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The Midterm Exam


The midterm will consist of three parts:

I. Short answers (10 questions, one point each)
In this section you will be asked to give approximate dates of composition for works we have read, and to identify certain important figures who appear in the works. These figures may or may not be fictional characters: for example, you should know the name of Augustine's mother, and of Vergil's patron. (You can find a list of the dates of the works further down this page.)

II. Identifications (8 questions, five points each)
In this section you will be given 10 brief excerpts from works we have read, of which you should identify eight. For each excerpt, you should state: the name of the author and of the work [1 point], the name of the speaker and of the addressee if any [1 point], the context (i.e., relevance to the plot) [1 point], and the significance of the excerpt [2 points]. By significance I mean NOT the importance of the excerpt to the plot (which is covered under "context"), but the place of the excerpt in the larger poetic context of the work: themes, motifs, imagery, symbolism, possible participation in other vocabularies (such as the vocabularies of theology or philosophy) as well as in the narrative. For example, if dealing with an excerpt from Vergil, you might look for evidence of "time warp" (the way that Vergil includes the full sweep of Roman history into his narrative of this one proto-Roman episode); hunting imagery; the father-son theme; the tensions among pietas (duty), amor (desire), furor (fury), and pity (associated respectively with Aeneas, Venus, Juno and the Trojans, but frequently overlapping, mixing and/or becoming confused); the tension between memory and prophecy; the immense, but ambiguous, power of narrative (Juno's temple carvings; Aeneas's story; Sinon's story; Daedalus's cave pictures; Aeneas's shield); war (don't forget the poem is officially about "arms and the man," in that order); etc.

III. Passage analysis (1 question, 50 points)
Like the passage analysis section on the final exam, this one will consist of three excerpts from works we have read, of which you should choose one to analyze. The excerpts will be identified for you. You should analyse the internal poetic composition of the excerpts and move from that analysis to a discussion of the significance of the excerpt to the work as a whole. DO NOT DISCUSS PLOT. As in Section II, significance here means that you should sketch the ways in which the excerpt participates in the symbolic vocabulary, imagery, thematics, rhetoric, antecedent form*, dramatic mechanism (suspense and release), etc. of the work as a whole.

*antecedent form: the narrative structure, familiar from a prior, well-known text, that is suggested by the structure of a work in such a way that it informs our expectations of that structure. For example, while the PLOT of King Lear is based on the historical legend of a pre-Christian King of Britain named Leir, the ANTECEDENT FORM underlying the structure of the play is that of Christian time, as represented in the Geneva Bible: tick--tock, Creation--Apocalypse; "Of all these bounds....We make thee lady" (I.i.63-66)--"Is this the promis'd end?" (V.iii.264)


  • 1183 BCE Traditional date for the fall of Troy
  • 753 BCE Traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus; also, the approx. time Lear supposedly ruled Britain.
  • 509 BCE Rome becomes a Republic
  • 264-146 BCE Punic Wars (Rome vs. Carthage)
  • 133-30 BCE Roman Time of Troubles (civil wars, coups etc.)
  • 31 BCE Rome becomes an Empire (under Octavian "Augustus" Caesar, who rules 31BCE-14 CE)
  • 19 BCE: Aeneid
  • 313 CE: Emperor Constantine makes Christianity official religion of Empire
  • 395 Final division of Roman empire into an Eastern and a Western empire
  • 397-400 Confessions
  • 410 Rome sacked by Visigoths.
  • ca. 1306-1315 Inferno
  • 1348 Plague in Florence
  • ca. 1350 Decameron
  • 1558 Elizabeth I accedes to English throne, after a messy succession complicated by cutthroat power struggles (both in England and on the continent) among Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants (Eliz. is an Anglican).
  • ca. 1580 Essais (first ed.; 2nd ed., 1588; 3rd, 1595)
  • 1603 First English translation of Montaigne's Essais, by John Florio
  •    "     On death of Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland (a Protestant) is crowned as James I of England.
  • ca. 1606 King Lear

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