Examples of more effective use of material from secondary sources to support interpretations

Sample essay 1: 'Dr. Faustus is a morality play without a moral.' Discuss.

This is an extract from the essay:

'Although there are many aspects of the morality play to be found in Dr Faustus I believe that the tragic nature of the play, a man damned to hell due to his own characteristics, unable to repent and find salvation and the seriousness of much of the content of the play outweighs the morality aspects. It would seem that, to quote from Steane in Marlowe again,

The Morality Play simply offered the form in which Marlowe could externalise the struggle he saw and found interesting in the Faust story. (Steane, 1965, p.167)

Sample essay 2: 'Metaphysical poetry values intellect above emotion'. To what extent have you found this to be the case?

This is an extract from the essay:

'It is though, testament to Donne’s command over intellectual thought, and metaphysical wit that this at first incongruous idea [of the lovers as a pair of compasses] can in my opinion translate into one of the most stunning and sincere assertions of love and sentiment in literature. Matthew Arnold though has a different outlook on the abilities of the metaphysical poets:

their poetry is conceived and composed in their wits, genuine poetry is conceived and composed in the soul. The difference between the two kinds of poetry is immense. (quoted in Williamson, 1968, p.9)

I would take issue with this statement, as when the reader has engaged the mind and worked to understand the initial complexity of the comparison, the imagery in metaphysical poetry, particularly [Donne’s compass], is as soulful and poignant as any. In fact it may be that I feel this because it is not at all obvious initially, as one has to search behind the wit. It is my belief that the wit and the soul, (or the intellect and emotion), juxtapose to create the effect- the two kinds of poetry have joined together in Donne’s piece successfully and engulfed the gap which Arnold suggests.'

Q. Why are both these examples effective?


Material from a secondary critical source is used appropriately in our first example to support the critical point which is being made. The quotation is adequately integrated into the body of the essay.

The essayist in our second example uses secondary material in order to introduce a particular critical perspective on the subject being discussed (i.e. the nature and status of metaphysical poetry) - but subsequently disagrees with what the quoted critic is saying and argues in favour of an opposing point of view. In doing this, the essayist demonstrates that they are aware of at least some of the different critical positions which exist with regard to metaphysical verse, and also shows that they have the confidence to take issue with the views of others. This illustrates how secondary source material can be introduced in the essay to provide you with something to react against and 'bounce' your own ideas off. Secondary source material does not always have to be used to support directly the argument of the essay.

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Using secondary sources to support your interpretations   Activity