4.1 Literary genres

In Literary genres, the texts are connected through a mainstream literary genre: either Aspects of tragedy or Aspects of comedy. Tragedy and comedy have a long tradition in literature, with their origins in the ancient world and with a specific emphasis on drama. Texts have been selected and grouped together because they share some of the common features of traditional tragic and comic drama while also offering some interesting variations. We are, therefore, looking at an older historical form and measuring later texts and their approaches to tragedy or comedy against a literary genre which is long established.

Students choose one of the following options:

  • Option 1A: Aspects of tragedy
  • Option 1B: Aspects of comedy

Students study three texts: one Shakespeare play, a second drama text and one further text. In addition to the compulsory Shakespeare play, one of the other two texts must be written pre-1900.

The paper for this component is closed book. Students are not permitted to take a copy of their set texts into the exam.

4.1.1 Aspects of tragedy

At the core of all the set texts is a tragic hero or heroine who is flawed in some way, who suffers and causes suffering to others and in all texts there is an interplay between what might be seen as villains and victims. Some tragic features will be more in evidence in some texts than in others and students will need to understand how particular aspects of the tragic genre are used and how they work in the three chosen texts. The absence of an ‘aspect’ can be as significant as its presence. There can be no exhaustive list of the ‘aspects’ of tragedy but areas that can usefully be explored include:

  • the type of the tragic text itself, whether it is classical and about public figures, like Lear, or domestic and about representations of ordinary people, like Tess
  • the settings for the tragedy, both places and times
  • the journey towards death of the protagonists, their flaws, pride and folly, their blindness and insight, their discovery and learning, their being a mix of good and evil
  • the role of the tragic villain or opponent, who directly affects the fortune of the hero, who engages in a contest of power and is partly responsible for the hero’s demise
  • the presence of fate, how the hero’s end is inevitable
  • how the behaviour of the hero affects the world around him, creating chaos and affecting the lives of others
  • the significance of violence and revenge, humour and moments of happiness
  • the structural pattern of the text as it moves through complication to catastrophe, from order to disorder, through climax to resolution, from the prosperity and happiness of the hero to the tragic end
  • the use of plots and sub-plots
  • the way that language is used to heighten the tragedy
  • ultimately how the tragedy affects the audience, acting as a commentary on the real world, moving the audience through pity and fear to an understanding of the human condition.

Students study one of the following Shakespeare plays:

Author Text
William Shakespeare Othello
King Lear

Students study two texts including one drama from the following list. At least one of the texts must be written pre-1900.

Author Text Time period
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby  
Thomas Hardy Tess of the D’Urbervilles Pre-1900
John Keats

‘Lamia’, ‘Isabella or The Pot of Basil’, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, 'The Eve of St. Agnes'

Pre-1900
Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman (drama)  
William Shakespeare Richard II (drama) Pre-1900
AQA English Literature B Poetry anthology (tragedy) Extracts from the Prologue of 'The Monk’s Tale' and The Monk’s Tale, ‘Jessie Cameron’, Extract from Paradise Lost, ‘Tithonus’, ‘The Convergence of the Twain’, ‘The Death of Cuchulain’, ‘Out, out…’, 'Death in Leamington', 'Miss Gee'  

We do not expect to change texts within the first five years of the specification. However, texts will be reviewed each year starting in September 2017 and we will give at least nine months’ notice of any changes prior to first teaching of a two year course. The criteria for changing texts will be where a text becomes unavailable or where we can no longer use it in a question paper. Notice of any change will be communicated via our exam bulletins and aqa.org.uk/english

4.1.2 Aspects of comedy

At the centre of all set texts are stories which primarily amuse, where the discomfort of characters generally excites laughter rather than concern and where no great disaster occurs. All texts contain a love interest for the protagonist and marriage is a focal point. In all cases society itself (as represented in the texts), and the behaviour of men and women in it, are ridiculed. The texts must be explored in terms of the aspects that are apparent in them. The absence of an aspect might also be of note. There can be no exhaustive list of the 'aspects' of comedy but areas that can usefully be explored include:

  • the type of the comedy text itself, whether it is classic romantic drama, a satire, a comedy of manners
  • the settings for the comedy, both places and times
  • the journey towards knowledge and happiness for the protagonists, often in relation to their love interest, their mistakes and misunderstandings along their journey, moments of unhappiness and ultimate sense of joy
  • the role of the comic villain, or rival, who directly affects the fortune of the hero or heroine, who causes some disruption to the cheerful mood but whose power is finally curtailed
  • the sense that all will end well and that fortune smiles
  • how the behaviour of the hero or heroine affects primarily themselves and perhaps one or two others rather than countries and states, as in tragedy
  • the significance of human folly, trickery and gullibility
  • the inclusion of clowns, exaggeration, stereotypes, pompous attitudes and posturing
  • the use of disguise, escapes and discovery, elements of the supernatural
  • the structural patterning of the text as it moves from disorder to order, incorporating rule and misrule, how competition between characters is set up and resolved, how opposites are contrasted and reconciled, leading to comic resolutions
  • the use of complex plotting and sub-plots
  • the way that language is used to heighten the comedy, particularly wit and linguistic play
  • the way that comedy draws attention to itself
  • ultimately how the comedy affects the audience, inviting laughter at the ridiculous behaviour of human beings and a sense of joy that positive resolutions are possible.

Students study one of the following Shakespeare plays:

Author Text
William Shakespeare The Taming of the Shrew
Twelfth Night

Students study two texts from the following list: one pre-1900 drama text and one further text.

Author Text Time period
Jane Austen Emma Pre-1900
Geoffrey Chaucer 'The Nun’s Priest’s Tale' including Prologue and Epilogue Pre-1900
Oliver Goldsmith She Stoops to Conquer (drama) Pre-1900
Andrea Levy Small Island  
Oscar Wilde The Importance of Being Earnest (drama) Pre-1900
AQA English Literature B Poetry anthology (comedy) ‘The Flea’, ‘Tam o' Shanter’, ‘A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General’, ‘Sunny Prestatyn’, ‘Mrs Sisyphus’, ‘Not My Best Side’, ‘My Rival’s House’  

As with all the requirements around genre/dates in this specification, a text can fulfil more than one category. So, for example, She Stoops to Conquer covers the requirement for a drama text and a text written pre-1900.

We do not expect to change texts within the first five years of the specification. However, texts will be reviewed each year starting in September 2017 and we will give at least nine months’ notice of any changes prior to first teaching of a two year course. The criteria for changing texts will be where a text becomes unavailable or where we can no longer use it in a question paper. Notice of any change will be communicated via our exam bulletins and aqa.org.uk/english