How do I effectively analyse a quotation in a text?

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When writing an essay, it is imperative that you close read quotations from the set text you are studying. However, this can be tricky- particurarly if you are not familiar with poetic devices, rhetoric and key literary terminology. My advice to students would be to compile a list of these features and ensure you are familiar with them before you approach a quotation or passage. Once you have fully understand these terms, feature spotting will not be too difficult. 

The three rules of analysing a quotation are as follows:

1) Contextualisation.

Whilst you can assume that the reader of your essay is familiar with the text you are discussing, it is important that you tell them which part of the text the quote can be found. This does not mean summarising the plot, but simply refreshing the memory of the reader. 

2) Presentation.

If you are quoting individual words or one line, it is more impressive to interweave it into one of your own sentences. For example,

The Wife of Bath introduces her discussion of “wo that is in mariage” by claiming that “Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve”.

3) Explication.

Here is where you feature spot. Using the terminology you are familiar with, find literary devices that the writer uses in one line or even a couple of words and then explain their significance. Why does Shakespeare's use of chiasmus support your argument? Identify the feature and then explain why it is relevant to your argument. This sounds a lot easier than it is, but practise really does make perfect in this case. 

Top tip: Try analysing one line of your set text a day to get used to feature spotting.

Louise Howland H. GCSE English Language tutor, A Level English Langua...

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is an online A Level English Literature tutor with MyTutor studying at Oxford, Jesus College University

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