SAT II Literature : Tone, Style, and Mood: Seventeenth-Century Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Seventeenth Century Prose

  And first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh against poetry, may justly be objected that they go very near to ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will they now play the hedgehog, that, being received into the den, drave out his host? Or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents?

Let learned Greece in any of her manifold sciences be able to show me one book before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history be brought that can say any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some other are named, who, having been the first of that country that made pens deliver of their knowledge to their posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority—although in itself antiquity be venerable—but went before them, as causes to draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to move stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened to by beasts,—indeed stony and beastly people. So among the Romans were Livius Andronicus and Ennius; so in the Italian language the first that made it aspire to be a treasure-house of science were the poets Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower and Chaucer, after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent fore-going, others have followed to beautify our mother tongue, as well in the same kind as in other arts. 


The author's tone in this passage could best be described as ___________________.

Possible Answers:

angry and vehement

insincere and apathetic

nostalgic and sorrowful

didactic and earnest

sarcastic and bitter

Correct answer:

didactic and earnest


A good way to describe the tone of the passage is "didactic and earnest." "Didactic" is appropriate because the author is trying to instruct his audience. For instance, to demonstrate his point, in the second paragraph he uses the examples of various cultures who had poets as their first writers and intellectuals. "Earnest" is appropriate because the author is taking his subject seriously.

Passage adapted from Sir Philip Sidney's The Defense of Poesy (1595).

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