Okay, so before I start, remember this is English Literature – not History. You do not need to write chunky paragraphs about what was happening in the First World War, when it started, ended, or its causes. Of course, such pieces of information are important. But in English Literature, context is not about writing reams of historical details – it is more about showing how such things affected the writer’s ideas, or what was going on at the time in the writer’s life.
If you are studying an English Literature course, you will be aware that context is important. Your teacher or tutor has probably gone on about it – and reminded you to include it (context is, for some reason, something that students are inclined to forget!). Take Shakespeare, for example. What was happening when he was writing, way back in the 1500s-1600s? What was life like then? Whether you are writing about the evils of Macbeth or the humour in Twelfth Night, you do need to show the examiner that you have some understanding of such things. It is worth noting, however, that context isn’t required in every question on every English Literature course – particularly at Key Stage 4. For example, if you are studying An Inspector Calls for the IGCSE with Edexcel, context isn’t assessed. So, make sure you check so you are aware of when you need to write about context.
Context is often worth quite a lot of marks – at both GCSE, or IGCSE, and in A-Level courses. Treat it as a part of the process when you are studying the text in question. Sometimes, students think it is okay to ‘tag on’ a context paragraph – but it isn’t really, as examiners will want to see how it ties in with the text. Why is the supernatural an important part of Macbeth? Maybe it has something to do with King James who ruled at the time. What does Steinbeck show us about the American Dream in Of Mice and Men – and how does the behaviour of George and Lennie link in with this?
One thing that is good to do is ‘drip feed’ context into your work – make sure it is linked to the question and that it reinforces what you are writing. If you do this, you should be well on the way to success.