How do I use context effectively within an essay?

First of all, it's important to clarify what is meant by 'context'. In your essays it can count as any extra knowledge surrounding the text, so for instance a piece of history from the time period of the text, or perhaps extra information about the author, maybe about their life or other works. Essentially, context should be relevant but not directly taken from the text and more importantly, when used effectively, can develop points, add extra depth to ideas and generally make your essay appear more impressive.

However, it's not always easy to use. With the knowledge that you HAVE to use context within essays it becomes easy to treat it as a job to check off the list, leading you to force context in where it comes across as irrelevant or unnecessary.

The key to the solution is to always remember that the information should go naturally alongside your point. If you find yourself really forcing the information into the text, normally you'll find that the end result is that it comes across as nice, but ultimately irrelevant knowledge which doesn't assist your essay.

This isn't to say you can't prepare your context. Normally you find that as time goes on and you learn more about the piece of text, the same old context always crops back up. If you begin writing this context down and forming a list, when making a plan for the essay you can normally pair up ideas with context.

Once you've done this however, the best thing to do is to try as best as possible to embed the context well within your point, consequently making it seeming as seamless as possible; almost as if the idea and context are inseparable.

Examples of context within in an essay on The White Devil by John Webster - 

This use of religion as to attack women is not just an element within the White Devil but also a feature of Jacobean society. Both the role of Eve within the Fall of Man and the nature of humanity's creation are used to insult women, as seen within Swetnam's, 'The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward and unconstant women'. When debating the 'woman question' of the 16th century he mentions that women are 'crooked' just like the rib from which they were born. This is even more heightened as a Cardinal, a symbol of the Church, is spouting these chauvinistic ideas. Webster therefore utilises the misogynistic climate of the time as to create an accurate representation of society.

Jessica B. GCSE English Literature tutor, A Level English Literature ...

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