Comparing Two Extracts

Comparing Two Extracts

In your exam you are likely to be given a choice between two questions. One will be a study of a single extract; the other will require you to compare two extracts. Students often veer away from the latter, as they consider it too difficult.

However, if you structure your answer carefully it can be much more straightforward than it initially appears. This section considers ways of approaching this type of question.

When you read the two passages, you should consider the following issues;

  • setting
  • diction
  • characters
  • interpretation of a theme
  • different themes
  • use of dramatic techniques
  • social and cultural context

A useful way to prepare for comparative questions is to take two different extracts, draw a line down the middle of a piece of A4 paper and list the similarities and differences between the two passages.

Comparing Two Extracts

Be very careful when reading the question. It is unlikely that you will be asked to compare all of the aspects of two extracts.

If you did this properly then it would take far too long. In light of this,it is important that you focus on what the question asks you straight away.

You may be asked to consider the role of a particular character, the development of a theme, use of humour, how the dramatist creates tension, language and diction.

Whatever the question you should always consider the following four points:

  • The response of the audience-

Remember that it is a play. How would the audience feel at different points during the extracts?

They would see, not read the extracts.

How would their impression be different to yours? If it is a question about language, how might they respond to the language?

  • The dramatists-

What techniques have the dramatists used? Don't simply compare characters from two different extracts as if they are real. Show an awareness of the writer.

Keep the comparison central to your answer. If you want to get a high mark, then you must keep the comparison of the two passages central to your essay. If you write about one extract completely, then the next and leave the final comparison to the end then the examiner will find it difficult to reward you.

However if you write about the actions of a character in extract A and then do the same for extract B, and then move on to diction in A and then B, your comparisons are clearer.

The very fact that they are next to each other makes it easier for the examiner.

  • Be specific

In a question involving so much text, it is vital that you are specific. Always relate your answer back to solid textual evidence. Close textual analysis will always be rewarded. Show that you are aware that the writer has chosen a word for a specific effect.

In the extracts you may find that the two dramatists approach a similar theme but in two different ways. Alternatively they may look at two entirely different themes, but use similar techniques. It is important that you recognise the differences, and don't get carried away with the similarities.

An important factor to consider when thinking about themes in the two passages is the social and cultural context. The different social contexts of the two plays may provide a clear focus for the answer. This issue permeates all of the other possible areas. It may be relevant when writing about characters, reasons for actions, diction, and setting.