SAT II Literature : Theme: Drama

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Theme: Drama

Cunning beyond fancy's dream is the fertile skill which brings him, now to evil, now to good. When he honours the laws of the land, and that justice which he hath sworn by the gods to uphold, proudly stands his city: no city hath he who, for his rashness, dwells with sin. Never may he share my hearth, never think my thoughts, who doth these things

(Fifth century BCE)

This excerpt emphasizes the importance of __________.


Possible Answers:

Defiance against government

Adopting the ways of common man

Obeying the law

Creating strict laws

Supressing anarchy in society

Correct answer:

Obeying the law


The exerpt implies that when "laws are broken," the city will fall apart.

(Adapted from the R. C. Jebb translation of Antigone by Sophocles 401-413, Fifth century BCE)

Example Question #2 : Theme: Drama

Think, then, on these things, my son. All men are liable to err; but when an error hath been made, that man is no longer witless or unblest who heals the ill into which he hath fallen, and remains not stubborn.

(Fifth century BCE)

The passage professes the idea that __________.

Possible Answers:

it is in the nature of Man to be in denial of his mistakes

it is better not to admit mistakes even when one realizes that one is wrong

it is better to learn from the mistakes of others than to make one's own mistakes

it is advantageous to learn from and act to correct one's own mistakes 

Correct answer:

it is advantageous to learn from and act to correct one's own mistakes 


The excerpt says "that man is no longer witless or unblest who heals the ill into which he hath fallen, and remains not stubborn." This means a man is no longer "witless," or ignorant,  once he has learned from his mistakes and mended his wrongdoing.

(Adapted from the R. C. Jebb translation of Antigone by Sophocles 1172-1176, Fifth century BCE)

Example Question #231 : Interpreting Words And Excerpts

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.

Which of the following best captures the theme of the underlined lines, lines 1-13?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



"War" and "entertainment" are equally relevant to the underlined selection, as a time of war is depicted as haven given way to a time of peaceful pastimes. "Seasons" is only relevant as part of the metaphor presented in the first four lines, so it cannot be the theme of the entire selection, and while "exclusion" is certainly a theme of the passage taken as a whole, the narrator has not related how the shift from wartime to peacetime has personally affected himself. This leaves us with the correct answer, "change." An overarching theme of the first thirteen lines of the passage is the change from a society at war to a society at peace.

Example Question #3 : Theme: Drama

A bell rings in the hall; shortly afterwards the door is heard to open.

Enter NORA, humming a tune and in high spirits. She is in out-door dress and carries a number of parcels; these she lays on the table to the right. She leaves the outer door open after her, and through it is seen a PORTER who is carrying a Christmas Tree and a basket, which he gives to the MAID who has opened the door.)

Nora: Hide the Christmas Tree carefully, Helen. Be sure the children do not see it till this evening, when it is dressed. (To the PORTER, taking out her purse.) How much?

Porter: Sixpence.

Nora: There is a shilling. No, keep the change. (The PORTER thanks her, and goes out. NORA shuts the door. She is laughing to herself, as she takes off her hat and coat. She takes a packet of macaroons from her pocket and eats one or two; then goes cautiously to her husband's door and listens.) Yes, he is in. (Still humming, she goes to the table on the right.)

Helmer: (calls out from his room). Is that my little lark twittering out there?

Nora (busy opening some of the parcels): Yes, it is!

Helmer: Is it my little squirrel bustling about?

Nora: Yes!

Helmer: When did my squirrel come home?

Nora: Just now. (Puts the bag of macaroons into her pocket and wipes her mouth.) Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.

Helmer: Don't disturb me. (A little later, he opens the door and looks into the room, pen in hand.) Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?

Nora: Yes, but, Torvald, this year we really can let ourselves go a little. This is the first Christmas that we have not needed to economize.

Helmer: Still, you know, we can't spend money recklessly.

Nora: Yes, Torvald, we may be a wee bit more reckless now, mayn't we? Just a tiny wee bit! You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money.

Helmer: Yes, after the New Year; but then it will be a whole quarter before the salary is due.

Nora: Pooh! we can borrow till then.


Based on the excerpt, which of the following is most likely to be a major theme of the play? 

Possible Answers:

The meaninglessness of financial success

The dangerous consequences of a consumer society

The immoral nature of women

The limited opportunities afforded to women 

The inherent evils of class divisions

Correct answer:

The limited opportunities afforded to women 


Based on the provided excerpt, the most likely major theme (of the ones provided) is the limited opportunities afforded to women. It is clear throughout the excerpt that Nora has no career or money of her own. She has spent her day shopping and then is scolded by her husband, who consistently refers to her using the possessive "my." The publication date also provides a clue to the theme, as women were afforded many fewer opportunities in 1879 compared to today. The other theme choices are all connected to the the content of the excerpt, but there is not enough evidence to support choosing them. For example, reference is made to the existence of class divisions but we have no reason to believe the playwright is presenting these divisions as evil. Likewise, reference is made to financial success and consumerism but the excerpt does not take a clear moral position on either of these things.

Passage adapted from Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879)

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