Macbeth, that's the play that we studied the year I did my Leaving Cert, that's over a decade ago, the fact that it's still on this year's prescribed list just proves how timeless this play really is.
So, I'm going to use Macbeth as my play in this article to give examples of how to answer some questions that may come up regarding your studied drama.
The questions we are going to look at are from the 2019 exam papers. Past exam papers are a great way to practise different answering styles for your Leaving Cert. Revise Wise books, contain multiple past exam papers and cost about €10 per subject, if you don't mind printing them yourself you can find past Leaving Cert English exam papers online at The Leaving Cert.
"Say, from whence you owe this strange intelligence?"
William Shakespeare - Macbeth
What Should I Include in My Answers About Plays?
When it comes to answering questions about any play/drama or even film you may have studied for Leaving Cert English, there are just a few things you must try to include in every answer. Those are:
- Character details (who are they, emotions portrayed, where they are, who's involved)
How Many Questions About the Play/Drama Will be in the Leaving Cert exam?
There are 3 main questions about the "single text" which you have studied. Question 1 has 2 parts both of which you must answer. Question 2 has a singular question to be answered. Where question 3 has 3 options, you must choose one of these to answer.
My advice for question 3 is to read the options more than once, on the back/notes page make bullet points for how you would answer each, whichever option you feel confident you can answer best you should choose. This question is worth the same amount of marks as questions 1 and 2 combined, so it needs a little more time and a more in-depth answer.
How to Answer LC English Drama/Play Question 1 - Sample Answers
As mentioned at the start of this article, I will be using the 2019 exam paper questions as sample questions and giving you examples of how to answer them. So let's start with questions 1 a and b.
1 a) Describe the effect the witches have on Macbeth when he first encounters them
When Macbeth meets the witches in act one he is at first horrified by the sight of them but as they begin to speak of his future it piques his interest. In fact, as they turn their prophecies towards Banquo, Macbeth gets impatient, he wants to know more about the how and the when of his Kingship "speak I charge you" he demands, but the witches vanish.
As they return home Macbeth and Banquo are greeted by Ross and Angus who tell them Macbeth is to be named thane of Cawdor. This one of the things prophecised by the witches, which stirs up a murderous, greedy hunger in Macbeth. He wants to be king. but does not want to wait, he starts to fantasise about killing King Duncan, yet the thought of it makes him sick "Why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs" Macbeth finds himself hoping faith will make him King before he does something terrible. Already, the distraction is causing his mind to fracture.
1 b) ) Identify one challenge Macbeth faces when he becomes king and explain how he responds to this challenge. Support your answer with reference to the text.
This question can be answered in so many different ways, I suggest you start it with one of the following entrance sentences:
- In my opinion
- What I think is
- From my understanding of the text
Here is an example of how you could answer a broad question like the one above.
In my opinion, the very first challenge Macbeth faces when he becomes King is his own paranoia. After the murder of Duncan and Macbeth's coronation, instead of being satisfied, he is paranoid about Banquo's prophecy. Macbeth's fear of being overthrown by Banquo's son is so deep-seated that he immediately speaks to the murderers he has hired and urges them to kill not only Banquo but also his son. The reason Macbeth orders the murders is that he thinks his mind will be healed once Banquo is dead "Who wear our health but sickly in his life, which in his death were perfect."
How to Answer LC English Drama/Play Question 2
Question 2, is a singular question, is it worth the same amount of marks as each part of question one. Therefore you should probably aim for at least a one-paragraph answer, the same as you did in both questions 1A and B. Now, let's take a look at question two for Macbeth in 2019's exam paper.
2) Explain the main reason why you did or did not enjoy the ending of the play, Macbeth.
This question looks relatively simple, but sometimes that's how you can get caught out. Just because something looks like a simple question does not mean you should write a short answer like "I enjoyed the play the characters were good, but the final act was very long."
You need to give more details, for a question like this you should ask yourself the question is below and answer them each in a small sentence:
- Why did or didn't you enjoy the ending of the play?
- Did you have a favourite character?
- Did they survive till the end?
- How did the ending make you feel?
For example, you might answer as follows
This is an interesting question, I like the ending of the play, but I felt it was a bit too violent. Although Macbeth was a terrible King the idea of someone carrying his severed head makes me feel quite nauseous.
My favourite character was Lady Macbeth, she had some of the best lines in the play and her scenes were extremely dramatic. Even though she was an interesting character to read, I can see why they both had to die. The people of Scotland benefited from Lady Macbeth and Macbeth dying at the end of the play because it put an end to what was continuously referred to as Macbeth's "tyrant reign" as King.
How to Answer LC English Drama/Play Question 3
You will remember at the start of this article I mentioned that question 3 is worth the same amount of marks as the first 3 questions combined. This is because you will have to write a lot more in-depth of an answer to this question. Question 3 is also the only multiple-choice question in this section. Below are the options that were given for Macbeth in the 2019 exam paper.
3 (i) Based on events in the play, Macbeth, write a front‐page newspaper article beginning with the following headline:
“NATION MOURNS AS KING DUNCAN SLAIN”
Your article should demonstrate your knowledge of this aspect of the play.
3 (ii) Write a piece in which you compare your impression of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play and your impression of their relationship by the end of the drama. Support your answer with reference to the play, Macbeth.
3 (iii) Identify two developments in the plot that add to the drama in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. Explain why you think these developments add to the drama in the play. Your answer should demonstrate your knowledge of the text.
As I suggested at the start of this text, for this question on the notes page you should bullet point your knowledge of each question. That way you can see which one you know the most about, which you are most confident in answering, and which one you can reference the text best with.
For example, you might make a list for each option that looks something like this:
- "O horror, horror, horror!” Macduff finds King Duncan murdered
- Suspects killed on site
- Strange things happening since the murder of King Duncan! An owl killed a falcon, it's dark during the day.
- Macbeth voted King by the house of Lords
No matter which option you choose in question 3, I advise you to write as close to one full page as possible, it needs to be a longer answer than the first 2 questions. But remember, it also needs to make sense and reference the text.
Whichever Drama or Play you chose to answer this section on, once you read each question carefully and answer it with as many details, references and quotes as you can, I'm sure you will do great.
Remember if you need extra assistance revising your drama or practising for your exams, Superprof has tutors available to help nationwide.