Past MA Exams

Spring 2003

M.A. Examination in English (Part I)

Write on one, and only one, question from each group. Devote one hour to each answer. Follow the instructions carefully, but feel free to introduce additional knowledge and examples relevant to the question.

Section A

1. Compare the ideals of kingship (or leadership) expressed in one classical (ancient Greek or Roman), one medieval, and one Renaissance work.

2. "The 'random' folk peopling the scenes around Shakespeare's tragic protagonists are not random at all. They present, like the backgrounds of Titian's paintings or the visitors to Volpone, statements that enrich and explain the significance of that which is done by the principal characters, the protagonists themselves." --J. Leeds Barroll

Focusing on at least one minor character in each of three of Shakespeare's plays, discuss what those characters contribute to the overall themes of the plays.

3. Discuss John Gardner's assertion that "great writers deal with problems which confront a healthy, intelligent man, however grotesque the fictional representative," using Beowulf, either The Faerie Queene or Paradise Lost, and one other pre-nineteenth-century narrative work.

Section B

1. According to Samuel Johnson, Paradise Lost "comprises neither human actions nor human manners." Comparing Paradise Lost with two major works of Dr. Johnson's day, works which you feel do "comprise human actions and human manners," discuss why you either agree or disagree with Johnson's assessment of Milton's epic.

2. Roberta Assagioli writes: "One of the principal causes of social disorders is the lack of love on the part of those who have will or the lack of will in those who are good and loving." How is this truism reflected in three major literary works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?

3. "It could perhaps be asserted," wrote Wyndham Lewis, "that the greatest satire cannot be moralistic at all: if for no other reason because no mind of the first order, expressing itself in art, has ever itself been taken in, nor consented to take in others, by the crude injunctions of any purely moral code. This does not mean that the mind in question was wanting in that consciousness of itself as a rational subject, which is never absent in an intellect of such order: but that its abstract theory as well as concrete practice, of moral judgments, which differ from the common run, and that their introduction would confuse the issue." Select three works of satire from the seventeenth and eighteenth century to support or refute Lewis' assertion.

Section C

The following excerpt is taken from Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey (1768). Write an essay analyzing the ways in which Sterne uses rhetorical devices--sentence structure, word choice, figures of speech, imagery, rhythm, other sound effects (and the entire paraphernalia of style and voice)--to convey the overall theme of the passage.

-----Dear SENSIBILITY! Source inexhausted of all that's precious in our joys, or costly in our sorrows! Thou chainest thy martyr down upon his bed of straw-and 'tis thou who lifts him up to HEAVEN--eternal fountain of our feelings!--'tis here I trace thee--and this is thy "divinity that stirs within me"--not that, in some sad and sickening moments, " my soulshrinks back upon herself, and startles at destruction"-mere pomp of words!--but that I feel some generous joys and generous cares beyond myself--all comes from thee, great-great *SENSORIUM of the world! Which vibrates, if a hair of our heads but falls upon the ground, in the remotest desert of they creation.--Touch'd with thee, Eugenius draws my curtain when I languish--hears my tale of symptoms, and blames the weather for the disorder of his nerves. Thou giv'st a portion of it sometimes to the roughest peasant who traverses the bleakest mountains-he finds the lacerated lamb of another's flock-This moment I beheld him leaning with his head against his crook, with piteous inclination looking down up on it!-Oh! had I come one moment sooner!--it bleeds to death--his gentle heart bleeds with it-

Peace to thee, generous swain!--I see thou walkest off with anguish-but thy joys shall balance it-for happy is thy cottage-and happy is the sharer of it-and happy are the lambs which sport about thee!

*"the seat of sensation in the brain of man and other animals" (OED)

Fall 2002

M.A. Examination in English (Part 1)

Write on one, and only one, question from each group. Devote one hour to each answer. Follow the instructions carefully, but feel free to introduce additional knowledge and examples relevant to the question.

Section A

1. Dante places deepest in Hell those who betray the people to whom they are bound by laws of hospitality and love. He also sees deceit as the worst of sins because it involves not a weakness of flesh but a willful perversion of the highest human faculty, reason. Betrayal and sin are fundamental to the tragic vision of the Inferno. Do these ideas help shape later tragedies or are Dante's ideas restricted to their time and place? Using evidence from three works of Medieval and Renaissance tragedy, argue for or against the survival of Dante's ideas into the Renaissance.

2. Some critics have attributed the rise and popularity of romance from the 12th to the 15th century to an increasingly well-educated female population in Europe. Likewise, some critics have attributed the rise of drama in the Renaissance and the novel in the 18th century to an increasingly well-educated middle class. Underlying these theories is the notion that literacy precedes or even creates new genres. Is this in fact the case? Use one work from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and 18th century to support your argument.

3. " King Lear," as Arthur Sewell has argued, "is the play in which Shakespeare returns once again to see man as a human soul, not in opposition to society, not rejecting society, but finding in society the sphere of fulfillment. Order is now seen, for the first time, and perhaps imperfectly, 'not merely negative, but creative and liberating.' It is a vision of society very different from that discovered in Othello. In Othello, we cannot suppose that society is ever moral or good." Argue for or against Sewell's interpretation of the two plays.

Section B

1. In the opinion of T. S. Eliot, to Donne and other poets of the earlier 17th century, a thought was an experience, one that modified their sensibility. For Donne and Jonson and Chapman, "their mode of feeling was directly altered by their reading and thought." In other words, these poets apprehended thoughts directly and sensuously, recreating these thought into feeling. Later in the 17th century, however, "a disassociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered." Afterwards, there were thoughtful and reflective poets, but never poets who so thoroughly integrated thought and feeling. Using poets of your choice, illustrate the quality that Eliot found in 17th-century poets prior to the alleged "disassociation of sensibility."

2. "The special genius of the novel as a genre," observes one critic, "is its ability to depict not only the exterior world of action, but the interior world of character-and one crucial thing more, the relation between them." Using at least two novels from the 18th century, support or refute this assertion.

3. In every era writers have weighed in on the issue of matrimony, expressing their notion of what constitutes a good marriage. Discuss the views of marriage expressed in three works drawn from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Section C

The following excerpt is taken from Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88). Write an essay analyzing the ways in which Gibbon uses rhetorical devices--sentence structure, word choice, figures of speech, imagery, rhythm, and other sound effects--to convey the overall theme of the passage, which concerns the effect of a long peace on the Roman Empire.

It was scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discover in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption. This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated. The natives of Europe were brave and robust; Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyricum supplied the legions with excellent soldiers and constituted the real strength of the monarchy. Their personal valor remained, but they no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honor, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign and trusted for their defense to a mercenary army. The posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to the court or the standard of the emperors; and the deserted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly sank into the languid indifference of private life."

Fall 2006

M.A. English Exam Part 2

Directions: The exam has three parts. In Sections A and B, please write one essay on one topic from each group. In Section C, please write on the assigned topic. The time limit is three hours. Divide your time accordingly. Please follow the instructions of the proctor to ensure the proper processing of your exam. Return the exam sheets to the proctor along with your bluebook.

Section A

1. Evaluate the validity of the following quotation written by P.F. Flier, basing your response on examples of two Romantic and two later nineteenth-century poems (one English, one American in each category).

Both English romanticism and its poor stepchild, American transcendentalism, met a rapid demise because their foundational premises about the natural world and the individual genius/soul/imagination were simply wrong. Though they were wise to reject the simplistic rationalism and empiricism of the 18th century (and the accompanying rage for order in art), romantics fabricated a set of precepts even less nuanced and less in accord with human experience. However skilled their actual poems, they are castles built on sand, on a fraudulent mythology of the artist, his imagination, and the physical world. Whatever their limitations, Victorian literature and American realism sought at least an authentic relationship to the real world.

2. In John Stuart Mill's Three Essays on Religion published in 1874, he says plainly that the idea of "following Nature" is "monstrous." Mill assumes a position quite different from Wordsworth, who maintained that Nature was "exquisitely fitted . . . to the mind of Man." Compose an essay that analyzes the apparent shift in the nineteenth century from Nature's fitness to its monstrosity, using at least two significant poems as evidence. Next, with a focus on two important twentieth-century poems, discuss what reaction modern poets have had to this shift.

3. It has been argued that the poem that most captures the Victorian spirit is Tennyson's In Memoriam. It has been likewise argued that the same can be said for the modern age and Eliot's The Waste Land. There are many contenders for the most characteristic poem of the Romantic period. Choose one Romantic poem that you think best exemplifies Romanticism, and discuss the ways in which the poem presents the salient features of that period of literary history. Next, discuss the ways in which Tennyson's and Eliot's poems react to the Romanticism as embodied in the poem you have chosen.

Section B

1. Assess the validity of these claims by Robert Fulford, using as evidence four novels (one nineteenth- and one twentieth-century English, and one nineteenth- and one twentieth-century American):

Beginning around 1900, modernism celebrated or mourned the end of all that was certain, orderly, and purposeful. In literature, modernism turned against the naturalism and realism that dominated the fiction of the 19th century. It taught us to look with suspicion on the idea that a straightforward narrative can tell the truth about human life; it began to favor complexity, parody, ambiguity, and ironic self-awareness. In this new atmosphere, the unreliable narrator emerged, the storyteller for the age of relativism, the age of doubt and incredulity. The modern temperament quickens to stories that are splintered in this way: when we read the words of unreliable narrators, we stare into the cracked mirror of modernity.

2. The credibility of female characters created by male novelists and of male characters created by female novelists has long been a topic of discussion. This is especially true in works where gender serves both characterization and theme. Discuss how successful such opposite-sex creations are in four novels (one nineteenth- and one twentieth-century English, and one nineteenth- and one twentieth-century American). In your discussion you should consider theoretical issues such as essentialism, universalism, and the social construction of identity.

3. While W.H. Auden famously argued that poetry does not make anything happen, it has also been argued that literary works have significant and interesting relationships to politics, whether in terms of their origins, their polemics, or their effects. In a discussion of four novels (one nineteenth- and one twentieth-century English, and one nineteenth- and one twentieth-century American) analyze the intersection between literature and politics you find therein. Your essay must be specific with reference to both the literary texts and politics.

Section C

Compose an essay that discusses the two selections below, including in your essay an analysis of each selection's narrative characteristics. Assign the passages to what you believe to be their proper historical period(s), justifying your assignment with specific evidence drawn from the passages' content and formal characteristics.


A huge woman, gray-haired, frowsy, with a broad flat nose and small eyes behind black rimmed glasses-"Sit down," she said, pointing to an informal and humiliating hassock, while she perched with ponderous spryness on the arm of an oak chair. For a moment or two, she peered at me with smiling curiosity. She had done it at our first meeting, I recalled, but I could afford then to scowl back. Her eye left me. She lapsed into thought-probably assumed. Making up her mind she rubbed, fold on fold, her dark gray flannel skirt at the knee, dispelling a trace of chalk or something. Then she said, still rubbing, not looking up:

"Let me ask a blunt question, Mr. _____. You are an old fashioned Continental father, aren't you?"
"Why, no," I said, "conservative perhaps, but not what you would call old-fashioned."
She sighed, frowned, then clapped her big plump hands together in a let's-get-down-to-business manner, and again fixed her beady eyes on me.
"[Your daughter]," she said, "is a lovely child, but the onset of sexual maturing seems to give her trouble."
I bowed slightly. What else could I do?
"She is still shuttling," Miss Pratt said, showing how with her liver-spotted hands, "between the anal and genital zones of development. Basically she is a lovely----"
"I beg your pardon," I said, "what zones?"
"That's the old-fashioned European in you!" cried Pratt delivering a slight tap on my wrist watch and suddenly disclosing her dentures. "All I mean is that biologic and psychologic drives-do you smoke?-are not fused in her, do not fall so to speak into a-into a round pattern." Her hands held for a moment an invisible melon.


"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster's sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the square wall of the speaker's forehead, which had his eyebrows for a base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders-nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was-all helped the emphasis.

"In this life, we want nothing but Facts, Sir; nothing but Facts!"

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.