SAT II Literature : Context-Based Meaning of a Word: Drama

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

Now, tell me thou-not in many words, but briefly-knewest thou that an edict had forbidden this?

(Fifth century BCE)

The word "edict" means __________.

Possible Answers:

unspoken understanding

cultural norm

official proclaimation

foolish man

lawmaker

Correct answer:

official proclaimation

Explanation:

An "edict" is an official proclaimation, order or decree issued by someone in power.

(Adapted from the R. C. Jebb translation of Antigone by Sophocles 481-482, Fifth century BCE)

Example Question #2 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

MEPHISTOPHELES: Within the bowels of these elements,

Where we are tortured and remain forever.

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed

In one self place, for where we are is hell,

And where hell is must we ever be.    (5)

And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,

And every creature shall be purified,

All places shall be hell that is not heaven.

(1604)

Based on context, what does “circumscribed” mean?

Possible Answers:

Described

Bounded

Calculated

Cared for

Tortured

Correct answer:

Bounded

Explanation:

If we read around the word “circumscribed,” we can begin to see what the word signifies: “Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed / In one self place.” In other words, the speaker’s Hell does not have any set boundaries. “Bounded” is the only option that makes sense in this context.

Passage adapted from Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (1604)

Example Question #3 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

KING LEAR: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

You cataracts and hurricanes, spout

Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks! 

You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,   (5)

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,

Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world,

Crack Nature's moulds, all germains spill at once, 

That makes ingrateful man!

(1606)

Based on context, what is the meaning of “rotundity” (line 7)?

Possible Answers:

Wretchedness

Scholarship

Obesity

Robustness

Obtuseness

Correct answer:

Obtuseness

Explanation:

Although “rotund” normally means plump or robust, the context of the passage suggests a different interpretation. The speaker is railing against “ingrateful” and unnatural people, so a more general definition for “rotundity” is needed, one that encompasses not just the size of the world but its quality. Obtuseness is the only answer choice that fits these criteria.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s King Lear (1606)

Example Question #4 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

MERCUTIO:

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate-stone

On the fore-finger of an alderman,

Drawn with a team of little atomies (5) 

Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep…

And in this state she gallops night by night

Through lover's brains, and then they dream of love;

O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight;

O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees…    (10)

Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,

And then dreams he of smelling out a suit…

(1597)

What word could be substituted for “agate-stone” (line 3)?

Possible Answers:

Dream

Farmer

Sprite

Insect

Ring

Correct answer:

Ring

Explanation:

We see in line 4 that this “agate-stone” is worn on the “fore-finger” of an alderman, or local councilman, which implies that the stone is part of a piece of jewelry. Although insects, dreams, and sprites (fairies) are mentioned elsewhere in the poem, none of them are the “agate-stone” itself. The lines in question are intended to poetically describe the miniscule size of Queen Mab.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (1597)

Example Question #5 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

MERCUTIO:

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate-stone

On the fore-finger of an alderman,

Drawn with a team of little atomies (5) 

Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep…

And in this state she gallops night by night

Through lover's brains, and then they dream of love;

O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight;

O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees…    (10)

Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,

And then dreams he of smelling out a suit…

(1597)

Based on context, what might “atomies” (line 5) mean?

Possible Answers:

Grasshoppers

Tiny creatures

Philosophies

Study of physics

Tiny steam engines

Correct answer:

Tiny creatures

Explanation:

Here, we have to closely consider the context that “atomies” is appearing in. We know from previous lines that Queen Mab is very tiny, and we know that atoms are a tiny unit of physical matter. Putting this knowledge together, we can infer that “atomies” refer to generic tiny creatures; grasshoppers and tiny steam engines are too fanciful and specific for the line in question.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (1597)

Example Question #6 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

MERCUTIO:

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate-stone

On the fore-finger of an alderman,

Drawn with a team of little atomies (5) 

Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep…

And in this state she gallops night by night

Through lover's brains, and then they dream of love;

O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight;

O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees…    (10)

Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,

And then dreams he of smelling out a suit…

(1597)

Based on context, what does “suit” (line 12) mean?

Possible Answers:

Set of rooms

Specialized uniform

Promotion

Formal clothing

Lawsuit

Correct answer:

Promotion

Explanation:

Based on context, we know that the “suit” in question is something a courtier dreams of “smelling out” or otherwise happening upon. Courtiers are not lawyers, so lawsuit does not make sense, and formal clothing and specialized uniform lack textual support. Courtiers are, however, attendants to the monarchy or nobility, and they would be particularly motivated by a social elevation or promotion.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (1597)

Example Question #2 : Word Meaning In Context

Adapted from Act 1, Scene 1, ln. 78-119 of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1604) in Vol. XIX, Part 2 of The Harvard Classics (1909-1914)

 

FAUST: How am I glutted with conceit of this!

Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,

Resolve me of all ambiguities,

Perform what desperate enterprise I will?

I’ll have them fly to India for gold,

Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,

And search all corners of the new-found world

For pleasant fruits and princely delicates;

I’ll have them read me strange philosophy

And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;

I’ll have them wall all Germany with brass,

And make swift Rhine circle fair Wittenberg;

I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk,

Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad;

I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,

And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,

And reign sole king of all the provinces;

Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war

Than was the fiery keel at Antwerp’s bridge,

I’ll make my servile spirits to invent.

[Enter VALDES and CORNELIUS] 

Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,

And make me blest with your sage conference.

Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,

Know that your words have won me at the last

To practice magic and concealed arts:

Yet not your words only, but mine own fantasy

That will receive no object, for my head

But ruminates on necromantic skill.

Philosophy is odious and obscure,

Both law and physic are for petty wits;

Divinity is basest of the three,

Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile:

’Tis magic, magic, that hath ravish’d me.

Then, gentle friends, aid me in this attempt;

And I that have with concise syllogisms

Gravell’d the pastors of the German church,

And made the flowering pride of Wittenberg

Swarm to my problems, as the infernal spirits

On sweet Musaeigus, when he came to hell,

Will be as cunning as Agrippa was,

Whose shadows made all Europe honor him.

In context, the underlined and bolded word "Gravell'd" most likely means which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Warned

Encouraged

Enraged

Advised

Confounded

Correct answer:

Confounded

Explanation:

In the context of the passage, the word "Gravell'd" means "confounded." Faustus is bragging that "with concise syllogism" he has confounded the pastors of the German church. He goes on to talk about the "problems" or academic exercises he has invented that have drawn attention.

The key to this question is the context in which the word is used ("gravell'd" is no longer a word in common usage); the fact that "syllogisms" were the devices Faustus used to trigger the "gravelling" of the pastors suggests that it is most likely an intellectual response on their part (rather than the emotional response of being enraged). Also, that the word is used in the context of Faustus' critique and dismissal of "divinity" suggests that he was not advising or encouraging the pastors. 

Example Question #7 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

HAMLET: … What would he do,

Had he the motive and the cue for passion

That I have? He would drown the stage with tears

And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,

Make mad the guilty and appal the free,(5)

Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed

The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,

A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,

Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,

And can say nothing. No, not for a king, (10)

Upon whose property and most dear life

A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward?

Who calls me villain? 

Based on context, what does “faculties” (line 7) likely mean?

Possible Answers:

Powers

Equipment

Staff

Professors

Committees

Correct answer:

Powers

Explanation:

Here, we learn that the character’s protestations would “amaze” the eyes and ears, so that helps us narrow down our choice. Although “faculty” in other contexts refers to teaching staff or professors, that definition doesn’t make sense in the passage. Instead, faculties in this context therefore means powers, capacities, or abilities.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. (1603)

Example Question #8 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

RAPHAEL
The Sun, in ancient guise, competing 
With brother spheres in rival song, 
With thunder-march, his orb completing, 
Moves his predestin'd course along; 
His aspect to the powers supernal
Gives strength, though fathom him none may;
Transcending thought, the works eternal 
Are fair as on the primal day. 

GABRIEL
With speed, thought baffling, unabating,
Earth's splendour whirls in circling flight; 
Its Eden-brightness alternating 
With solemn, awe-inspiring night; 
Ocean's broad waves in wild commotion,
Against the rocks' deep base are hurled; 
And with the spheres, both rock and ocean 
Eternally are swiftly whirled.

MICHAEL
And tempests roar in emulation
From sea to land, from land to sea,
And raging form, without cessation,
A chain of wondrous agency,
Full in the thunder's path careering,
Flaring the swift destructions play;
But, Lord, Thy servants are revering
The mild procession of thy day.

(1808)

As used in the passage, "supernal" most nearly means _________________.

Possible Answers:

nocturnal

transcendent

celestial

unbending

planetary

Correct answer:

celestial

Explanation:

The speaker (Raphael) is describing the path of the Sun and planets, "brother spheres," and also making reference to the powers of the heavens. Thus, "celestial" the best answer choice.

Passage adapted from Johann von Goethe's Faust (1808)

Example Question #9 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Drama

Then, I confess,
Here on my knee, before high heaven and you 
That before you, and next unto high heaven, 
I love your son. 
My friends were poor, but honest; so's my love: 
Be not offended, for it hurts not him 
That he is lov'd of me: I follow him not 
By any token of presumptuous suit; 
Nor would I have him till I do deserve him; 
Yet never know how that desert should be. 
I know I love in vain, strive against hope; 
Yet, in this captious and intenible sieve 
I still pour in the waters of my love, 
And lack not to lose still. Thus, Indian-like, 
Religious in mine error, I adore 
The sun, that looks upon his worshipper, 
But knows of him no more. My dearest madam, 
Let not your hate encounter with my love 
For loving where you do: but, if yourself, 
Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth, 
Did ever in so true a flame of liking 
Wish chastely and love dearly, that your Dian 
Was both herself and Love; O! then, give pity 
To her, whose state is such that cannot choose 
But lend and give where she is sure to lose; 
That seeks not to find that her search implies, 
But, riddle-like, lives sweetly where she dies.

(1605)

What does the word "intenible" most likely mean in the context of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Incapable of holding something

Large

Impenetrable

Waterproof

Very small or gradual

Correct answer:

Incapable of holding something

Explanation:

The correct meaning of the word "intenible" is incapable of holding something, because when the speaker says "...in this captious and intenible sieve, I still pour in the waters of my love and lack not to lose still" she means that her unrequited love is like pouring water through a leaky sieve, even though it is somehow retaining the water.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well (1605)

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