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Much Ado About Nothing - Context

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.

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How to write about 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.

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  1. When was Much Ado About Nothing first published?
    The play is likely to have been written shortly before its first publication, perhaps in 1598
  2. Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare's....
    "Comedy", in dramatic terms, does not necessarily mean funny, although Much Ado About Nothing is witty and very amusing. Instead "comedy" is defined in opposition to "tragedy". Shakespearean comedies have endings which are at least superficially happy and which tend to tie up all the loose ends of the play
  3. In which era was the play written?
    Queen Elizabeth I ruled at the time this play was written and performed. Interestingly, whether the Queen would marry or not, and if she did, to whom, were questions of utmost importance in the English and European politics of the time
  4. Where were Shakespeare's plays performed during his lifetime?
    Many performances took place in Southwark, which was just outside the boundaries of London
  5. Don John is Don Pedro's illegitimate brother. What is meant by this term?
    Don Pedro is the legitimate son of his father, meaning that his mother was his father's wife. Don John, by contrast, was born of an illicit affair between his father and mother
  6. Illegitimacy negatively affects which of the following?
    As an illegitimate son, Don John is denied the wealth and status passed down to a legitimate heir. Many aristocrats of Shakepeare's day had illegitimate children who were denied the social position of their half-siblings
  7. There are many references in the play to Cupid. Who is Cupid?
    Being struck by Cupid's arrows is a metaphor for falling in love, emphasising that falling in love is inescapable and outside one's free choice. Benedick has supposedly escaped Cupid two or three times
  8. The Friar suggests that Hero, if proven to have fallen into disgrace by losing her virginity, can be concealed "in some reclusive and religious life". Where does he suggest she hide away?
    Many of Shakespeare's female characters face the possibility of life in a convent, a community of religious women (nuns), as a consequence of their loss of honour in the public eye. In Elizabethan England, convents had been disbanded during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII
  9. Who will control Leonato's property after his death?
    As his sole heir, Hero may inherit her father's property. In practice, however, her husband would control any property which passed to her
  10. Considering the answer to the previous question, which of the following statements is correct about Elizabeth I and marriage?
    Royal marriages usually brought two powerful countries together in alliance. This was not easily possible for Elizabeth to undertake given the tensions between Catholic and Protestant parts of Europe, as well as the understanding the power balance between women and men within marriage

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