AP English Literature : Passage Content

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Comparisons And Contrasts

Adapted from King Henry V by William Shakespeare (III.i.1092-1125)

 

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit

To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!

Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,

Have in these parts from morn till even fought

And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:

Dishonour not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.

Be copy now to men of grosser blood,

And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,

Whose limbs were made in England, show us here

The mettle of your pasture; let us swear

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;

For there is none of you so mean and base,

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!"

In the passage, the "brow" is compared to __________.

Possible Answers:

armor

the ocean

a tiger

a rock

a brass cannon

Correct answer:

a rock

Explanation:

"Armor" may look like a potentially correct answer given that the passage concerns urging men on to battle, but the correct answer is actually "a rock": "

 

"Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean." (III.i.1100-1105)

Example Question #1 : Effect Of Specified Text: Drama

Adapted from Richard III by William Shakespeare, I.i.1-42

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

What is implicitly being compared with "victorious wreaths" in the underlined line, "Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths"?

Possible Answers:

Swords' scabbards

Medical bandages

The wrapping on the exterior of gifts

Complex moral and philosophical problems

Blindfolds

Correct answer:

Medical bandages

Explanation:

The underlined line, "Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths" (I.i.5), follows the first four lines' conceit about seasonal change mirroring political change and precedes three lines of comparing one item being changed or exchanged for another, so it is reasonable to assume that it is also about change. One can see this in context in its use of the word "Now"—an implicit comparison is being made in the line. Which of the answer choices might be something that one might "bind one's brow" with? "Medical bandages," "blindfolds," and perhaps figuratively "Complex moral and philosophical problems" all stick out as potentially correct. Gift wrap has nothing to do with the context of the line and while swords' scabbards pick up on the initial condition of war that is being changed to peace in all of the comparisons mentioned above, it doesn't make sense when considered as something with which one could "bind one's brow." 

"Complex moral and philosophical problems" doesn't have any particular evidence in the indicated line or the surrounding one that points to it as being the correct answer. This leaves us with "blindfolds" and "medical bandages." Consider again the state of war characterizing all of the initial conditions of these comparisons. While one can "bind one's brow" with a blindfold, the idea of medical bandages is far more closely related to the state of war. One might receive a head wound in a battle and need one's head bandaged. This is the correct answer.

Example Question #81 : Passage Content

Adapted from Richard III by William Shakespeare, I.i.1-42

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

With which of the following does the speaker explicitly contrast himself?

Possible Answers:

King Edward

Love

Nature

Clarence

War

Correct answer:

King Edward

Explanation:

While the speaker discusses “Grim-visaged war,” complains about “dissembling nature,” and says that he “want[s] love's majesty / To strut before a wanton ambling nymph,” he does not explicitly contrast himself with any of these concepts. He never contrasts himself with his brother Clarence, but he does contrast himself with King Edward in the lines, “And if King Edward be as true and just / As I am subtle, false and treacherous, / This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up . . .”

Example Question #81 : Passage Content

Adapted from "The Windhover" in Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1918)

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Which of the following best describes the relationship between the sillion and the embers in the last stanza?

Possible Answers:

Both sillion and embers are more aesthetically pleasant when used by humans.

Both sillion and embers symbolize the fragility of life.

Embers are more brilliant when they are about to burn out, while sillion is shiny all the time.

Both sillion and embers are most beautiful when experiencing violence.

While sillion shines in the sun, embers create their own light.

Correct answer:

Both sillion and embers are most beautiful when experiencing violence.

Explanation:

Hopkins thinks that the most beautiful and the most violent moments coincide in nature (which he sees as religious symbolism). Embers are most brilliant at the point of destruction, and soil shines when plowed.

Example Question #81 : Passage Content

Passage adapted from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Spring" (1921).

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness 

Of leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.  5

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?  10

Not only under the ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.  15

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 

April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

This poem emphasizes the antithesis between __________.

Possible Answers:

faith and reason

good and evil

strength and weakness

growth and decay

the physical and the spiritual

Correct answer:

growth and decay

Explanation:

This poem emphasizes the contrast, between growth and decay. The first eight lines feature imagery of plant growth, in contrast to the image of decay (in lines 11-12) is that is the focus of the latter part of the poem. Throughout the poem, growth is associated with springtime and new life, whereas decay is related to death. 

There are no direct references morality (good and evil), religion (faith and reason), or physical strength (strength and weakness). There is also no suggestion in the text of any kind of spiritual existence, and so it cannot be said that there is antithesis between the physical and the spiritual.

Example Question #82 : Passage Content

Adapted from Life and Remains of John Clare "The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet"  by John Clare (1872, ed. J. L. Cherry)

I am! Yet what I am who cares, or knows?
My friends forsake me, like a memory lost.
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.
And yet I am—I live—though I am toss'd

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise.
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys,
But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem
And all that's dear. Even those I loved the best
Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod—
For scenes where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie,
The grass below; above, the vaulted sky.

“The living sea of waking dream” is __________.

Possible Answers:

contrasted with the sleep of the third stanza

a satirical look at the way we live our lives

a nightmare the narrator is having

compared to the peace of the “Creator”

contrasted with the “shipwreck of self-esteem”

Correct answer:

contrasted with the sleep of the third stanza

Explanation:

Of the “living sea of waking dream,” there is not a lot we can easily say without presuming too much. We can see, though, that the torment of “waking dream” is in contrast to the “sweetly slept” of the third stanza. As they are placed in adjoining stanzas, we can call them "contrasted." We can eliminate the other potential answers, as there is no particular contrast between the “sea of waking dream” and the “Creator” or the “shipwreck.” It could be described as "nightmarish," but it is not a nightmare, and the poem is certainly not satirical.

Example Question #21 : Comparisons And Contrasts

Passage adapted from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)

…Daylight never entered the house as to my thoughts and remembrances of it, any more than as to the actual fact. It bewildered me, and under its influence I continued at heart to hate my trade and to be ashamed of home.

Imperceptibly I became conscious of a change in Biddy, however. Her shoes came up at the heel, her hair grew bright and neat, her hands were always clean. She was not beautiful—she was common, and could not be like Estella—but she was pleasant and wholesome and sweet-tempered. She had not been with us more than a year (I remember her being newly out of mourning at the time it struck me), when I observed to myself one evening that she had curiously thoughtful and attentive eyes; eyes that were very pretty and very good.

It came of my lifting up my own eyes from a task I was poring at—writing some passages from a book, to improve myself in two ways at once by a sort of stratagem—and seeing Biddy observant of what I was about. I laid down my pen, and Biddy stopped in her needlework without laying it down.

“Biddy,” said I, “how do you manage it? Either I am very stupid, or you are very clever.”

“What is it that I manage? I don't know,” returned Biddy, smiling.

She managed our whole domestic life, and wonderfully too; but I did not mean that, though that made what I did mean, more surprising.

“How do you manage, Biddy,” said I, “to learn everything that I learn, and always to keep up with me?” I was beginning to be rather vain of my knowledge, for I spent my birthday guineas on it, and set aside the greater part of my pocket-money for similar investment; though I have no doubt, now, that the little I knew was extremely dear at the price.

“I might as well ask you,” said Biddy, “how you manage?”

“No; because when I come in from the forge of a night, anyone can see me turning to at it. But you never turn to at it, Biddy.”

“I suppose I must catch it—like a cough,” said Biddy, quietly; and went on with her sewing.

Pursuing my idea as I leaned back in my wooden chair and looked at Biddy sewing away with her head on one side, I began to think her rather an extraordinary girl. For, I called to mind now, that she was equally accomplished in the terms of our trade, and the names of our different sorts of work, and our various tools. In short, whatever I knew, Biddy knew. Theoretically, she was already as good a blacksmith as I, or better.

“You are one of those, Biddy,” said I, “who make the most of every chance. You never had a chance before you came here, and see how improved you are!”

Which of the following is the best description of the contrast between Estella and Biddy?

Possible Answers:

Biddy is less attractive than Estella, but is a better person overall

Estella is more beautiful and accomplished than Biddy, because Biddy has not worked as hard to improve herself

Biddy is common, and is therefore not nearly as good a person as Estella

Biddy and Estella belong to different social classes, and both are accomplished within the context of their respective status

Correct answer:

Biddy and Estella belong to different social classes, and both are accomplished within the context of their respective status

Explanation:

This question asks you to analyze the comparison between Biddy and Estella. The narrator states of Biddy, "She was not beautiful—she was common, and could not be like Estella." This shows that Estella and Biddy belong to different social classes, and that the narrator feels that Biddy does not measure up to Estella's beauty. However, the narrator also describes Biddy's many good traits: "her hair grew bright and neat, her hands were always clean;" "she was pleasant and wholesome and sweet-tempered;" and her eyes were "very pretty and very good." He speaks well of both characters in this section of the text, making it clear that although they are not of the same class, he considers them both to be accomplished within their own class.

 

Example Question #461 : Ap English Literature And Composition

Passage adapted from Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749).

An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. In the former case, it is well known that the entertainer provides what fare he pleases; and though this should be very indifferent, and utterly disagreeable to the taste of his company, they must not find any fault; nay, on the contrary, good breeding forces them outwardly to approve and to commend whatever is set before them. Now the contrary of this happens to the master of an ordinary. Men who pay for what they eat will insist on gratifying their palates, however nice and whimsical these may prove.

To prevent, therefore, giving offence to their customers by any such disappointment, it hath been usual with the honest and well-meaning host to provide a bill of fare which all persons may peruse at their first entrance into the house; and having thence acquainted themselves with the entertainment which they may expect, may either stay and regale with what is provided for them, or may depart to some other ordinary better accommodated to their taste.

As we do not disdain to borrow wit or wisdom from any man who is capable of lending us either, we have condescended to take a hint from these honest victuallers, and shall prefix not only a general bill of fare to our whole entertainment, but shall likewise give the reader particular bills to every course which is to be served up in this and the ensuing volumes.

The provision, then, which we have here made is no other than Human Nature. Nor do I fear that my sensible reader, though most luxurious in his taste, will start, cavil, or be offended, because I have named but one article. The tortoise—as the alderman of Bristol, well learned in eating, knows by much experience—besides the delicious calipash and calipee, contains many different kinds of food; nor can the learned reader be ignorant, that in human nature, though here collected under one general name, is such prodigious variety, that a cook will have sooner gone through all the several species of animal and vegetable food in the world, than an author will be able to exhaust so extensive a subject.

An objection may perhaps be apprehended from the more delicate, that this dish is too common and vulgar; for what else is the subject of all the romances, novels, plays, and poems, with which the stalls abound? Many exquisite viands might be rejected by the epicure, if it was a sufficient cause for his contemning of them as common and vulgar, that something was to be found in the most paltry alleys under the same name. In reality, true nature is as difficult to be met with in authors, as the Bayonne ham, or Bologna sausage, is to be found in the shops.

What is the effect of the comparison in the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

It laments the shallowness of human tastes

It suggests that a majority of authors are deceitful liars

It questions the value of further writing on such a commonplace topic

It confirms the value of high-quality writing, even on a commonplace topic

Correct answer:

It confirms the value of high-quality writing, even on a commonplace topic

Explanation:

This question asks you to analyze the effect of the simile in the last sentence. In this paragraph, the author is addressing a possible objection: that "Human Nature" is automatically a vulgar topic because it is discussed in many low-quality pieces of writing. In defense of his own work, he uses the example of meat to point out that there is a huge difference in quality even within a single category, and that the best products are difficult to find. 

Example Question #471 : Ap English Literature And Composition

Passage adapted from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850).

“Is the world, then, so narrow?” exclaimed Hester Prynne, fixing her deep eyes on the minister’s, and instinctively exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it could hardly hold itself erect. “Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf–strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest–track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes; but, onward, too! …Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?”

“Yes, Hester; but only under the fallen leaves!” replied the minister, with a sad smile.

“Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!” continued Hester. “It brought thee hither. If thou so choose, it will bear thee back again. In our native land, whether in some remote rural village, or in vast London—or, surely, in Germany, in France, in pleasant Italy—thou wouldst be beyond his power and knowledge! And what hast thou to do with all these iron men, and their opinions? They have kept thy better part in bondage too long already!”

“It cannot be!” answered the minister, listening as if he were called upon to realise a dream. “I am powerless to go. Wretched and sinful as I am, I have had no other thought than to drag on my earthly existence in thesphere where Providence hath placed me. Lost as my own soul is, I would still do what I may for other human souls! I dare not quit my post, though an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is death and dishonour, whenhis dreary watch shall come to an end!”

“Thou art crushed under this seven years’ weight of misery,” replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own energy. “But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! It shall not cumber thy steps, as thou treadest along the forest–path: neither shalt thou freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened. Meddle no more with it! Begin all anew! Hast thou exhausted possibility in the failure of this one trial? Not so! The future is yet full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed! There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for a true one…. Do anything, save to lie down and die! Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale, and make thyself another, and a high one, such as thou canst wear without fear or shame. Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thy life? that have made thee feeble to will and to do? that will leave thee powerless even to repent? Up, and away!”

“Oh, Hester!” cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, “thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering beneath him! I must die here! There is not the strength or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world alone!”

It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit. He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his reach.

What is the effect of the comparison in the underlined section?

Possible Answers:

It suggests that Hester is offering Dimmesdale what he has always wanted

It conveys Dimmesdale's struggle to determine what he wants for his life

It describes Dimmesdale's attempt to recall a prophetic dream he had

It suggests that Hester is asking the impossible

Correct answer:

It suggests that Hester is asking the impossible

Explanation:

This question asks you to analyze the effect of a comparison. When the author compares Hester's suggestion to a dream, he does so to highlight Dimmesdale's view that what she asks is impossible. We can find evidence for this in the surrounding dialogue: Dimmesdale states, "It cannot be!" and "I am powerless to go."

Example Question #201 : Interpreting The Passage

Adapted from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde (1894)

Mrs. Cheveley: Except their husbands. That is the one thing the modern woman never understands.

Lady Markby: And a very good thing too, dear, I dare say. It might break up many a happy home if they did. Not yours, I need hardly say, Gertrude. You have married a pattern husband. I wish I could say as much for myself. But since Sir John has taken to attending the debates regularly, which he never used to do in the good old days, his language has become quite impossible. He always seems to think that he is addressing the House, and consequently whenever he discusses the state of the agricultural laborer, or the Welsh Church, or something quite improper of that kind, I am obliged to send all the servants out of the room. It is not pleasant to see one’s own butler, who has been with one for twenty-three years, actually blushing at the side-board, and the footmen making contortions in corners like persons in circuses. I assure you my life will be quite ruined unless they send John at once to the Upper House. He won’t take any interest in politics then, will he? The House of Lords is so sensible. An assembly of gentlemen. But in his present state, Sir John is really a great trial. Why, this morning before breakfast was half over, he stood up on the hearthrug, put his hands in his pockets, and appealed to the country at the top of his voice. I left the table as soon as I had my second cup of tea, I need hardly say. But his violent language could be heard all over the house! I trust, Gertrude, that Sir Robert is not like that?

Lady Chiltern: But I am very much interested in politics, Lady Markby. I love to hear Robert talk about them.

Lady Markby: Well, I hope he is not as devoted to Blue Books as Sir John is. I don’t think they can be quite improving reading for any one.

Mrs. Cheveley: [Languidly.] I have never read a Blue Book. I prefer books . . . in yellow covers.

Lady Markby: [Genially unconscious.] Yellow is a gayer color, is it not? I used to wear yellow a good deal in my early days, and would do so now if Sir John was not so painfully personal in his observations, and a man on the question of dress is always ridiculous, is he not?

Mrs. Cheveley: Oh, no! I think men are the only authorities on dress.

Lady Markby: Really? One wouldn’t say so from the sort of hats they wear? Would one?

[The butler enters, followed by the footman. Tea is set on a small table close to Lady Chiltern.]

Lady Chiltern: May I give you some tea, Mrs. Cheveley?

Mrs. Cheveley: Thanks. [The butler hands Mrs. Cheveley a cup of tea on a salver.]

Lady Chiltern: Some tea, Lady Markby?

Lady Markby: No thanks, dear. [The servants go out.] The fact is, I have promised to go round for ten minutes to see poor Lady Brancaster, who is in very great trouble. Her daughter, quite a well-brought-up girl, too, has actually become engaged to be married to a curate in Shropshire. It is very sad, very sad indeed. I can’t understand this modern mania for curates. In my time we girls saw them, of course, running about the place like rabbits. But we never took any notice of them, I need hardly say. But I am told that nowadays country society is quite honeycombed with them. I think it most irreligious. And then the eldest son has quarreled with his father, and it is said that when they meet at the club Lord Brancaster always hides himself behind the money article in The Times. However, I believe that is quite a common occurrence nowadays and that they have to take in extra copies of The Times at all the clubs in St. James’s Street; there are so many sons who won’t have anything to do with their fathers, and so many fathers who won’t speak to their sons. I think myself, it is very much to be regretted.

Mrs. Cheveley: So do I. Fathers have so much to learn from their sons nowadays.

Lady Markby: Really, dear? What? 

Mrs. Cheveley: The art of living. The only really Fine Art we have produced in modern times.

When Lady Markby describes her footmen as "making contortions in corners like persons in circuses," she is most likely referring to the fact that they are __________.

Possible Answers:

practicing circus tricks so that they can eventually find new work 

physically struggling to hide their amusement at Sir John's outbursts

making motions to one another in an attempt to communicate over Sir John's loud speeches

having difficultly keeping up with Sir John's demanding requests

falling ill on account of Sir John's obnoxious behavior

Correct answer:

physically struggling to hide their amusement at Sir John's outbursts

Explanation:

The correct answer is "physically struggling to hide their amusement at Sir John's outbursts." Lady Markby is comparing her servants to contorting circus performers in that they are barely able to contain their amusement at Sir John's outrageous behavior. The reader should be able to infer this from Lady Markby's description of Sir John, and her comment about her butler blushing due to his embarrassment.

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