Unpacking HSC Advanced English Module A: Intertextual Perspectives – Learning with Confidence

Unpacking HSC Advanced English Module A: Intertextual Perspectives

Module A is arguably the most misunderstood module in the HSC Advanced English rubric. The rubric, confusingly, states that:

“This module requires students to compare texts in order to explore them in relation to their contexts. It develops students’ understanding of the effects of context and questions of value.”

In order to render this more clearly, the rubric goes on to say:

“Students examine ways in which social, cultural and historical context influences aspects of texts, or the ways in which changes in context lead to changed values being reflected in texts. This includes study and use of the language of texts, consideration of purposes and audiences, and analysis of the content, values and attitudes conveyed through a range of readings.”

What, if anything, does any of this mean? Fortunately, it’s possible to break this down into a series of simple questions.

  • What are the main links between the texts?
  • How does each composer’s society change the way they see things?
  • How do trends and movements in literature change the way they create?
  • What are they trying to say, and how does that connect to the world in which they live(d)?
  • How does each text reveal the ‘hot button issues’ of each composer?


Intertextuality is at the core of the module. Let’s take a minute to think about what the word means.

In its strictest, most limited sense, intertextuality refers to the presence of part or all of one text within another. As a working definition for the module, however, this is not particularly useful as there is a great deal more to it. Let’s take a brief look at the various ways in which intertextuality should be understood within this module.

Direct inclusion (redaction) or close imitation (mimesis) of one text by another.

Challenge, interpretation, or adaptation of the ideas of one text by another.

Formal (i.e., to do with form) echoing, referencing, or pastiche of one text by another.

Put simply, we’re looking at the mutual interaction, or point of nexus between two texts, either in the way they reference each other, common ideas, or both.

Graphic Intertextuality

While the concept of intertextuality may seem highbrow or daunting, it should be remembered that it is a very common feature of texts throughout time. Literature and history are best understood as a conversation, with composers responding to, interpreting or refuting contemporary and preceding texts.

Here are some examples of well-known texts which employ intertextuality:

  • Star Trek (JJ Abrams)
  • Game of Thrones
  • GTA V
  • The Witcher franchise
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Mad Men
  • House of Cards
  • Family Guy
  • The Simpsons

And the list goes on. Possibly one of the best ways to think about the idea is in terms of a film adaptation of a book or graphic novel. If you’ve ever read the original and then watched the film adaptation, you’ve probably compared the ways in which both versions explore, ignore, or exaggerate the same ideas. This is very much the kind of comparison required for the module, with the added elements of time and culture.

The Typical Module A Questions

Broadly speaking, you’re generally only ever going to get one of two question types in Module A. One will deal with perspective, and the other with intertextuality. Both will require a detailed discussion of form.

The ‘perspective’ question will usually have to do with contextual values. It will generally look something like this:

An exploration of intertextual perspectives reveals the relationship between context and key values. Discuss this view with detailed reference to the extracts below and your pair of prescribed texts.

Then there is the ‘connections’ question. This is usually along the lines of, how does the study of text A and text B enhance your understanding of x? Here’s an example:

‘A deeper understanding of ambition and identity emerges from pursuing the connections between King Richard III and Looking for Richard.’

Compare how these texts explore ambition and identity.

You’ll see that the thesis for these question types essentially write themselves. Essentially, it’s just a re-statement of the question. For the first one, for example, it would be a simple matter of saying:

The exploration of the intertextual perspectives between Shakespeare’s Elizabethan play Julius Caesar, and Nicolo Machiavelli’s Renaissance treatise, The Prince, reveals the relationship between context and attitudes to the acquisition and retention of power, and conceptions of public virtue and the public good.

Or, for the other question:

Deeper understandings of unbridled ambition and the dichotomous aspects of received and assumed identity in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan play King Richard III, and Al Pacino’s postmodern film, Looking for Richard, are created through parallel explorations of these ideas across different forms.