hamlet’s character tend to deal with the DUALITY OF HIS DISPOSITION. Hamlet is a fascinating character with many different traits and hopefully this question can make that clear.


“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”

These are words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet by William Shakespeare that highlight the condition of the protagonist himself. Hamlet is a multi-faceted character – as the prince of Denmark he is noble, courageous, valiant and intelligent. Shakespeare presents us with a character who has high moral standards and a sense of spiritual sensitivity. His abhorrence for evil and his contempt for the hypocrisy of the court is illustrated through his quest to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet is an extremely complex character and there certainly is a dichotomy therein. Hamlet’s bravery and nobility are at times, overshadowed by his procrastination and vacillation from action to inertia. Hamlet is unable to act in a decisive manner and this is his hamartia. However, because we admire Hamlet’s moral sensitivity, we tend to accept his behaviour. He gains our sympathy and by the end of the play, Hamlet emerges as one of Shakespeare’s greatest noble heroes; albeit a tragic one.


When we are first introduced to the crestfallen prince in Act 1, Sc.(i), he is not present, however the sombre mood and eerie atmosphere set the tone for the whole play. Everyone around him appears to be getting on with their lives after the “most unnatural” death of Old Hamlet. Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother (and the queen) has married Claudius – Hamlet’s uncle. Everyone’s new found happiness elude Hamlet, whose grief is evident through “his inky cloak” and “customary suits of solemn black”. It’s evident that the anomalous murder of his father has had a greater impact on Hamlet that is had on his mother. He praises his father, saying “so excellent a king that was to this Hyperion to a satyr” and expresses his disapproval towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. Despite the misogyny of his first soliloquy, Hamlet expresses his filial loyalty towards his father, underlining the fact that he guided by a his sense of morality – a truly noble and admirable quality in the young prince.


This loyalty is something that is a constant feature of his disposition and when the Ghost appears to Hamlet, he shows his bravery and courage by following it, despite Horatio and Marcellus urging him to do otherwise. The Ghost reveals himself to that of Hamlet’s father – the king Old Hamlet. He tells his son “but know, thou youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown”. This is an extremely important scene, as we are made aware of that fact that Claudius is the murderer. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s death and in doing so proceeds to “put an antic disposition on” of feigned madness. Hamlet is of noble extraction and sees Claudius as a threat to the state of Denmark. He recgonises that the “time is out of joint” and feels that he was “born to set it right”. His nobility is perceptible, as Hamlet feels by killing Claudius, he is purifying the whole court and ridding Denmark of evil.


Claudius is the consummate villain of the play and it is important to note that Hamlet hates and mistrusts him from the start – even before he knows that he is the murderer. He sees his “uncle-father” as a “treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain” and will not allow him a redeeming feature. When the Ghost charges Claudius with bestial depravity, which is both fratricide and regicide, it cements Hamlet’s hatred of him and acts as an agent provocateur to his actions. However, unlike Claudius, Hamlet is not a cold hearted killer and refuses to kill Claudius solely bases on the Ghost’s appearance. He will not do so until he is absolutely certain, beyond reasonable doubt that his father was murdered by is very own brother. Hamlet displays a conscientious and intelligent mind.


This intelligence is often expresses through Hamlet’s soliloquies, which also portray a man who is highly philosophical. In Act 2, Sc.(ii), he waxes praise upon the endless abilities of man, saying “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form, in moving, how express and admirable”. One of Hamlet’s most admirable attributes is his verbosity. He is an eloquent scholar and often gives us insights into life through his deep and meaningful soliloquies. Hamlet will do anything without considering the consequences of his actions. In doing so, he highlights his cleverness and nobility.


Shakespeare created a well rounders character in Hamlet and Hamlet himself uses his intelligence in a cunning and shrewd manner. He refuses to kill Claudius while he is praying because he knows that in doing so, Claudius will go straight to heaven. Instead, he constructs an elaborate plan, in which he’ll have the players re-enact The Mousetrap, which he hopes will “catch the conscience of the king”. Hamlet hopes that when Claudius sees the players mimic his crime, it will prove too much for him and his guilt will be perceptible. Even in instructing the players, Hamlet impresses us a knowledgeable and cultured man. He tells the players exactly how to act – showing precision and attention to detail. When the player king is poisoned, it proves too much for Claudius and he swiftly exits – just as Hamlet has intended. Through his shrewdness and cunning – he has consummate evidence that Claudius is the killer.


As an audience, we are willing Hamlet to kill Claudius and avenge his father’s death, but his hamartia – his procrastination prevents him from doing so. Hamlet’s nobility, bravery and intelligence give him a super human persona, but his inability to act in a decisive manner is his fatal flaw. He ruminates too much “o’er the issue” and this spawns the death of many of the play’s central characters. He is an enigma and at times, we are often left wondering as to who he hates more – Claudius for killing his father, or Gertrude for possessing such scant regard for her late husband. once Hamlet assumes his antic-disposition, he ceases to be a single unified personality. The complexity of his character lies primarily in the contradiction between the noble and contemplative Hamlet suggested by his soliloquies and the often harsh and cruel nature revealed in action.


This duality is evident in his maltreatment of Gertrude and Ophelia. Hamlet uses guttural language to describe his mother’s relationship with Claudius. His obsession with what appears to be an incestuous relationship is an extremely disturbing aspect of his character. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst suggested that the reason for Hamlet’s procrastination and why he prolongs in killing Claudius is because of the “Oedipus Complex”. Perhaps Claudius has carried out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother? Similarly, Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia – his girlfriend is inhumane. He teases her saying “I did love you once, I love you not”. He urges her “get thee to a nunnery” and his maltreatment Ophelia is not an appealing aspect of his character. Nevertheless, we overlook Hamlet’s behaviour and when he kills the “meddling old fool” Polonius, we don’t view Hamlet as an ignoble villain, but rather as the antithesis, because we are aware that he is motivated by filial duty.


In the final act, we see a truly noble Hamlet. He acts on instinct and with courage and defiance. We are made aware that he truly does love Ophelia, as in the ‘graveyard scene’, when he finds out that the deceased body is that of Ophelia’s. he jumps into the grave. He defiantly declares his absolute love for her and says “forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love, make up my sum”. We see Hamlet’s nobility and realise that his flippant comments to her stemmed from his antic disposition and feigned madness.


Even when Horatio – the voice of reason urges Hamlet not to take part in the duel with Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, Hamlet is fearless and courageous and vows to take part. The battle has been arranged by Claudius with the favoured outcome being Hamlet’s death. Hamlet is selfless and does not fear death – a truly noble and heroic quality. The great tragedy is that Gertrude drinks the poison which Claudius has prepared for Hamlet and Laertes dies. However, Hamlet, in his dying moments, avenges his father’s death by stabbing Claudius. The play ends in tragedy, but Hamlet is borne “like a soldier to the stage”.


Hamlet is a young man with depth and thought, who is both riveting and intriguing. He is an enigmatic character who we admire both for his strengths and his weaknesses. His abomination for corruption motivates his action, however his deception is key to the plot and the hypocrisy of the court, which is rejected by Hamlet thus becomes a feature of him, as illustrated through his antic-disposition. Yet, the fascination lies therein, because despite his deception, Hamlet impresses us as an extremely intelligent, courageous and valiant hero, but most of all, as a loyal son. He never acts without processing the consequences and it’s tragic that Hamlet dies even after all his contemplation. The ability of the audience to connect with the emotions of Hamlet, combined with his supremacy over evil, make him one of the greatest noble and tragic heroes in English literature. Indeed, Horatio says it best, when he elucidates the nobility of the Danish prince and showcases the tragedy of his death, saying:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince”.




Good luck,


Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Paper 1:


  • Read the THEME of the paper.
  • Read all the texts carefully.
  • Look at QUESTION B FIRST and choose the one that best suits you.
  • Answer on ANOTHER text for question A.

English Paper 1 is one of those funny old papers, isn’t it? One day you can get an A1 in it and the next day, due to awkward texts or tricky essay topics, you can come out with a B3? It’s also one of the papers on the Leaving Cert that is legendarily ignored and this is one of the main reasons for fluctuating grades. Students think that they can’t study for this paper because nothing is prescribed for it and therefore it’s the lack of preparation that causes results to slip.

I’M TELLING YOU GUYS NOW, THAT THIS IS ONE OF THE PAPERS THAT YOU CAN DO SO MUCH STUDY for, that you will have the paper nailed before the exam even begins! (All sounding very technical as usual Jamie….not!).

Hopefully, my tips for ‘nailing’ (or whatever else you need to do to the paper to get an A1) Paper 1 can be of some help to you:

Choosing your essay: THE 100 MARK QUESTION:

I’m starting with this question first, simply because IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION ON THE LEAVINGCERTENGLISH PAPER! It’s worth a whopping 100 marks and if you’re chasing top marks, doing well in the question is absolutely essential.

Short Story:

  • If you love English and enjoy creative writing, then the short story is for you. However, if you feel that you’re more suited to structure, then I would suggest something like a speech or a debate.
  • You can afford to be unoriginal here – prepare 3 or 4 short stories and get them marked by your teacher and keep practicing them until you’re getting a high mark in them. DO NOT LEARN ANY OF THEM OFF BY HEART, but do learn the general outline and plot. This makes it a whole lot easier in the exam, because you have a few stories in your head and you can manipulate ANY of them to suit the question.
  • Keep your story simple.
  • I would never have any more than 3 characters in the story.
  • Sometimes, the best stories focus on a single character and follow his/her journey through something (it’s really impressive, if this ‘something’ can be related to other LC students – for my Leaving Cert Mocks, I wrote a short story about a girl who was leaving home for the very first time to go to college and described how she felt and all the memories her house held for her. It was simple, but yet it got 100/100).
  • Use credible dialogue. You don’t have to show off your extensive vocabulary to impress the examiner.  Use the language your characters would use and sometimes, spelling phonetically can work well too, i.e: if your character is working on a market on Moore Street, having him/her saying “get yer apples and oranges, two fer a eurahh” can give the examiner a laugh.
  • Remember, humour is subjective!

 Personal Essay:

  • Do not confuse this with the short story.
  • A personal essay does what it says on the tin – it’s personal, about you – heartfelt, honest and emotional.
  • The use of the personal pronoun should be employed throughout.
  • Students can lose marks here because they write it in the third person, and while this isn’t necessarily wrong, it can blur the lines between the short story and the personal essay.
  • Show rather than tell. Use description to portray how you’re feeling rather than saying something like ‘I was happy when…’


  • The most important thing when writing an article is not to be didactic. That is, don’t tell the reader (in this case, the examiner) what to believe. Present the information in a clear and concise manner and back it up with references/statistics.
  • Use the language of information.
  • Be aware of what type of article you’re writing: is it a broadsheet or a tabloid piece?



  • This is perhaps one of the best questions to do if you’re unsure as to which question will suit you best.
  • You can pick up marks by using all the tools associated with giving a speech (that you’ll have learned in Junior Cert).
  • The purpose of the speech is to persuade the audience.
  • You can do this by using personal anecdotes, statistics, relevant references etc…
  • Flatter your audience – “of course you already know this….” and “as you all undoubtedly are aware…”
  • Be aware of your audience – if you’re giving a speech to fellow classmates, and then use the appropriate language to appeal to them – DO NOT PATRONISE YOUR AUDIENCE.

My English teacher gave me a very good tip for this question and that’s to TRY AND INCORPORATE  THE THEME OF THE PAPER INTO YOUR ANSWER. It’s not necessary, but it impresses the examiner. If the theme of the paper is to “THE FUTURE” and your essay has some link to this, then it shows that you are a competent writer and aware of the task at hand!

These are just some of the main questions that come up in the composition questions, there are more of course, like the descriptive essay, which I did for my own Leaving Cert – it’s really just a short story with LOADS of lovely descriptions.

If you know how to handle one the above topics, then you’re laughing. However, I would stress the importance of choosing one form i.e. short story, personal essay BEFORE the exam! Then you will you your strongest question and you’ll have the appropriate amount of preparation done!


Question B:       

It’s really important to choose this question before you choose your question A!

The last thing you want it to do an excellent question A and then realise that the only question B you would be happy doing is on the same question.

All the question As are essentially the same, so it will be your question B that will decide which one you’ll do.

A lot of the time, this question can involve writing a speech, or a radio talk, or an article. They are much the same as the composition question, it’s just you don’t have to write as much.

A lot of the time, the question B might be related to the text, so BEFORE YOU EVENLOOKAT ANY QUESTION (A OR B), read the text. This can give you ideas for your answer. In my own Leaving Cert, I borrowed ideas and phrases from the text to use in my question B.

Stick to the topic! It seems obvious, but it’s so easy to go off on a tangent when you’re writing – CONTROL THAT PEN!


Question A: (The Comprehension)

This question is all about proving yourself to the examiner. Even though, I’ve left this until last, it doesn’t mean it’s any less important than the others. You need to show the examiner that you’re a competent writer and have no problem in tacking any questions he/she throws at you.

‘Question A’ is made up of three texts, and usually, one of these texts is a visual text, i.e. it’s made up of pictures or photographs.

To do well in this question, you have to be able to pick out the relevant information.

A good tip for doing this is to: READ THE QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU READ THE TEXT. Then, when you’re reading the text, you can highlight all the relevant pieces and you probably won’t even realise what you’ll have done, but you’ll have highlighted most of the answers.

When this is done, take a minute or twoANDREAD BACK OVER THE PIECE.

Doing this makes the question so much easier! Think about it – imagine if you read the text, then read the questions, then had to trawl back through it to find information! THIS IS AN EXAM – THERE’S NOROOMFOR AMATEUR STUFF LIKE THAT, IS THERE LADSANDLADIES??? NO!! Take control of the exam and show it whose boss!

There is usually a question on ‘style’ included and I think that this is probably the only question that can pose difficulty for students, and to make things worse, it’s usually the 20 marker! Have no fear; questions on STYLE are not half as difficult as they appear to be.

A question on style might go something like this:

“Comment on a at least four stylistic features that make this piece more enjoyable to read.” (20 marks)


  • Use of quotations/references/allusions.
  • Imagery.
  • Language techniques – alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor…. (Also, the use of language – is it lively?) You could literally answer the whole question, using language techniques!
  • Paragraph structure? Use of a ‘topic sentence’? How smoothly does one paragraph flow into another?
  • Synecdoche. (When the writer makes a general statement to mean something very specific e.g. – ‘all hands on deck).
  • Anaphora. (Where the writer uses the same word to begin successive sentences e.g. – Every man was…. Every child was…Every woman had…).
  • Personal anecdotes.
  • Contrasting points of view.
  • Use of statistics.
  • Punctuation.

And there you go! Hopefully, this is enough to help you all with Leaving Cert English Paper 1!

Now, go and take control of that exam – be so boss that you’re almost Hugo!

Good luck,



Leaving Cert English Paper 1: Tips for top marks!

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

The use of the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Jamie Tuohy

If there is any justice in the world, the people setting the English Leaving Cert exam this year should put a soliloquy question on the paper for the Hamlet question. If I were doing the Leaving Cert this year, this would be one of the essays I would be concentrating on, because:

  • This is an essay that basically prepares you for EVERY OTHER QUESTION.
  • If you’re asked to write about theme, you’ll be talking about how it is conveyed and that is through the characters and through WHAT THEY SAY.
  • The soliloquy essay is one in which you talk about all the different aspects of the play – you’ll be talking about the role of women, Hamlet’s procrastination and Claudius’ deceit.
  • I ALSO PREDICT THERE WILL BE SOMETHING ABOUT DECEPTION on this year’s paper and this essay is a perfect example of deception – it is only through the soliloquies that we really see who the characters are, namely Hamlet and Claudius. They are the ultimate deceivers and it is only through their soliloquies that we can understand their motivations.
  • Hopefully, you can see how important this question is, and it would be an absolute dream if it came up this year – it’s a question that gives you the scope to talk about anything you want – within reason of course!
  • When tackling this essay, QUOTES ARE ESSENTIAL (as always). This essay requires you to know your stuff and relevant quotes are imperative!

The following question will discuss the function of the soliloquy within the play and I want to re-emphasise as always, that this isn’t something you should just learn off or plagiarise! It’s a sample essay I’ve written to a question and it’s obviously not going to fit the exact question that will come up! Happy reading!

Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters in Hamlet.

Discuss with reference to the text.

“To be or not to be, that is the question”

These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet from what is undoubtedly the most famous soliloquy in English literature. Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters and in doing so; we gain an understanding as to the motivations behind their actions. Not only do the soliloquies offer us an insight into the characters of the play, (namely Hamlet, himself and Claudius) but they are highly dramatic and give the plot momentum and thus propel the action to new and exciting levels. Hamlet’s and Claudius’ soliloquies also expose key themes within the play and create a sense of dramatic irony, as we are aware of the motivations behind their actions, but the other characters of the play are not. Hamlet and Claudius are well matched adversaries who are set up in direct opposition to each other and it is through their soliloquies that we become omniscient and discover their intentions towards each other.

Hamlet’s opening soliloquy is in Act 1, Scene 2 and it is an extremely telling and revealing speech; as he wishes that “this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew”. We see a deeply depressed and saddened Hamlet – a young man who is grieving for the father he has lost, but also expressing his disgust towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. He says “so excellent a king that was to this Hyperion to a satyr”. His love for his father is perceptible through his words of praise for him, but his disdain towards Claudius is something that is also evident. He refuses to be associated with Claudius and is keep to dispel any notions of similarity between them, saying “no more like my father than I to Hercules”. It is interesting to note that at this juncture in the play, Hamlet has no idea that Claudius murdered his father, but yet, he still despises him. Through this soliloquy, we see how Hamlet’s father’s death has had a terrible effect on him and as an audience, we can forgive his generalisations of women and sweeping statements when he says things like “frailty thy name is woman”. Immediately, Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as a noble and loyal son who is powerless and must “hold” his “tongue” and therefore, we tend to take Hamlet’s side and sympathise with him.

Hamlet’s hamartia is his constant procrastination, yet we would not be aware of the velocity of his vacillation from action to inertia if it were not for his soliloquies. In Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet’s self-directed harangue not only expresses his annoyance at himself for not acting sooner, but it also develops the plot and provides us with a dramatic irony. He asks himself “am I a coward?” and says:

“O what a rogue and peasant slave am I….but I am pigeon liver’d and lack gall to make oppression bitter, or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites with this slave’s offal”.

These lines display Hamlet’s true inner conflict – he is on a quest to avenge his father’s death and kill Claudius, but he hesitates on carrying out this cold and callous act because he condemns himself as a “coward”, even through he has “the motive and the cue for passion”. However, it is this self-condemnation that spurs Hamlet to action and heightens his hatred of Claudius – he finally vows vengeance, saying “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”. Hamlet declares his intention to stage The Mousetrap, in which he hopes to expose Claudius as the murderer. This allows for dramatic irony, as we are now aware of Hamlet’s intentions towards Claudius, but Claudius himself is oblivious.

Perhaps the reason why Hamlet delays in exacting revenge us simply because he is a thinker and a philosopher, rather than a man of action? In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet offers us many insights into the meaning of life, as he questions the validity of it. We see an extremely philosophical Hamlet as he asks “to be or not to be?” In his most famous soliloquy, Hamlet ruminates on whether death is preferable to life. He says:

“To die, to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream, ay there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause”.

Hamlet feels that in death, we are free from the troubles of life and wonders if it is better to “take arms against a sea of troubles” or to live a life miserably. It is important to note that Hamlet does not directly relate this soliloquy to his own cause, but instead uses inclusive pronouns like “we” and “us” and the indefinite “who”. This allows the audience to be a part of the play and even though Hamlet’s mental nadir is evident through his soliloquy – he is speaking on behalf of everyone who is torn and faces a similar dilemma. He asks “who would bear the whips and scorns of time?” or “who would grunt and sweat under a wear life?” Hamlet offers us the answer, saying it is “the dread of something after death” and thus “conscience doth make cowards of us all”. He tells us that even though death may be preferable to life, we are restricted from action by fear and moral judgement. Perhaps this is the explanation for why Hamlet cannot kill Claudius? He ruminates too much “o’er the issue” and deep down feels that murder is a callous and cold act. This is an extremely important soliloquy, as it develops the character of Hamlet and gives us an insight into the numerous facets of his complex mind.

This reflective nature and procrastination is also evident in Hamlet in the Prayer Scene. He says “now might I do it pat, now he is praying”. This soliloquy underlines Hamlet’s dilemma and exemplifies his constant vacillation. He now has concrete proof that Claudius killed his father, as he admits it, but Hamlet refuses to kill him and offers us excuses as to why. He says:

“Am I reveng’d to take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and season’d for his passage? No”.

Hamlet feels that he cannot kill Claudius because he is praying and will therefore go to heaven. In terms of dramatic function, this soliloquy gives us the opportunity to delve further into the mind of Hamlet – we see that he is motivated by revenge, but he is guided by his morals and his conscience.

However, the great irony is that Claudius isn’t praying – he is merely admitting his offence. Like Hamlet’s, Claudius’ soliloquies give us an insight into his true character. It is only through his soliloquies that we see the real Claudius. In the same scene (the Prayer Scene), Claudius says:

“O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven,

It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,

A brother’s murder! Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will”.

The speech portrays Claudius as a villain with a conscience – he is duly aware of the enormity of his offence. He wants to pray for forgiveness for his “most unnatural crime”, but he is unwilling to give up the merits of his anomalous act – namely “my crown” and “my queen”. This is Claudius’ most important soliloquy because it presents him in a three dimensional manner – he is not the cold hearted villain we though he was – Claudius knows that he will always be “struggling to be free”.

The dramatic irony a soliloquy creates can be seen in Act 4, Scene 3, when through his soliloquy, Claudius informs us of his intentions towards the unsuspecting Hamlet. Claudius is aware that Hamlet poses a threat to his crown and recognises the fact that he needs to deal with is, describing Hamlet as a “desperate disease”. He arranges for Hamlet to be sent toEnglandto be killed, saying: “the present death of Hamlet. Do itEngland. Like the hectic in my blood he rages.” Aside from creating a dramatic irony, this soliloquy also exposes the true Claudius. He is most certainly not the noble king he would like us to believe he is. Claudius is ruthless and callous to the bitter end.

Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters in Hamlet. Both Hamlet and Claudius are evenly matched adversaries and are both shrewd and unscrupulous, albeit to different degrees. The soliloquies express the motivations behind their actions and allow the audience to gain an understanding as to why they behave as they do. The soliloquies engage the audience in the drama, as we are parties to deceptions which the other characters themselves are unaware of. Shakespeare’s use of soliloquies in Hamlet acquiesces our desire “to pluck the heart of Hamlet’s mystery” and indeed expose the “treacherous, lecherous, kindles villain” that is Claudius.


And there you go! This is a dream essay title to get as you have the scope to talk about a huge range of things. This is one of my favourite Hamlet essays and is also probably one of my best! It’s a 60/60 essay, so I hope it can help you guys!!

Good Luck,