Ask the Expert Tutor: IGCSE English (Romeo & Juliet)

Romeo and Juliet

Clients often come to BartyED looking for IGCSE English tutors to help with Literature. In this edition of "Ask the Expert Tutor," we examine Romeo and Juliet which is often studied by GCSE students in Hong Kong and consider which elements of the text can be used in an exam-style response. 

A common GCSE style question asks the candidate to examine how the author treats a certain theme. In our example below we consider the question, how does Shakespeare explore the theme of conflict in Romeo and Juliet?

An excellent tip to score top-grades is to analyse the question carefully and think of different ways you may reasonably interpret "conflict." There are different types of conflict in Romeo and Juliet and an examiner will reward you for discussing them. It is precisely this kind of critical analysis which our Expert English Literature Tutors teach in their classes. Consider for example the following three types of conflict.

  1. There is obvious familial conflict between Montague and Capulet which provides the setting for the play. (Yes, you do get a mark for identifying setting.) 
  2. There is clear intergenerational conflict between the wishes of the parents' generation and those of Romeo and Juliet themselves. Shakespeare is reminding the audience that such conflict is inevitable. (So students, next time you're having a massive row with your parents, remember Shakespeare wrote about this first.)  
  3. There are many examples of inner conflict in the play's characterisation and Shakespeare shows us that inner conflict is also an inevitable part of being a teenager. When we first meet Romeo he is wracked with self-doubt over his love for Rosaline because he's in the midst of that delightful Elizabethan convention of courtly love. (Brownie points and an A* for students who can identify this last point!)  

So how might we communicate some of these ideas in a well-expressed paragraph? The key here is to use short quotations frequently and make sure the evidence you bring links Shakespeare's characterisation, language, metre and drama with the theme of conflict. For example if we were to write a sample paragraph on intergenerational conflict, it might look something like this:

Shakespeare’s treatment of intergenerational conflict also reflects the conflict between Montague and Capulet itself; the prologue mentions that “ancient grudge break to new mutiny.” In Elizabethan English the meaning of the word “ancient” is closer to the modern meaning of “former.” Thus through his use of language, Shakespeare shows the audience that the previous generation’s conflict is passed unwittingly onwards to the next generation who may not want to inherit it. In many ways the younger generation defy their elders. The relationship between Romeo and Juliet demonstrates this, as does the characterization of Benvolio who forever seeks peace. Of all the major players, it is only really Tybalt who “hates all Montagues” with the virulence of the previous generation. Thus Shakespeare is showing us that one thing over which different generations may come into conflict is conflict itself! He also shows that such conflict can lead to a change – as it does in the tragic resolution of the play which buries the “parents’ strife.”            

This is by no means the only way to write a paragraph on this topic -- and there are many elements candidates could present as evidence. However, the paragraph above neatly combines varied quotations with close analysis of language to answer the question. Importantly it does so in sentences which are not too long and in which the language is clear. This helps the examiner to award marks.

That's it for today's "Ask the Expert Tutor." If you have any questions about what you've read, do ask it via one of the channels below - we will be happy to help.

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