A Sample Essay Question with 2 Sample Answers & Scoring Comments (For Students of 2011)
In the following speech from Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey considers his sudden downfall from his position as advisor to the king. Spokesmen for the king have just left Wolsey alone on stage. Read the speech carefully. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how Shakespeare uses elements such as allusion, figurative language, and tone to convey Wolsey’s complex response to his dismissal from court.
1. So farewell—to the little good you bear me.
2. Farewell? a long farewell to all my greatness!
3. This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
4. The tender leaves of hopes, to-morrow blossoms,
5. And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;
6. The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
7. And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
8. His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
9. And then he falls as I do. I have ventur’d,
10. Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,1
11. This many summers in a sea of glory,
12. But far beyond my depth. My high-blown pride
13. At length broke under me, and now has left me,
14. Weary and old with service, to the mercy
15. Of a rude stream that must for ever hide me.
16. Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye!
17. I feel my heart new open’d. O how wretched
18. Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!
19. There is, betwixt that smile we would aspire to,
20. That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
21. More pangs and fears than wars or women have;
22. And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,2
23. Never to hope again.
Sample Essay A (675 words) [with my inserted comments]
A writer must employ a variety of rhetorical devices in order to convey the emotions of a character. If these techniques are used well, the character becomes more real to the reader. In his play Henry VIII, William Shakespeare does a remarkable job of conveying the emotions of his character Cardinal Wolsey, who has just received the shock of his dismissal as the King’s advisor. Shakespeare’s description is realistic because it reflects the range of feelings that people often undergo when reeling from3 an unexpected disappointment. Wolsey’s soliloquy reveals both anger and lamentation as he struggles to come to terms with what has occurred. Shakespeare portrays both the hostility and despair of Wolsey’s reactions through (1) dramatic diction, (2) figurative language, and (3) a shift in tone. [Good introductory paragraph and clear mental outline of 3 major points to be developed in the 3 paragraphs that follow]
The words Shakespeare chooses reflect Wolsey’s complex reaction because they represent strong emotion. [Good topic sentence] Wolsey describes himself as “weary,” (line 14) which implies that he has poured everything (he has) into his position, leaving him exhausted. “Weary” connotes aging, as if Wolsey has expended a great amount of time in his dedication to his work. Even more [Good coherence] powerful is the selection of the word “wretched,” (line 17) which Wolsey uses to characterize men such as himself who have lived their lives depending on the approval of the monarch. The connotations of “wretched” are despair and utter hopelessness. This word choice suggests that Wolsey has no hope whatsoever for the future, leaving him in a state of sheer desperation. The loaded diction Shakespeare uses illuminates the extremity of Wolsey’s emotional state. [Good paragraph conclusion]
Through figurative language, Shakespeare evokes powerful images that show Wolsey’s anger as well as despair. [Good topic sentence] He uses the metaphor of a delicate flower to represent Wolsey’s spirit, first optimistically putting out “the tender leaves of hopes,” (line 4) then blooming, only to be struck by a “killing frost.” (line 6) This image conveys Wolsey’s vulnerability and innocence. The frost, which symbolizes the King’s brash dismissal of Wolsey, is...
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