Section B Task – New Exam Paper [AQA]

As preparation for the new exam coming in June, one of my students and I took a look at the new sample materials on the AQA website and there, in all its glory, was the new style of Section B task, an either/or task rather than the usual two tasks as before. In the past, the first task has been worth 16 marks and the final one worth 24 [total of 40 marks] but now, there is just a single task worth 40 marks [24 for the piece and 16 for SPAG – spelling, punctuation and grammar].

The task on the exam paper read as: Write about a place that is severely affected by bad weather [or something like that]. This is his response, done in two one hour sessions. See how many things you can spot in this…


Castleton was always such a bright, beautiful and picturesque place. It was located in the heart of the North Yorkshire Dales, south east of Whitby. It had a population of 525, before the decision was made to build a residential care home.

It was a lovely, scorching, summer’s day, a typically normal day, until the colossal, grey clouds came rumbling and rolling in over the hills. Then the rain started bouncing down heavily, which was fairly unfamiliar for this small village but nobody thought anything of it and carried on with their day. But, as it gradually started getting worse, farmers were forced to pack up and go home and the small village turned into a ghost town; not a soul in sight.

The torrential rain was getting worse by the minute, floods were starting to form in the valley which was beginning to flood. People started to panic as it worsened, when all of a sudden, disaster struck; the power in the small village became faulty, causing power cuts to begin in every home, one after another. As the floods developed into torrents of water being spread everywhere, people started fearing for the people in the new care home that had just been built. As there was no power at that time, the elderly people were worrying, not being able to see much or see a way to get out of their problem.

The care home, which was located just at the bottom of two hills, was now in danger as the rain came running down the valleys, directly into it. The home, as well as the village, had never seen weather like this before. But there was nothing anyone could do with the power loss. The rain had deteriorated that much that it had started to wear away at the hillsides; mud was starting to fall down towards the little village. In this day and age, another Aberfan was unthinkable, surely, but the brute power and force of the water as it gathered with the silt and the soil, transformed it into a mire of dirt and decay.

The villagers all knew that a landslide begins to fall downwards and if it did here, then the new care home would soon become buried. The locals sat there in their homes, looking out at the sheer ferocity of the rain water in total fear as they realised just how helpless and hopeless a situation it had become. In just over an hour, the peace and beauty of their village had been turned into a catastrophe of clay and mud; they all knew that they could not do anything.

Then, all of a sudden, a gigantic piece of granite stone began rolling down the hill, sliding its fearful, frightening way from the top of the brow, directly towards the care home. Stunned villagers who were still out in the rain watched in amazement, some videoing the event as it happened, not thinking of their own safety. And when the final thing happened, they all saw and marvelled at the power and intensity of nature as the care home vanished under an avalanche of mud.

Would there be any survivors of this tragedy? Only time would tell.


Well done EH.

New Exams Are Here – Paper 2

Okay, so you have taken the first new style GCSE English paper and you are preparing for the second one. What should you expect?

AQA have an example on their website. Here it is, broken down for you, to knock all those fears on the head.

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These first two are the first external source, like the ones of old, but instead of 3 of them, there are only 2 to read and answer questions on.

The second one is below…

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So, above are the inserts you are required to read for this exam. You have 15 minutes to read through them and check the questions or tasks that need to be answered.

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Once again, look at this front page. Note the times are the same as Paper 1, the marks the same, how you are assessed on reading in Section A [PEED chains etc] and on your writing in Section B [SPAG marks included]. No dictionaries allowed.

Then look at the first task. This is new.

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It is simply a case of shading in the right areas. But make sure you get it right. Facts are one thing. Opinions are another.

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If the first task is worth 4 marks, then 4 need to be shaded but now this is worth 8 marks so even though a summary is to be written, it has to be done clearly and properly. Could you get away with a line down the middle of the page and ideas from both men on either side?

I think not! As a marker, there is no way I would mark high if this happens.

Then comes a question that asks you to refer only to Source B.

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It is another of those “how does the writer use language” exam questions but note please, the marks have gone up to 12, so 6 good points fleshed out by 6 good quotes and developed explanation and all should be well.

Then comes this… worth 16 marks. Note how the marks are going up each time.

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Now, we get to something that we are used to in the past, a ‘compare’ task, where you have to show how both people do certain things in their writing. For 16 marks, I would expect 8 good, well rounded points with 8 equally good quotes, well used and well explained, in extreme detail.

This will be the question that makes the difference in this section of the exam!

With this done, section A is complete and yet again, the same [or similar] time management structure applies as in Paper 1. That would be 5 minutes for Q1, 8 minutes for Q2, 12 minutes for Q3 and 20 minutes for Q4. I would advise this slightly different time frame because of how the marks are different for each question as compared to Paper 1.

Then comes Section B.

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As in Paper 1, you have a single written task to plan and execute well. Paper 1 was creative writing in Section B. This is more argumentative and therefore, more difficult. It sets the premise that homework has no value and should be banned. 24 marks are given for ideas on page, how well thought out etc. 16 marks are for spelling, punctuation, grammar, paragraphing [see 2 rules for paragraphing and stick to them] etc. You can so easily write a good set of ideas and write them poorly and score very low on this part of the exam, if you do not paragraph your work clearly, with indented paragraphs and no lines missed.

NB: Write it as you would type it and enjoy doing the resits in November or doing the entire GCSE again the following year.

The task asks you to explain your point of view about homework and its merits. Yes, of course, some students do not do it and are chased by teachers all year long. Others get older ones to do it for them and do not learn. But on the other hand, homework is something that can aide learning, if used correctly. So, plan and prepare on the first page in section B and then write the thing well.

Once again, an easier exam than in previous years, in my humble opinion and one I would relish having a go at, if only I was a student again.

Remember: Be brave. Be the best. Let the markers have all the stress!

New Exams Are Here – Paper 1

Have you been fretting recently? Have you been concerned about the style of the new exams? If so, read on, for this is the first sighting of the new 2 paper style of GCSE English, taken from the AQA website. Below appears a series of photos and then a short explanation, for anyone to understand. I hope they make sense.

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This first one is the new formatted front sheet to Paper 1. Note the 1 hour 45 minutes. Note also that the inserts we are used to are included inside the exam paper. Only when we get to Paper 2 do we see external inserts to quote from. Note also how the marks are split and the 15 minutes reading requirement. That is not 1 hour plus 15 minutes. It is 15 minutes to read the inserts and 45 minutes for each section. Less writing, fewer pages but a greater need for accuracy.

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The two pictures above are one insert, from a story by Daphne Du Maurier and are to be read and then, students are to answer questions. Below is Q1.


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Can you remember the first task on the F paper from last year and the years before? That was a simple list of four things. This is the first question, an easy one to get you into the paper. 4 things means 4 points. Only write two and you only score two. Simple!

Then come the harder questions.


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This is one of those “how does the writer use language” ones, where you have to mention any stylistic devices used, any alliteration, similes, metaphor etc. This is where the PEED chains begin. Note the amount of marks has just doubled, so 4 points made, 4 bits of evidence and lots of explanation and development and you get the full 8 marks. A half hearted effort here can mean the difference between one mark and the next, a 4 and a 5, or even higher.


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Then you get Q3, which is again worth 8 marks. This one asks about writing structure, how attention is focused by the writer to the reader, about how and why things change at some point and any other features you see and can make mention of. So far, in 3 questions, you have the chance to score 20 marks.

Then this happens.


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This question is now worth 20 points so here is where you will lose some marks if you mess it up and do not write what you should.

It is based on an opinion of how the writer brings the characters to life. Now, it does not matter whether you agree with it or not, what you have to do is write about it, so do not get hooked up on agree or disagree. It asks how far you agree, so you have to think where you stand on the matter and then write a balanced argument for what you think to be the case. It says you have to support your ideas with reference to the text, so PEED chains still in operation.

With the first 15 minutes of reading time and these 4 questions to answer, you are forced into a time frame as follows:


5 MINS – Q1

10 MINS – Q2

10 MINS – Q3

20 MINS – Q4

And when that is done, you have done the new Section A of the new first exam!

Now, in the past, Section B has been 2 tasks; one worth 16 marks and the other worth 24, with 25 minutes and 35 minutes being advised for each one respectively. Here, your Section B is a single task of 45 minutes [and that includes planning].

Power of Y planning takes 5 minutes, so you have 40 minutes maximum, to write the thing, but what is it to be?

See below….


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You have a choice of 2 tasks, not the other thing that I am sure will happen [where some berk will try to answer both tasks in 45 minutes – it has been tried before now so please just do one task].

Your either/or in this instance is really a brilliant one when it comes down to it. If you chose the description based on the picture, then you have all the imagery there in the picture to be able to plan and write a lovely descriptive piece. If you chose to do the second one instead, where you have to write the opening part of a story about a place that is severely affected by the weather, then the options are limitless and this is why the new exam is trying to do that for you as student.

Think for a second!

Pathetic Fallacy and Foreshadowing allow you to begin with bad weather, rain, gusts of wind, leading into a possible ghost story like The Woman In Black. If you are a Doctor Who fan, then episodes like Knock Knock come to mind, or Blink, where there is rain. Or perhaps, you choose something that you know. I went potholing once down something called Jack Pot [yes, it was called that] in Derbyshire. It is literally a 5 foot hole in the ground that you climb down, but if it rains, it fills up, so my story could be about a potholing disaster where the hole fills with unexpected rain and how the adventurers try to survive against all odds.

With all this done, you have completed your first new style exam. In essence, it is a lot easier than the previous ones of years gone by, so I foresee raised levels of success. If teachers, like me, do their job right as they prepare their students for this, then percentage rates of 5 and above [4 = C of old] will forever increase, so long as the government do not have heart failure and knee jerk their way into something else.

So do not panic. Be brave and prepare for Paper 2 [see next piece on this site].






Trouble at ‘T Mall

If you ever wondered why John Cooper Clarke finds his way into anthologies with his poems, here is why, seen today on social media. His words are simple, straightforward, funny as hell and brilliantly played.

GCSE English: The Myth Buster #1

GCSE English is never meant to be easy but the government, in their wisdom, have made the exam boards here in the UK make some changes this year. Two of these are discussed below.

#1. The 9-1 Marking Scheme

Since the arrival of the linear exam, where no coursework and no marked speaking and listening is taken in to account [SL still is done but with no points], what you as a student are left with is a total examination mark, but now, instead of one exam, there shall be two. Exam boards differ but generally, they all follow similar guidelines.

The old way of doing things was A* through to G and a U if you came for two hours and wrote your name [you know what I mean]. A grade C has always been the benchmark for the next step, for going on to AS or something else or not even bothering. “I need a C” has been the stressed statement from students all my teaching career. On average, I have helped 84% get that C but I despair for the other 16% who did not get it. You see, they worked hard and got the grade they deserved.

Now, we have the 9-1 system and no one seems to know what a C grade is any more. Newsflash folks! No such thing as a C grade any more. No point in clinging on to the C grade for it will not return. Now, you have to concentrate on simply scoring the highest number you can overall, which leads me to the next point; no texts allowed in the exams.

#2 No Texts Are Allowed Now In The Exam Mum, Honest!

I wonder what your reaction was when son or daughter came home, or when teacher said this…

No need to fret.

See this below and really take a hard look at it several times. It is important.


I am having heated discussions with friends and acquaintances who have GCSE year sons and daughters who are moaning at me [as if I am the reason it has happened] saying why is it that students are not allowed to take their poems into the exam any more, or why can’t they take their Shakespeare text in? Or why cannot the school provide students with clean, unmarked copies of the poems any more? How is my son going to remember an entire Shakespeare play at his age? How is my daughter expected to know 15 poems completely, in her head, so she can quote from them? The stress is too much. This is the point when the arms and hands are waved wildly out of  control like Kermit the Frog losing it with Miss Piggy.

But there is no need to stress at all! Ask why the parent screams that. Possibly because they got all the help they needed. Ask why the student screams it. All sorts of answers are available, some good and some not, but there is no need to stress at all.

Here is why.

If you look very closely in the picture above it uses the word “and” right in the middle of each one. It first says that dependent on which it is; Shakespeare or the 19th Century Novel, there will be an “extract.” No need for a book for that is there? You answer the question based on what you see in front of you. Then, you answer using the rest of the knowledge you have of the play or the text. Some folk are screaming blue murder about this. It’s too hard for my daughter. It’s too much stress.

No it is not. Not if they learn how to do this properly!

Now, ask yourself this question and answer it honestly, but who goes into an exam about Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth, expecting an extract comprehension and does not know what happens in the rest of the play so they can write that little bit more into their answer? You have to either have not studied [sickness for example] or had some reason why you have not got your head round the book. The other person is the one that in class has “swung the lead” and not really tried and then, when told by their teacher that there are no texts included to help them, they panic, which leads me onto the next point.

#3 To Panic, Or Not To Panic…

There is absolutely no need to panic about any of these two exams. Let me show you why with a randomly found bit of text from Macbeth.


This is the bit where Lady Macbeth gets the letter from her husband who when she saw him last, was Thane of Glamis. She reads, before this, that King Duncan has made him Thane of Cawdor [more title and lands] and that three weird women were involved [witchcraft element] in the foretelling of it. She then says farewell to a servant and thinks this on her own, on stage. Thoughts are silent on stage, so a soliloquy is used, whereby she shares her thoughts out loud.

“Come ye spirits,” she says and then later adds, “Unsex me here.” She is asking that all her female nature be taken away by the spirits [evil elements of the spirit world] and that everything that makes her sensitive be gone, for she wants her husband to now become King after she [see later in text] kills the King when he visits later in the play.

She is hatching “a cunning plan” as Baldrick would say in Blackadder.

Now, your question in the exam would be a twofold one. The first part would say something like Show how this extract shares Lady Macbeth’s feelings at this moment in the play and then it might say and with reference to the rest of the play, show how those desires are played out.

Clearly, this is a question that gives you ample opportunity to write in those glorious PEED chains but as you do, all you have to do is add that later in the play, these emotions and feelings turn sour because as much as she wants her femininity taken away from her, that can never totally be done and so, she feels the guilt, sleepwalks, says “Out damned spot” and finally goes insane at what she has pushed her husband into doing [by now he has killed the King, not her]. So the quotes from the rest of the play can be learnt but do not necessarily need to be used in the other parts of the play bit of the question. The only parts you need direct quotes are the one quote I would say to memorise from each major character and those in the extract given at the beginning, which of course, you will or should, be able to annotate.

What about the poems? I can hear the screams now. 15 of them? Well here is the answer, from a student son of a friend who I asked last night how his school is handling this. His Dad sent me the SMS.


Once again, does the word “conversant” mean know them rabbit fashion? [for those in the wider world that means perfectly] No it does not! It means know about them, be able to talk [write] about them, be able to share that in My Last Duchess, there are similar themes to this one as well etc.

What it does say however, is that there will be some poetry provided for you all. So, like the English Lang exam, as well as the Lit example above, you shall be quoting directly from a source material in front of you, adding what you know about the rest into the answer throughout the answer.

Now, do you know your section of poems? My students do and could write about them without seeing them. By exam day they will be able to use short quotes they have learnt from them and the only way to do that is to voice record them and then play them back. Your Ipod music for the next 6 weeks or so, is therefore not Rap or Hip Hop, but Poetry! Believe me, it will do you good.

#4 Good Luck!

I never say this to my students. Instead, I say that “luck is for those who are not prepared.” Think about that last sentence for a few moments.

Revise. Learn. Remember and do it well. Then do the exam. If, at the end of the exam season, you can say “I did my level best there” then we as teachers can never criticise and you should not either.

Be the best. Do your best. Let the markers have all the stress!


Writing To Persuade – Section B

I asked a student to complete a Section B task from a past paper, in preparation for his coming exams. It was a writing to persuade piece where he had to try to encourage other college members to go green, or greener than they already are. Names have been changed to be protective so he does not get into bother.

He had to write the text for an article. I was rather impressed! I particularly love the sarcasm/humour of the first paragraph.

Make Ashford Hall Green Again

In recent years, climate change has irreversibly increased by 30%. Is there anything you could do to prevent this? Well, you could recycle this leaflet now, or you could read it all through first and then recycle it. They both sound like great ideas, but I suggest you read it all the way through first and then decide.

Did you know?

In the past 10 years, we have put 75% of all our recyclable materials into landfill; these materials could be reused as something different. For example, this leaflet is made from other recycled leaflets, recycled by people just like you to help us help the world.

30% of everything put into recycling bins are non recyclable.

Every day, thousands of plastic bags, lightbulbs and electronics are put into recycling bins, ruining the recycling process and delaying it, taking hundreds of man hours to sort through all of this non recyclable waste whereas it could take just 2 seconds for you to take a look and realise that “that Tesco’s bag doesn’t belong there!” or “This broken speaker won’t recycle” and to put it into the general waste bins.

How it works

Recycling has many different processes, one of which is the process of recycling plastic drinking bottles: after being collected and separated by colour and material via infrared beams, the bottles are then shredded and melted, before finally being flaked into small plastic pellets to be melted down again into more plastic bottles for later use.

How can I help?

Our goal is to help reduce climate change one school at a time! You could help us with this by asking your college to insert recycling bins throughout the halls.

You could help as an individual by checking through your rubbish before you put it in the bins, reuse bottles, or paper and try to fix your broken electronics instead of attempting to recycle them without thinking.

You could also help us by funding our website. For more details, please go to: 

Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 5

Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 5

I was struck earlier today by a comment my student made in our tutorial session, whereby he mentioned that Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind Macbeth killing King Duncan in the great Scortish Play, as it is known by superstitious actors who refuse to say the name. I am no such animal.

In this scene, a number of things happen but a lot of students do not fully grasp what Lady Macbeth is saying when she asks the spirits to come and “unsex her.” Like with any kind of analysis, there is a danger of just thinking literally, that she wants to have all her female sex taken from her. It is one of those moments when we read this in class, from this teacher’s perspective, when 14 boys and 16 girls all give different responses to those words. The girls gather their lips together and there is a sharp intake of breath, usually, whereas the boys usually titter out loud, sometimes making some form of saucy comment. Such is life in the English department in most High Schools and Academies across the country.

So, what is she asking? Here is the text for you….


Give him tending;
He brings great news.

Exit Messenger

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’

She is saying a number of things here. The first is that she wants something to come to her. She calls them “Spirits” which usually means something from the deepest depths of hell itself. Now whether or not you believe in such things is irrelevant for the people in the days of Shakespeare, most notably King James I, did and so what was written was for an audience who would jump at such a comment. To use a more modern example, it is written like the scene in the film, Poltergeist, where the little girl shrilly says, “They’re here!!!” The effect on the audience would have been palpable at the time. It is meant to be the same today but we do not believe in things like that to the same extent any more.

So, she wants the spirits to come and “unsex” her, but what does that mean? Does it mean to take away all her sex? What then, does that mean? To answer that, you need to think about why old fashioned phrases like “the fairer sex” and “the weaker sex” were used on women through the ages by men, in our patriarchal society. For ages now, men have believed women to be weaker than men, fairer in their ways. Or, to put it more correctly, women have the capacity to love more, to be more tender, more able to show compassion and whilst this is true, even today, when one kills someone, it means you are stepping over the line from what is natural and good, into what is heinous and evil. So, before this speech, she is reading a letter from Macbeth about the witches and their prophecy and she is reading how they said Macbeth will later become King.

She knows that for him to become King, the current King has to die. She also knows that her husband has “the milk of human kindness” in him, or that he is too damn soft to be able to kill a King as good as Duncan to fulfill the prophecy. But she is not prepared either, to wait for King Duncan to croak. No, here is a woman who is driven by what she has just read. Thane of Glamis [pronounced Glarms] becomes Thane of Cawdor, just like the Weird Sisters said he would and then will become King. To her, the questions are when and how. So, she hatches a plan for her to kill Duncan at her castle in Inverness. Read the scene above and before you get to the bottom line, you will see what I refer to.

So, when she says “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty,” she is asking for everything that makes her a woman to be taken from her. Take all my tenderness, compassion and love and turn it top to toe into “direst cruelty” so that she can commit the horrible act. “Make thick my blood,” she says and “stop up the access and passage to remorse” referring to the way we do something wrong and then feel guilty. She wants none of that. She wants Queenship and at any cost. She does not want the “compunctious visitings of nature” to come upon her [her natural state in other words] to “shake [her] fell purpose.” Her purpose now is to secure the throne for her husband.

Now, I wonder how many wives would get a letter like she does and then plot to kill the King? It is a nasty thing to do indeed; treasonous in every way. But she wants to be able to plan and execute the killing and then act as if there has nothing bad happened at her hands. It takes someone very special [in the vilest manner] to be able to kill another. So she calls on these spirits to “come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall.” She is asking for her milk to be dried up. She wants no sign of moistness, or softness, no sign of female femininity getting in the way of what she has to do. So, this calling on these “murdering ministers” [note too the alliteration throughout this] is a sign that not only does she believe in such things like witchcraft [note the term used mentions a witch = female, another widely held belief at the time], but she is also willing to have them come and take control of her. That is what she is asking for here.

Another more modern take on this would be that she is telling herself to ‘switch off’ everything that she has about her personality that makes her tender, so that she can do the deed. She cannot wait for the night almost [note the night symbolizes darkness, which in turn symbolizes evil] and says “Come, thick night” with all your mist and fog [remember pathetic fallacy here?] as if to summon up the hosts of hell herself, to make such a change in her as to be completely overtaken by the demons she is calling upon. In essence, this will make her have no memory of what is to follow.

Now we all know that even though she calls on these spirits to work in her and to take away all feeling from her, she does go off the deep end towards the end of the play and kills herself, proving that she is not successful in summoning up enough reserve to kill the King. There is some element of softness still in her that festers and sends her mad with grief at what she has done.

See her wringing her hands before her death and wonder why.

So, when we assess what it is that Lady Macbeth is asking for here, do not get stuck on the idea that all this is to do with is some sexual thing. Seeing the greats like Dame Judi Dench act this scene [there are many different ones on on youtube] will make a young lad think one thing because of where some actresses use their arms and hands all over their bodies, but there is more to it than that because she then utters these words: “And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes.”


At this point in the proceedings, she is the one with murder on her mind. She is to be the killer, according to these words. It is only later that things take a turn and Macbeth does the deed. At the end of this scene, or this excerpt at least, what we see is the desire of Lady Macbeth, the true villain of the play, desiring one thing, being prepared to use sorcery and witchcraft to get what she wants and someone for who becoming Queen is more important than life itself. She may ask for the spirits of the Underworld to come and tear her apart, taking away all her tender, feminine side, but what she does not realise is the danger she is putting herself in. Our lesson for the day then, is to be careful when analysing anything, for there is always more than one way to interpret a line of poetry, or in this case, the text of a Shakespeare play.