- Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:22 pm
Thanks for asking, Meps! Let's talk about the stem here for a moment. This question asks us which of the answers does least to strengthen the argument that Shakespeare probably came to know Alcestis from a Latin translation. That means the correct answer will do one of three things: 1) Weaken the argument; 2) have no impact on the argument; or 3) strengthen the argument in a way that is clearly less helpful than the other 4 answers.
Number 1 above happens, and when it does the answer should be fairly obvious unless the student has misunderstood the question stem. It's not necessary that we look for a weaken answer to a Strengthen-Except question, but it would of course be a good answer if we found it!
Number 3 almost never happens. The authors are hedging when they ask which one strengthens the least. They aren't often testing your ability to weight the merits of two strengthen answers and determine which one does more or less than the other. If the correct answer to a Strengthen-Except answer seems to strengthens the argument, it is usually only because the student is helping the answer by supplying outside information or making assumptions not supported by the stimulus. Don't help the answer! Take it at face value, and it either strengthens or else it does not.
Number 2 is what we are almost always looking for in these questions. The correct answer usually has no impact on the argument, neither helping nor hurting in any way. The same is true of Weaken-Except questions. For this reason, on this type of question it is usually best to prephrase and focus on the WRONG answers, the ones that strengthen the argument. If we can see that an answer strengthens, it's out, and we should find ourselves looking at one contender that simply does not strengthen.
Answer B fits the strengthen bill nicely by suggesting that Shakespeare probably did NOT rely on an English language translation. The argument isn't causal, but this answer works an awful lot like a causal strengthen answer that eliminates a possible alternate cause. If the only English translation differed substantially from the original in ways that Shakespeare's play did not (meaning that his play had similarities to Alcestis that could not have been based on the English translation), then the English language version is probably not where he got his source material. It is eliminated as a possible alternate source of his information.
Answer A does nothing. So what if Shakespeare often used Latin phrases "that were widely used in England" in his plays? The fact that they were widely used means they were part of the English vernacular of the time, and tells us nothing about his ability to read or understand Latin or about where he got his information about Alcestis. Hey, I say "in vino veritas" and "E Pluribus Unum" all the time, but that doesn't make me a Latin scholar, just a real hit with the ladies and a blast at parties! If the Latin phrases he used were UNCOMMON and little known to the general population, that might suggest that he had some Latin education, and that might strengthen the argument, but using common phrases tells us nothing at all. Their being common eliminates their usefulness in this context.
In any event, if we were to approach this answer like number 3 above, we should still pick A as the one that helps the least, because B so clearly eliminates that alternate source (which, if it were available, would make a ton of sense as the purported source), and A tells us only that he has some grasp of a tiny sampling of Latin. Remember to pick the best answer, Meps, and in this case that is the one that helps the least!
Keep at it, and keep asking us good questions!
Adam M. Tyson
PowerScore LSAT, GRE, ACT and SAT Instructor
Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LSATadam