AP English Literature : Interpreting Excerpts

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #2 : Other Excerpt Interpretation Questions

Adapted from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (1766)

The temporal concerns of our family were chiefly committed to my wife's management; as to the spiritual, I took them entirely under my own direction. The profits of my living, which amounted to but thirty-five pounds a year, I made over to the orphans and widows of the clergy of our diocese; for having a sufficient fortune of my own, I was careless of temporalities, and felt a secret pleasure in doing my duty without reward. I also set a resolution of keeping no curate, and of being acquainted with every man in the parish, exhorting the married men to temperance and the bachelors to matrimony, so that in a few years it was a common saying, that there were three strange wants at Wakefield, a parson wanting pride, young men wanting wives, and ale-houses wanting customers. Matrimony was always one of my favorite topics, and I wrote several sermons to prove its happiness; but there was a peculiar tenet that I made a point of supporting; for I maintained with Whiston, that it was unlawful for a priest of the church of England, after the death of his first wife, to take a second, or to express it in one word, I valued myself upon being a strict monogamist. I was early initiated into this important dispute, on which so many laborious volumes have been written. I published some tracts upon the subject myself, which, as they never sold, I have the consolation of thinking are read only by the happy Few. Some of my friends called this my weak side; but alas! they had not like me made it the subject of long contemplation. The more I reflected upon it, the more important it appeared. I even went a step beyond Whiston in displaying my principles: as he had engraved upon his wife's tomb that she was the only wife of William Whiston; so I wrote a similar epitaph for my wife, though still living, in which I extolled her prudence, economy, and obedience till death; and having got it copied fair, with an elegant frame, it was placed over the chimney-piece, where it answered several very useful purposes. It admonished my wife of her duty to me, and my fidelity to her; it inspired her with a passion for fame, and constantly put her in mind of her end.

It was thus, perhaps, from hearing marriage so often recommended, that my eldest son, just upon leaving college, fixed his affections upon the daughter of a neighboring clergyman, who was a dignitary in the church, and in circumstances to give her a large fortune: but fortune was her smallest accomplishment. Miss Arabella Wilmot was allowed by all, except my two daughters, to be completely pretty. Her youth, health, and innocence, were still heightened by a complexion so transparent, and such an happy sensibility of look, as even age could not gaze on with indifference. As Mr Wilmot knew that I could make a very handsome settlement on my son, he was not averse to the match; so both families lived together in all that harmony which generally precedes an expected alliance. Being convinced by experience that the days of courtship are the most happy of our lives, I was willing enough to lengthen the period; and the various amusements that the young couple every day shared in each other's company, seemed to increase their passion. We were generally awaked in the morning by music, and on fine days rode a hunting. The hours between breakfast and dinner the ladies devoted to dress and study: they usually read a page, and then gazed at themselves in the glass, which even philosophers might own often presented the page of greatest beauty. At dinner my wife took the lead; for as she always insisted upon carving everything herself, it being her mother's way, she gave us upon these occasions the history of every dish. When we had dined, to prevent the ladies leaving us, I generally ordered the table to be removed; and sometimes, with the music master's assistance, the girls would give us a very agreeable concert. Walking out, drinking tea, country dances, and forfeits, shortened the rest of the day, without the assistance of cards, as I hated all manner of gaming, except backgammon, at which my old friend and I sometimes took a two-penny hit. Nor can I here pass over an ominous circumstance that happened the last time we played together: I only wanted to fling a quatre, and yet I threw deuce ace five times running. Some months were elapsed in this manner, till at last it was thought convenient to fix a day for the nuptials of the young couple, who seemed earnestly to desire it.

Which of the following can we infer from the passage's last sentence?

Possible Answers:

Arabella has other suitors.

The speaker is anxious for his son's happiness.

Both families have agreed that the courtship period is at an end.

None of these answers can be reasonably inferred.

The son is to be married within a week.

Correct answer:

Both families have agreed that the courtship period is at an end.

Explanation:

If we look at the last sentence: “Some months were elapsed in this manner, till at last it was thought convenient to fix a day for the nuptials of the young couple, who seemed earnestly to desire it.” It is obvious that the two families have decided that the son and Arabella should marry and therefore the courtship period is at an end. This does not mean that the marriage will take place within a week or that the banns have been read (which are a proclamation made in the church that the two people are to marry). We also cannot tell if Arabella has other suitors and can not say that the speaker is eager for his son's happiness, although it may be a safe assumption had there not been a better answer.

Example Question #1 : Other Excerpt Interpretation Questions

Adapted from Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning, ln.60-119 (1853)

I can do with my pencil what I know, 
What I see, what at bottom of my heart 
I wish for, if I ever wish so deep— 
Do easily, too—when I say, perfectly, 
I do not boast, perhaps: yourself are judge, 
Who listened to the Legate's talk last week, 
And just as much they used to say in France. 
At any rate 'tis easy, all of it! 
No sketches first, no studies, that's long past: 
I do what many dream of, all their lives,
—Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do, 
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such 
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town, 
Who strive—you don't know how the others strive 
To paint a little thing like that you smeared 
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,— 
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says, 
(I know his name, no matter)—so much less! 
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged. 
There burns a truer light of God in them, 
In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain
Heart, or whate'er else, than goes on to prompt 
This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine. 
Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know, 
Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me, 
Enter and take their place there sure enough, 
Though they come back and cannot tell the world. 
My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.
The sudden blood of these men! at a word— 
Praise them, it boils, or blame them, it boils too. 
I, painting from myself and to myself, 
Know what I do, am unmoved by men's blame 
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks 
Morello's outline there is wrongly traced, 
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else, 
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care? 
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, 
Or what's a heaven for? All is silver-grey, 
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse! 
I know both what I want and what might gain, 
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh 
"Had I been two, another and myself, 
"Our head would have o'erlooked the world!" No doubt. 
Yonder's a work now, of that famous youth 
The Urbinate who died five years ago. 
('Tis copied, George Vasari sent it me.) 
Well, I can fancy how he did it all, 
Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see, 
Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, 
Above and through his art—for it gives way; 
That arm is wrongly put—and there again— 
A fault to pardon in the drawing's lines, 
Its body, so to speak: its soul is right, 
He means right—that, a child may understand. 
Still, what an arm! and I could alter it: 
But all the play, the insight and the stretch— 
Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out? 
Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul, 
We might have risen to Rafael, I and you!

The underlined lines set up a contrast between which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The narrator's technical proficiency and other artists' passion and inspiration

The narrator's artistic expression and his love of the woman to whom the poem is addressed

The narrator's artistic mastery and the small amount he is paid for his work

The narrator's dedication to his art and other men's religious devotion 

The narrator's works and those of his students

Correct answer:

The narrator's technical proficiency and other artists' passion and inspiration

Explanation:

While the lines boast of the narrator's ability to "do what many dream of"—that is, paint with great technical virtuosity—they also include the narrator's regretful admission that "there burns a truer light" in many of his fellow artists than he is able to find within himself.

Example Question #2 : Other Excerpt Interpretation Questions

1 Yes, long as children feel affright
2 In darkness, men shall fear a God;
3 And long as daisies yield delight
4 Shall see His footprints in the sod.
5 Is't ignorance? This ignorant state
6 Science doth but elucidate --
7 Deepen, enlarge. But though 'twere made
8 Demonstrable that God is not --
9 What then? It would not change this lot:
10 The ghost would haunt, nor could be laid.

11 Yea, ape and angel, strife and old debate --
12 The harps of heaven and the dreary gongs of hell;
13 Science the feud can only aggravate --
14 No umpire she betwixt the chimes and knell:
15 The running battle of the star and clod
16 Shall run for ever -- if there be no God.

(1876)

"Affright" (line 1) and "delight" (line 3) are an example of __________________.

Possible Answers:

internal rhyme

free verse

feminine rhyme

slant rhyme

masculine rhyme

Correct answer:

masculine rhyme

Explanation:

A "masculine rhyme" is a rhyme in which the rhyming portion of the words consists of a single, final syllable. This is the case here: "affright" and "delight" only share one matching syllable at the end of each word (the "--ight" syllable is identical). Often in a masculine rhyme, that final syllable is also stressed, as it is here.

A "feminine rhyme," on the other hand, is one in which two or more syllables at the end of words rhyme. For it to be a feminine rhyme, these syllables must also be unstressed.

Passage excerpted from the epic poem Clarel by Herman Melville (1876).

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