SAT II Literature : Other Questions About Language: Drama

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #62 : Interpreting Words

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)


FAUSTUS: 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.


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 phrase "sage conference" most closely means which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A meeting of wise people

Moral instruction

Wise advice

A meeting of occult practitioners

Career advice

Correct answer:

Wise advice


In this context, the phrase "sage conference" most closely means "wise advice." In this context, "conference" refers to a discussion rather than a meeting or gathering. The phrase "make me blest with your sage conference" suggests that the "sage conference" is a good thing, and the phrase's use of "your" suggests that it is something being dispensed by Valdes and Cornelius, namely advice. The use of "conference" suggests a two-way conversation rather than direct "instruction."

Example Question #301 : Overall Language Or Specific Words, Phrases, Or Sentences

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.

The underlined word "ambling" can be read as most directly contrasting with which of the following words or excerpts?

Possible Answers:

"strut" (line 17)

"halt" (line 23)

"Deformed" (line 20)

"descant" (line 27)

"capers" (line 12)

Correct answer:

"halt" (line 23)


The underlined "ambling" appears in line 17, as part of the phrase begun in the previous line, "I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty / To strut before a wanton ambling nymph." What is the narrator saying here? He is describing himself as being "rudely stamped" and "wanting" (lacking) "love's majesty," which is required "to strut" in front of women—"a wanton ambling nymph." Here, "wanton" means sexually indecent and "nymph" is being used to imply that the woman is beautiful by hearkening back to a spirit of nature present in classical mythology. What is "ambling" doing in this description? "Ambling" means strolling along casually. In looking for the word that most directly contrasts with "ambling," we need to keep this in mind.

Let's consider our answer choices. "Strut" may look like the most likely answer because it is closest to "ambling" in the passage, part of the same line. However, "strut" means walk in an affected, proud manner and doesn't seem that much different from "ambling." Keep it in mind as potentially correct and consider the other answers. "Capers" hits a similar difficulty, meaning dance or cavort; "descant" means talk about something for a long time—perhaps contrasting with "ambling" in the sense of movement being contrasted with speech? This is a relatively abstract and indirect comparison, though. "Deformed" is being used as an adjective, so it means shaped in a way unlike the expected norm.

"Deformed" may look like the correct answer; as the nymph is "ambling," the speaker is "deformed," implying that he cannot amble. Another answer gets at this difference more directly by referring to the way in which the user moves: "halt." "Halt" in this case means limp. Aha—whereas the nymph is "ambling," the user "halts." This is the best answer choice.


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