It is important whilst practising thematic essay responses to literary texts that you familiarise yourself with the AO’s required. Generally, for AQA & Edexcel you require a combination of AO1, AO2 & AO3 skills. For the AQA paper, Section A is usually a thematic question and section B is a character question. For the Edexcel paper this order is reversed; character first, then thematic.

Section A / Part A AO1












Critical – meaning you must state your opinion to the question and the text clearly and evaluate the writer’s purpose. Why this theme? What was his/hers intent?

Exploratory – explore different ideas and develop an informed response

References – include relevant quotations which support and illustrate your interpretation. We suggest using 2-3 quotes from the text as a whole & 2-3 quotes from the extract in PEEAL format.

AO2 Analyse – the language, form and structure used by the writer to create meanings and EFFECTS, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate. We suggest 3-4 PEEAL paragraphs. (Maximum of 20 marks)









Language analysis – insightful analysis of language AND form supported by the use of subject terminology.

Methods – you should consider the writer’s methods and the EFFECTS this has on the reader.








Context – choose only 1 – 2 contextual factors or perspectives that you know well and in detail. DO NOT include ideas about feminism or Marxist theories if not relevant to the question/your argument.
AO4 SPAG – Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures, ensure spelling is accurate and you punctuate consistently. (Maximum of 4 additional marks)
Section B / Part B AO1



Same as above

Same as above

Same as above
















Critical – perceptive understanding and interpretation of the text, your argument develops/builds through the essay.

Exploratory – assured response, showing a high level of engagement with the text overall. Talk about different scenes & acts in the play, do not rely on using one Act/ the extract.

References – Discerning references are an integral part of the response, with points made with assurance and full support from the text.

Part B has a higher weighting on AO1 to AO3 so ensure you are hitting these points in order to achieve a high-level mark.

AO3 There is excellent understanding of context, and convincing understanding of the relationship between text and context is integrated into the response.




When selecting quotes from the extract provided try to consider what major events occur prior and after this moment in the text. Consider the setting, tone, and voice of the characters and how this contributes to the overall mood. Highlight who is speaking and how the character uses speech and action to portray the theme/character in the question. Look for key words and/or literary devices that you can use for analysis in your argument.


Explore how Shakespeare presents ambition.

PEEAL Paragraph with AO Colour Code:

1.In this extract, Lady Macbeth is seen worrying about Macbeth’s inability to act unlawfully as it threatens her ambition to achieve a new royal title. “I fear thy nature, It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.” She complains Macbeth is too full of human compassion which damages his chances at unshackling himself from his moral duty as a loyal follower and friend to King Duncan. ‘Milk of human kindness’ is a Shakespearean expression which epitomizes milk as a sign for humility and gentleness. The expression used by Lady Macbeth renders her husband Macbeth too emotional, sympathetic and nurturing like a woman. She frequently resorts to insulting his masculinity in this manner in order to drive Macbeth to act as he should and prove her wrong. Lady Macbeth fears that his emotions tamper with her scheme to usurp the crown because it will prevent him from committing the crime. His status, sympathy, and loyalty to the King threaten his ambition. From this soliloquy, Shakespeare creates tension and drama for his reader as we begin to ponder how Lady Macbeth is going to manoeuvre around her fears and encourage her husband to complete their ambitious plotting of regicide. It is clear from the very beginning of the play that Lady Macbeth acts as the driving force for Macbeth’s ambition in order to achieve their desired goal.

  1. “Not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it.” Here, Lady Macbeth merits Macbeth for having ambition but counteracts this by insulting his manliness. The royal lady doubts her husband’s ability to seize the crown and kill the king. For Lady Macbeth ambition means acting with aggression and force at the first sight of opportunity. The negative connotations around her use of the word “illness” suggests that Macbeth isn’t man enough to murder the King and reward his wife with a new royal status. At this point in the play, Shakespeare seems to connect ambition to Machiavellian traits of deviousness and cunningness. “Illness” implies that Macbeth must act in bad faith and channel a dark behaviour like Machiavelli to perform the crime successfully.
  2. “Chastise with the valour of my tongue, all that impedes thee from the golden round.” Lady Macbeth is aware of her influence over Macbeth and in these lines, she claims to use her voice as a method of manipulation. She has a valorous tongue which implies her courage and a powerful voice which enables her to rebuke Macbeth’s doubts so he will kill the King. Her desire to silence Macbeth’s emotional weakness reverses the expected social order and behaviour of men and women at the time. Women were taught to obey, denied the option to voice their opinions and treated as the weaker sex. However, Lady Macbeth defies these social expectations by using her voice as a vessel to manipulate her husband so she can achieve a royal status which renders her impenetrable. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth believe that following their ambition will make them indestructible.


Use your list of quotes that you have created in class and at home that relate to the theme. Remember to draw your points from different parts in the play as this will show a deepened understanding of the text. You can also consider context for this part of the question as this can bulk up your argument. We suggest including 2 references to the text as a whole.

  1. In the extract the quote, “pour my spirits in thine ear,” demonstrates Lady Macbeth’s sense of urgency to pass Macbeth her masculine qualities to achieve the prophecy and therefore fulfil her ambition. This idea of Lady Macbeth as a carrier of masculinity is repeated later in the act when she asks to have her female qualities stripped to achieve ambition in the quote “unsex me here.” This representation of women as aggressive and powerful would have shocked a Shakespearean audience. The readers can infer that Shakespeare is linking masculinity to ambition which foreshadows Macbeth’s suggestion: his wife has a masculine soul due to her ambition.