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How do I analyse 'character' in my exam?

Character analysis is an essential skill used in all English Literature GCSE exams. The ways that a character is presented in a text, their importance to the overall meaning and their interactions with other characters are all useful ways to start interpreting and answering your exam question. You must always use specific textual references and quotes from the text where possible to support your answer.  

To illustrate this, I will use the example of a 'Lady Macbeth' character analysis: (Macbeth is studied with AQA/OCR/Edexcel)

Lady Macbeth is presented from the outset as a ruthless, ambitious and beguiling character. The first time she speaks in the play we see that she will not falter until her husband sits on the throne, and that devious and foul acts would not sit heavily on her conscience. She says in Act 1, scene 5 that she believes her husband is, "too full o' th' milk of human kindness" and that she wants to, "pour my spirits in thine ear". This is an example of foreshadowing because we are given an indication of the ways she will manipulate her husband to do as she would, in order to achieve her ambition. Not only are we immediately given an understanding of her merciless spirit, but a contrast between her character and that of her husband. This juxtaposition is important not only in our understanding of Lady Macbeth, as Macbeth’s nature emphasizes her immorality, but also in our understanding of Macbeth himself, as we can foresee how his weakness will allow him to be easily influenced by his wife. This is one way in which we can map out the interactions between characters. The immorality presented by Shakespeare in Lady Macbeth’s character, and the contrast between her own reaction to murder and Macbeth’s reaction, can teach us important lessons about the impacts of our actions and the corrupting power of unchecked ambition. This was Shakespeare’s ultimate goal when creating the character of Lady Macbeth, as he wanted an audience to be shocked by her actions. Lady Macbeth provides a cautionary tale showing what can happen to ‘king killers’; written during the tumultuous reign of James I, this play can be seen as a lesson showing what happens when we override the ‘divine right of kings’ a belief Shakespeare wanted to install in his audience. Connecting your answer to the context that the author was writing in will allow students to reach the criteria for the top grades.

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