This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Setting and context bear many similarities, although context means the environment in which a text is written and a text’s setting is one key aspect of its fictional context. Social issues, geographical location and political events together create the context of any particular text. Authors often respond to contemporary or recent issues in a work of fiction. Personal views also shape the text to an extent and are therefore a component of a work’s context.
The context of a fictional work affects the meaning of text. Making an effort to understand context is an important part of analysing a text.
The relationship between text and context is not simple, nor necessarily straightforward. History is complex and certainly does not dictate the meaning of any text. Instead, the context of any piece of fiction is mediated through the work, the aims and outlook of the author. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare will have consciously responded to ideas circulating at the time and, like any other author, was probably affected by context in ways he might not have been aware.
Pay especially close attention to the text when writing about context. Of primary concern is what the text itself says about the themes with which it is concerned. Researching a work’s context will help you to develop your approach to these themes. Find out what was happening at the time the text was written. Do you see any relationship to the issues of the text? Compare your knowledge of historical context to whatever the text says about these issues. Any work of art exists beyond its context, of course, and good texts continue creating meaning long after the time they were written.
Remember to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context. Shakespeare chose to set The Merchant of Venice not in London, but in the more exotic trading port of Venice. His immediate context therefore differs significantly to the setting of his play, even though the times are contemporary.
Research the context of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, remembering everything you have learned in English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.