“Do you do ‘PEEFE’* on Saturday nights, Sir?” one wag asked me, to general titters of amusement in C5.
‘Why not? It’s fun.’ I replied. And it is. So why not?
Why not, actually, spend some time thinking again about RIII, I.iv? Thinking about a grown man who has such a terrifying nightmare that he asks another to sit with him whilst he tries to get some sleep. About a man desparately pleading for his life in every way he possibly can (see the Blues Brothers, above), when faced with two murderous executioners. Much more fun than Love Island, surely?
You know the rules by now. If you don’t, check here first. So, first the forensic analysis:
And then the 250-word mini model answer. Remember, it is a surgical strike on ‘Shakepeare’s use of language for dramatic effect‘.
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As this exciting extract continues, Shakespeare increases our tension, suggesting that the power balance is shifting. It is beginning to dawn on Clarence that he cannot talk his way out of the situation, with the executioners becoming increasingly harsh.
Shakespeare implies Clarence’s increasing desperation in this couplet. His speech is superficially controlled iambic pentameter; it is important to the character to try and rely on his class dominance to cow the executioners. But combining enjambment with onomatopoeic ‘H’ alliteration adds a breathless quality that implies panic. Interestingly, the character uses the impersonal pronoun, ‘their’, perhaps to allow the executioners to change their minds, but the response he receives is chillingly implacable.
The stichomythic quality of the exchange is remarkable. The murderers who earlier spoke to each other in prose now seem to mimic Clarence. Perhaps their use of (better controlled) pentameter is designed to counter any assumption of social superiority that Clarence’s character is projecting. They will not be browbeaten by his rank. Probably the most telling shift for the audience, however is the use of the informal address, ‘thee’. It is a shocking show of disrespect, insulting and full contempt, prompted by the seriousness of the accusations the executioner levels against Clarence. Here Shakespeare continues the mimicry by having the executioner use alliteration, but this time it adds emphasis to the charges, perhaps slowing the pace for deliberate delivery. Shakespeare employs this harsh language and delivery to suggest the executioner is psyching himself up to carry out his commission. [250 words]
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* for the uninitiated, the acronym PEEFE lays out a pretty standard GCSE English answer structure. It stands for Point, Evidence, Explanation, Focus and Effect. More on that another time.
Quotation is taken from the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the play.