English Literature Descriptive Questions and Answers – 01

Q1. Describe character “Aaron”.

Answer : Character in Titus Andronicus, the chief villain, a vicious criminal who loves evil for its own sake. Aaron, a Moor, is the lover of TAMORA, the Queen of the Goths, and carries out her revenge on TITUS Andronicus, who has permitted her son to be killed. Although Aaron is in the retinue of the captured Queen in Act 1, he is silent. Only in 2.1 does he begin to reveal his character, rejoicing in the advancement of Tamora, who is to marry the Emperor, SATURNINUS, because it will also benefit him. The rich imagery of his first soliloquy (2.1.19-24) suggests that here is a villain who looks forward to catastrophe; it has for him the allure of ‘pearl and gold’.

Q2. Who is “Abbot of Westminster, William Colchester” ?

Answer : Historical figure and character in Richard II, a conspirator against BOLINGBROKE. After RICHARD II is formally deposed in 4.1, the Abbot conspires with the Bishop of CARLISLE and the Duke of AUMERLE to kill the usurper. The plot is discovered, and the Abbot’s death, apparently of a bad conscience, is reported in 5.6.19-21. The historical Abbot was pardoned by Bolingbroke, by then King HENRY IV, after one month in prison, and was permitted to retain his office, which he held until his death. Shakespeare may have confused the Abbot’s fate with Carlisle’s, as reported (inaccurately) by HOLINSHED. The Bishop is said to have died upon capture, ‘more through feare than force of sicknesse‘.

Q3. Who is “Lord Abergavenny, George Neville” ?

Answers : Historical figure and minor character in Henry VIII, son-in-law of the Duke of BUCKINGHAM. As the play opens, Abergavenny joins Buckingham and the Duke of NORFOLK in their complaints about Cardinal WOLSEY’S abuse of power. At the end of 1.1 Abervagenny and Buckingham are arrested for treason, the victims of a plot by Wolsey. Like his father-in-law, Abergavenny calmly accepts his fate, ‘The will of Heaven be done, and the king’s pleasure / By me obey’d’ (1.1.215-216), offering a strong contrast with Wolsey’s villainy. Shakespeare took Abergavenny’s involvement from HOLINSHED’S Chronicles, and the lord is merely an echo of Buckingham. At 1.1.211 of the FIRST FOLIO edition of the play, Abergavenny’s name is spelled ‘Aburgany’, indicating its ordinary pronunciation.

Q4. Describe character “Abhorson” in Measure for Measure?

Answer : Character in Measure for Measure, an executioner. Abhorson appears in 4.2, where he undertakes to train the pimp POMPEY as his assistant, and in 4.3, where he and Pompey summon the condemned criminal BARNARDINE to be executed, only to be comically frustrated by the victim’s refusal to cooperate. Abhorson is part of the comic SUB-PLOT—in 4.2 he drolly claims the status of ‘mystery’ for his profession— but he serves chiefly to help create the ominous atmosphere of the prison. Abhorson’s name, which suggests both the verb ‘abhor’ and the insulting noun ‘whoreson’, serves the same two purposes. It conveys clearly the repellent aspects of the man’s profession, thereby reinforcing the atmosphere of impending doom that has been established earlier in the play, even as its absurdity helps defuse that tension.

Q5. Describe character “Abram (Abraham)” in Romeo and Juliet.

Answer : Minor character in Romeo and Juliet, a servant of the MONTAGUE family. In 1.1 Abram and BALTHASAR brawl with servants of the CAPULET household. This episode illustrates the extent to which the feud between the two families has upset the civic life of VERONA.

Q6. Explain Academic Drama.

Answer : Sixteenth-century literary and theatrical movement, the predecessor of ELIZABETHAN DRAMA. Beginning c. 1540, a body of plays was written and performed, mostly in Latin, by faculty and students of England’s two 16th-century universities, Oxford and Cambridge, of its chief graduate school, the INNS OF COURT in LONDON, and of several of England’s private secondary schools. The best-known creators of academic drama were Nicholas UDALL and William Gager (c. 1560-1622). Academic plays were secular, but they shared the moralising, allegorical qualities of their medieval religious predecessors (see MORALITY PLAY). They were often intended to improve the Latin and public speech of the students, and compared to the popular theatre of the 1580s they were often quite dull. Nevertheless, they created a generation of theatre-goers and the first important group of English playwrights, the so-called UNIVERSITY WITS.

Q7. Highlight characteristics of legendary figure “Achilles” in Troilus and Cressida.

Answer : Legendary figure and character in Troilus and Cressida, a Greek warrior in the TROJAN WAR. Though acknowledged as the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles refuses to fight because he feels he is insufficiently appreciated; he is also motivated by a treasonous desire to please a Trojan lover. Not until Act 5, after his close friend PATROCLUS is killed, does Achilles, enraged with grief, return to the battlefield. Then, he underhandedly has his followers, the MYRMIDONS, kill the chivalrous HECTOR, thereby ensuring the defeat of TROY in the climactic battle. In 5.8 he further discredits himself by declaring that he will mutilate Hector’s body by dragging it behind his horse.

Achilles scandalises the Greek camp by ridiculing his superior officers, AGAMEMNON and NESTOR. ULYSSES, in a significant passage, holds Achilles’ attitude responsible for the Greek failure to defeat Troy despite seven years of fighting. Societies fail, he says, when hierarchical rankings are not observed. Moreover, Achilles’ insubordination has spread, and AJAX is behaving similarly. The prideful warrior thus represents a social defect that is one of the targets of the play’s satire—the evil influence of morally deficient leadership. Achilles’ selfish, traitorous, and brutally unchivalrous behaviour is the centre-piece of the play’s depiction of the ugliness of war and the warrior’s life, in principle dedicated to ideals of valour and honour but in fact governed by immorality.

Q8. How “Battle of Actium” is presented in Antony and Cleopatra ?

Answer : Actium is the peninsula on the west coast of Greece, and thus the name given to the naval battle fought near it, which is enacted in 3.7-10 of Antony and Cleopatra. The battle of Actium marks the downfall of Mark ANTONY, whose fleet, allied with that of Queen CLEOPATRA, is defeated by the forces of Octavius CAESAR. In 3.7 CLEOPATRA insists on participating in the battle despite the objections of ENOBARBUS, and Antony supports her by deciding to fight at sea—for the queen has only naval forces—despite the advice of his followers that Caesar is much weaker on land. In 3.8-9 the leaders deploy their men, and in 3.10 Enobarbus, SCARUS, and CANIDIUS witness the climax of the battle as Cleopatra’s ships flee and Antony orders his to follow hers. Canidius declares that he will desert Antony and joins Caesar, and though Enobarbus and Scarus remain loyal, they are severely downcast. We are convinced that Antony’s fate has been determined by this battle, and this soon proves to be the case.

Q9. Who is the aged servant of Orlando?

Answer : Adam is a character in As You Like It, aged servant of ORLANDO. Adam is a figure of unalloyed goodness, loyalty, and faith. In 2.3 the old man volunteers his life’s savings to help Orlando flee the evil intentions of his brother OLIVER. Orlando equates Adam’s virtue with ‘the constant service of the antique world, / When service sweat for duty, not for meed’ (2.3.57-58). Their flight to ARDEN nearly kills the old man, and Orlando’s attempt to steal food for Adam brings him into contact with the exiled court of DUKE Senior. Adam is a sentimental, melodramatic archetype of the loyal servant, but he also has a credible personality. Verbose and nostalgic in the manner of the aged, he boasts a touching combination of moral strength and physical frailty.

A tradition dating from the 18th century asserts that Shakespeare himself performed the role of Adam in the original production by the CHAMBERLAIN’S MEN. This theory is supported by evidence that the playwright played old men on other occasions, but it cannot be proven. Shakespeare derived the character from his source, Thomas LODGE’S Rosalynde. Lodge in turn followed a medieval English poem, The Tale of Gamelyn, which features a faithful servant named Adam Spencer (meaning ‘steward’ or ‘butler’), and the figure seems to be an ancient staple of English folklore.

Q10. Who wrote “The Life of William Shakespeare” ?

Answer : Adams, Joseph Quincy (1881-1946) American scholar. A longtime professor at Cornell University and director of the FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY from 1931 to 1946, Adams wrote a respected biography, The Life of William Shakespeare (1923), a volume on Elizabethan theatres, and other works. He was one of the successors to H. H. FURNESS as editor of the New Variorum edition of Shakespeare’s works.


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