This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge you on context in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Context means the environment in which a text is written. This makes it similar to, and occasionly easily confused with, a text’s setting. The important thing to remember is that the fictional context to the events in a text are referred to as setting. Context applies to the world of the author, especially to those social issues, geographical locations and political events of the time. Authors often respond to contemporary or recent issues in a work of fiction. Personal views can also shape the text to an extent and these, too, are components of a work’s context.
The meaning of a fictional text is affected by its context. In analysing a text, it is important to make an effort to understand this context.
Nevertheless, the relationship between the two is not likely to be straightforward. History is complex and an author’s response to his or her environment and to current or recent events is not one of constraint. Instead, authors respond creatively to their context and can also be influenced subconsciously. In Romeo and Juliet, for example, Juliet’s actions are constrained by societal expectations which Shakespeare shows explicitly as well as by those an Early Modern audience would have taken for granted.
Always pay especially close attention to the text when writing about context. What does the text itself say about the themes with which it is concerned? Researching a work’s context will help you to develop your approach to these themes. What was happening at the time the text was written? How do the important issues of the text relate to contemporary or recent events? A good work of art exists beyond its context, of course, and will continue to create meaning long after the time when it is written. Romeo and Juliet is much loved today, despite being read and performed in a very different context to that of Shakespeare’s England.
Remember to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context. Shakespeare chose to set Romeo and Juliet not in London, but in a more exotic location in Italy. His immediate context differs in many significant respects to the setting of his play.
Research the context of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, remembering everything you have learned in English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.