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Romeo and Juliet - Context
Juliet is able easily to leave her house by explaining that she must visit Friar Laurence for confession.

Romeo and Juliet - Context

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.

How to write about 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.

Which of the following is specifically associated with the play's Italian setting?
Christianity and romantic love
Hot-headed violence and death by poison
Impulsive love and pragmatic servants
Controlling parents and arranged marriages
As an unusual and lurid cause of death, poisoning is as exotic as its Italian location. In Act Three, Scene Five, Capulet's Wife alludes to her plan to have Romeo poisoned
Around the time he was writing Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare also wrote another play which included as a comic sub-plot the tragic love affair of Pyramus and Thisbe. What is the name of this play?
Pyramus and Thisbe
Twelfth Night
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
The well known tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisbe ends with a misunderstanding that results in a double suicide
For aristocratic families in Elizabethan England, what was the primary purpose of marriage?
To recognise the passionate love between a couple
To ensure that a couple would live in happiness and harmony
To contain passionate love within social structures
To forge and consolidate alliances
Such families arranged marriages for their sons and daughters which would be of maximum benefit to the family as a whole
Juliet is able easily to leave her house by explaining that she must visit Friar Laurence for confession. What would have made this excuse less plausible if the play had been set in Elizabethan England, rather than Italy?
Girls and young women were never allowed to leave the house alone in Elizabethan England
England was no longer Protestant
England was no longer Catholic
Confession had never been practised in England
Private confession to a priest was forbidden in Elizabethan England
Father Laurence suggests Juliet escape and hide from her parents in which of the following?
The Montague house
The Prince's palace
A convent
This is another aspect to the play which is possible in its Italian setting, and not in its context in Elizabethan England
When was Romeo and Juliet written?
Around 1555
Around 1595
Around 1625
Around 1675
The play was first published in 1597, although it was written earlier
Who ruled England at the time the play was written?
King Henry VIII
Queen Elizabeth I
King James I
King Charles I
Shakespeare's earlier plays were written while Elizabeth I was queen; his later plays were written while James I ruled
Which of the following is the full title of the play?
The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet: A Tragedy in Five Acts
Romeo and Juliet: A Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Interestingly, the Prologue to the play tells the audience of the deaths of the two lovers and the title makes it perfectly clear that the play concerns a tragic event. What effect does it have to know the play you are watching will end badly?
Shakespeare was not the first author to write the story of Romeo and Juliet. Which of the following is true?
The story of Romeo and Juliet was written in English as a poem by Arthur Brooke
The story of Romeo and Juliet had first been written in Italian
There was already a French version of Romeo and Juliet before Shakespeare wrote his play
All of the above
Shakespeare drew on popular and well-known stories to provide plots for many of his plays
In the play, what is meant by the title "nurse"?
A wet nurse
A medical nurse
A governess
All of the above
Wealthy families would hire a wet nurse, a mother to breastfeed and care for their newborn babies. Juliet's Nurse is closer to her than her own mother is
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - Romeo and Juliet

Author:  Sheri Smith

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