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.

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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.

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  1. When was Romeo and Juliet written?
    The play was first published in 1597, although it was written earlier
  2. 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?
    The well known tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisbe ends with a misunderstanding that results in a double suicide
  3. Which of the following is specifically associated with the play's Italian setting?
    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
  4. 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?
    Private confession to a priest was forbidden in Elizabethan England
  5. Father Laurence suggests Juliet escape and hide from her parents in which of the following?
    This is another aspect to the play which is possible in its Italian setting, and not in its context in Elizabethan England
  6. Who ruled England at the time the play was written?
    Shakespeare's earlier plays were written while Elizabeth I was queen; his later plays were written while James I ruled
  7. Shakespeare was not the first author to write the story of Romeo and Juliet. Which of the following is true?
    Shakespeare drew on popular and well-known stories to provide plots for many of his plays
  8. In the play, what is meant by the title "nurse"?
    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
  9. For aristocratic families in Elizabethan England, what was the primary purpose of marriage?
    Such families arranged marriages for their sons and daughters which would be of maximum benefit to the family as a whole
  10. Which of the following is the full title of the play?
    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?

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