This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. In a work of literature, the term “context” means the environment in which a particular text is written. This makes it similar to a text’s setting, a potential source of confusion when you remember that the fictional world of the text also exists within its own context. Just remember that the fictional context to the events in a text are considered an element of its setting. More generally, context applies to the world of the author, especially the social issues and political events of the time, as well as the author’s particular geographical location or experience of other countries or regions. Authors frequently respond to contemporary or recent issues in works of fiction. Personal views have an impact on the text and these, too, are components of a work’s context.
Context always has some effect on the meaning of a fictional text. When analysing a text, it is therefore important to make an effort to understand this context. The relationship between the two is not necessarily straightforward, however. History itself is complex and an author’s response to his or her environment and current or recent events is equally complex. Instead, authors respond creatively to their context while also being influenced subconsciously. The events of Much Ado About Nothing are based on ideas about love and marriage which do not always fit easily with beliefs which are popular now, and many readers want to see Shakespeare as overturning or questioning those ideas.
Ensure that you pay especially close attention to the text when writing about context, rather than just thinking about history and making assumptions about what the text actually says concerning its themes. Any research you are able to carry out into the work’s context will help you to develop your approach to these themes. What was happening at the time the text was written? In what way do the important issues of the text relate to events which took place during the life of the author? A text exists beyond its context, of course, and continues to speak to audiences long after the time when it is written. Much Ado About Nothing continues to entertain and amuse people today, despite being read and performed in a very different context to Shakespeare’s England.
Research the context of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, remembering everything you have learned in English (and history) lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.