Sunday, 1 September 2019

Mr C’s 5 Cs

Many moons ago, I used to teach literature texts with ‘Mr C’s 5 Cs’. When we looked at a text, students had to focus on Contrasts, Changes,  Comparisons,  Conflicts, Connections. It was a silly thing to get students to avoid retelling the plot of stories, when we had open book exams. Anyway, I was reminded of this little soundbite when reading the English Literature GCSEs exam reports. One overriding thing I got from them was the emphasis of ideas rather than techniques and critical readings of the text.  

The problem we have is the extract, because for a lot of students it is a boulder stuck in the centre of their thinking. I often say to the students that the extract doesn’t have the answer and it is only there so they can say something about the language of the text. I tend to say essays need a sprinkle of the extract and that the discussion should relate to the whole text. However, I got thinking about how we could use the extract more effectively and develop a student’s thinking of the whole text at the same time.

So, I thought I’d have a go myself. I’ve taken this extract from ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Mercutio is persuading Romeo to attend a masked ball.


Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling;
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.
Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Not I, believe me: you have dancing shoes
With nimble soles: I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.
You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings,
And soar with them above a common bound.

Connections – What does the extract connect to?

Romeo and Mercutio’s relationship – we see later in the text how Romeo and Mercutio look out for each other

Mercutio’s attitude throughout the text – in opposition to Romeo

References to light – Romeo want to hold the torch – Juliet is viewed in terms of light

Repetition of ‘torch’ – ‘she doth teach the torches to burn bright’

The use of the verb ‘soar’ and ‘common bound’ reflects the incident on the balcony  

Romeo is referred to as gentle and his behaviour throughout the play is ‘gentle’ until Mercutio’s death

Conflict – what are the conflicts here? How does this extract conflict with events in the story?

Mercutio wants to go, yet Romeo doesn’t want to engage

Happy friends and he is unhappy

Internal conflict of Romeo - he is in love with Rosaline and doesn’t want to think of anybody else

Conflicts with Romeo’s behaviour in the next scene

Contrast  - what does the extract contrast with?

Benvolio’s relationship with Romeo and how he responds to Romeo’s lovesick attitude in Act 1

Romeo’s behaviour in the next scene – no sign of this negativity and hesitancy – lack of consistency in the play

Contrasts with the idea that love is natural – Mercutio forcing Romeo to find love  

Changes – what is the change here?

Romeo’s attitude

Comedy – this scene is more comic than the scenes beforehand

Comparisons – What does this extract mirror or compare to?

Capulet’s telling Paris to attend the ball

Lady Capulet telling Juliet to attend the ball

Nurse trying to cheer Juliet up after Tybalt’s death

Friar trying to convince Juliet not to take drastic action

I don’t intend this to be a comprehensive list, but these different elements help to shape our understanding of the relationship between the text and the extract. You could see how there are patterns. That the young characters are always being forced to do things against their own will, whether it is their parents or their peers. 

All too often, when we look at the extract question, we look at simply connections so maybe we need to be a little more specific about those connections. Perhaps, naming the connections between the text and the extract is the start. At least, it is an activity to do with an extract.

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

  1. Really like this. Just applied it to Caged Bird with my Y12s here in Hong Kong. We struggled a little with comparison vs connection but we just need to unpack it more. We are excited about the intertextuality this approach affords especially with that being such a key component of the new IBDP Lang. and Lit. course. Thank you for sharing Mr C!


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