This GCSE English Literature quiz tests your understanding of the context of William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. In a work of literature, the term “context” means the environment in which that particular text was written, especially including when and where it was composed and any political or social events of that time. This means that context can sometimes be confused with setting. It might be helpful to think about context as the author’s real-life “setting” and a novel or play’s setting as its fictional “context”. Authors very often respond to political or social events in fiction; their personal views have an impact on the text and these, too, are elements of a work’s context.
Context always has some effect on meaning. When you analyse a work of fiction, it is important to study its historical context too.
The relationship between meaning and context is not straightforward, however. Be careful not to oversimplify either in discussing the context of a text, or in analysing the text as the author’s response. Try to be aware that the influence of context on an author and a work of fiction is complex. Authors respond creatively to their world while also being influenced subconsciously. The plot of Macbeth is loosely based on historical events while also responding to events of Shakespeare’s own time.
Always be sure to pay especially close attention to the text when writing about context, rather than making assumptions about history. Research the time when the text was composed. Can you see how the themes of the text might be related to political events, debates, or other issues? How do the important issues of the text relate to events which took place during the life of the author? The life of a text continues beyond its context, very often remaining relevant in times and situations not envisaged by its author. Do you think Macbeth is still relevant today? How? Does Shakespeare’s portrayal of those who are willing to sacrifice everything in order to gain power, only to end in tyranny and failure, have anything to say to modern audiences?
Research the context of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, remembering everything you have learned in English (and, perhaps, history) lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.