Renaissance Drama in England

Renaissance Drama in England

The Italian Renaissance had rediscovered the ancient Greek and Roman theatre, and this was instrumental in the development of the new drama, which was then beginning to evolve apart from the old mystery and miracle plays of the Middle Ages. The Italians were particularly inspired by Seneca (a major tragic playwright and philosopher) and Plautus (comic cliches, especially that of the boasting soldier had a powerful influence on the Renaissance and after). However, the Italian tragedies embraced a principle contrary to Seneca’s ethics: showing blood and violence on the stage. It is also true that the Elizabethan Era was a very violent age. As a result, representing that kind of violence on the stage in scenes. The plays had 5 acts; Physical realism; Issues borrowed from the ancient Greek drama (the chorus); Allegorical characters borrowed from the Medieval moralities; Issues borrowed from the Italian drama (the pantomime); Exaggerated feelings (love, hatred, revenge); Props and settings were simple; Costumes were rich and in accordance with the fashion of the time; There was no curtain; Women were not allowed to perform.

The establishment of large and profitable public theatres was an essential enabling factor in the success of English Renaissance drama—once they were in operation, the drama could become a fixed and permanent rather than a transitory phenomenon. The crucial initiating development was the building of The Theatre by James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Theatre was rapidly followed by the nearby Curtain Theatre (1577), the Rose (1587), the Swan (1595), the Globe (1599), the Fortune (1600), and the Red Bull (1604). Usually polygonal in a plan to give an overall rounded effect (though the Red Bull and the first Fortune were square), the three levels of inward-facing galleries overlooked the open center, into which jutted the stage— essentially a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience, only the rear being restricted for the entrances and exits of the actors and seating for the musicians. The upper level behind the stage could be used as a balcony. Usually built of timber and plaster and with thatched roofs, the early theatres were vulnerable to fire and were replaced (when necessary) with stronger structures. When the Globe burned down in June 1613, it was rebuilt with a tile roof.

  1. The early tragedies
  2. The early comedies
  3. The plays of the University Wits

William Shakespeare’s plays the “university wits” The decade of the 1590s, just before Shakespeare started his career, saw a radical transformation in popular drama. A group of well-educated men chose to write for the public stage, taking over native traditions. They brought new coherence in structure and real wit and poetic power to the language. They are known collectively as the “University Wits,” though they did not always work as a group, and indeed wrangled with each other at times.  John Lyly (1554-1606) Thomas Lodge (c. 1558-1625) Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) Robert Greene (1560-1592) Thomas Nashe (1567-1601) George Peele Thomas Kyd (1558 –1594). Th. Kyd was the author of The Spanish Tragedy, and one of the most important figures in the development of Elizabethan drama. The Spanish Tragedie was probably written in the mid to late 1580s. The earliest surviving edition was printed in 1592; the full title being, The Spanish Tragedie, Containing the lamentable end of Don Horatio, and Bel-imperia: with the pitiful death of old Hieronimo. However, the play was usually known simply as “Hieronimo”, after the protagonist. Kyd is more generally accepted to have been the author of a Hamlet, the precursor of the Shakespearean play (Ur-Hamlet). Christopher Marlowe(1564 –1593).

The foremost Elizabethan tragedian before William Shakespeare, he is known for his magnificent blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his own untimely death. Marlowe’s most important plays in which he created his titanic characters are: Dido, Queen of Carthage (c. 1586) (possibly co-written with Thomas Nashe) Tamburlaine, part 1 (c. 1587) Tamburlaine, part 2 (c. 1587-1588) The Jew of Malta (c. 1589) Doctor Faustus (c. 1589, or, c. 1593) Edward II (c. 1592) The Massacre at Paris (c. 1593) Marlowe is often alleged to have been a government spy killed upon the orders of the Queen. Robert Greene (1558 –1592) is most familiar to Shakespeare scholars for his pamphlet Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit (full title: Greene’s Groats-worth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance), which most scholars agree contains the earliest known mention of Shakespeare as a member of the London dramatic community. In it, Greene disparages Shakespeare, for being an actor who has the temerity to write plays, and for committing plagiarism.”… or there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country”. William Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Francis Meres, one year younger than Shakespeare, described himself as “Maister of Arte of both Universities”; in 1598 Meres published a work which has proven most valuable in dating Shakespeare’s plays, for he mentions many of them, and in the most laudatory terms.

In Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, Meres begins by praising Shakespeare’s poetry the two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and the Sonnets – then compares Shakespeare to Plautus in comedy and to Seneca in tragedy: Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time. ” These are the words of Shakespeare’s great friend and contemporary, Ben Jonson. The quotation comes from Jonson’s poem, To the memory of my beloved, found in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, published in 1623. Ben Jonson (1572-1637) William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616). There is no simple explanation for Shakespeare’s unrivaled popularity, but he remains our greatest entertainer and perhaps our most profound thinker. He had a remarkable knowledge of human behavior, which he was able to communicate through his portrayal of a wide variety of characters. ? His mastery of poetic language and of the techniques of drama enabled him to combine these multiple viewpoints, human motives, and actions to produce a uniquely compelling theatrical experience.


English playwright William Shakespeare was born in a small house on Henley Street in Stratford-upon Avon in April 1564. The third of eight children, William Shakespeare was the eldest son of John Shakespeare, a locally prominent glove-maker and wool merchant, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do landowner in the nearby village of Wilmcote. The young Shakespeare probably attended the Stratford grammar school, the King’s New School. Shakespeare’s Birthplace Stratford upon Avon On November 27, 1582, a license was issued to permit Shakespeare’s marriage, at the age of 18, to Anne Hathaway, aged 26 and the daughter of a Warwickshire farmer. The couple’s first daughter, Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583, and twins Hamnet and Judith who were named for their godparents, neighbors Hamnet and Judith Sadler followed on February 2, 1585. Anne Hathaway? s Cottage Charlecote Park, Sir Thomas Lucy? s Property Sometime after the birth of the twins, Shakespeare apparently left Stratford, but no records have turned up to reveal his activity between their birth and his presence in London in 1592 when he was already at work in the theater. Shakespeare? s biographers sometimes refer to the years between 1585 and 1592 as “the lost years. Speculations about this period abound. An unsubstantiated report claims Shakespeare left Stratford after he was caught poaching in the deer park of Sir Thomas Lucy, a local justice of the peace. Another theory has him leaving for London with a theater troupe that had performed in Stratford in 1587.


Shakespeare seems to have arrived in London about 1588, and by 1592 he had attained sufficient success as an actor and a playwright to attract the venom of Greene, an anxious rival. In 1594 Shakespeare became a member of Lord Chamberlain’s Men and was active in the formation of famous theatre, the Globe. London – The Globe Theater (rebuilt in 1997) London – The Globe Theater (rebuilt in 1997) Shakespeare’s Last Years Shakespeare’s company erected the storied Globe Theatre circa 1598 in London’s Bankside district. It was one of four major theatres in the area, along with the Swan, the Rose, and the Hope. After about 1608 Shakespeare began to write fewer plays. In 1613 fire destroyed the Globe Theatre during a performance of Henry VIII. Although the Globe was quickly rebuilt, Shakespeare? s association with it – and probably with the company – had ended. Around the time of the fire, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, where he had established his family and become a prominent citizen. Shakespeare? s daughter Susanna had married John Hall, a doctor with a thriving practice in Stratford, in 1607. His younger daughter, Judith, married a Stratford winemaker, Thomas Quinney, in 1616. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 – the month and day traditionally assigned to his birth – and was buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church.

John William Waterhouse Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May (1909) Famous Quotes Macbeth:  To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28 John William Waterhouse The Magic Circle (study) (1886). To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause—there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life… Hamlet Act 3, scene 1, 55–87 Sir Laurence Olivier (1907 – 1989) as Hamlet Shakespeare, Our Contemporary Hamlet’s Soliloquy. Since first performed in the early 1600s, the title role in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has remained a favorite of many actors because of the emotional complexity of Hamlet’s personality. Nowhere is this complexity more apparent than in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Act III, Scene 1. The soliloquy is a monologue in which a character reveals inner thoughts, motivations, and feelings. Shakespeare used the technique often, and his soliloquies are poetic and rich in imagery. In Hamlet, a play about a man whose mind may be his fatal flaw, the form reaches its highest level. The Structure of Shakespearean Tragedy as devised by Andrew Cecil Bradley? Andrew Cecil Bradley (1851–1935) was an English literary scholar, best remembered for his work on Shakespeare? The outcome of his five years as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University was A. C.

Bradley’s two major works, Shakespearean Tragedy (1904), and Oxford Lectures on Poetry (1909). Bradley’s pedagogical manner and his self-confidence made him a real guide for many students to the meaning of Shakespeare. His influence on Shakespearean criticism was so great that the following anonymous poem appeared: I dreamt last night that Shakespeare’s Ghost Sat for a civil service post. The English paper for that year Had several questions on King Lear Which Shakespeare answered very badly Because he hadn’t read his Bradley.


As a Shakespearean tragedy represents a conflict that terminates in a catastrophe, any such tragedy may roughly be divided into three parts.

  • A. The first of these sets forth or expounds the situation, or state of affairs, out of which the conflict arises; and it may, therefore, be called the exposition.
  • B. The second deals with the definite beginning, the growth, and the vicissitudes of the conflict. It forms accordingly the bulk of the play, comprising the Second, Third and Fourth Acts, and usually a part of the First and a part of the Fifth.
  • C. The final section of the tragedy shows the issue of the conflict in a catastrophe. The application of this scheme of division is naturally more or less arbitrary. The first part glides into the second, and the second into the third, and there may often be difficult in drawing the lines between them.
  • D. The role of the exposition is to introduce us into a little world of persons; to show us their positions in life, their circumstances, their relations to one another, and perhaps something of their characters; and to leave us keenly interested in the question of what will come out of this condition of things.

We are left thus expectant. This situation is not one of conflict, but it threatens conflict. For example, in “Romeo and Juliet” we see first the hatred of the Montagues and Capulets; and then we see Romeo ready to fall violently in love; and then we hear talk of a marriage between Juliet and Paris; but the exposition is not complete, and the conflict has not definitely begun to arise, till, in the last scene of the First Act, Romeo the Montague sees Juliet the Capulet and falls in love with her. Sir Frank Dicksee – Romeo And Juliet, 1884 Some Shakespearean “Tricks”. When Shakespeare begins his exposition he generally at first makes people talk about the hero but keeps the hero himself for some time out of sight so that we await his entrance with curiosity and sometimes with anxiety. On the other hand, if the play opens with a quiet conversation, this is usually brief, and then at once the hero enters and takes the action of some decided kind. For instance, compare the beginning of Macbeth to that of King Lear.

In the latter, the tone is so low that the conversation between Kent, Gloster, and Edmund is written in prose (although they are of noble extraction). At the thirty-fourth line, it is broken off by the entrance of Lear and his court, and without delay, the King proceeds to his fatal division of the kingdom. William Dyce – King Lear and the Fool in the Storm (c. 1851). This tragedy illustrates another practice of Shakespeare’s. King Lear has a secondary plot, which concerns Glouchester and his two sons. To make the beginning of this plot quite clear, and to mark it off from the main action, Shakespeare gives it a separate exposition. In Hamlet, though the plot is single, there is a little group of characters possessing a certain independent interest, – Polonius, his son, and his daughter; and so the third scene is devoted wholly to them. The construction of a Shakespearean tragedy is based on the fight between two opposing sides in the conflict. They are of almost equal strength and it is difficult to guess which of them is to win.

They are victorious in turn until the conflict reaches its climax. In some tragedies, the opposing forces can be identified with opposing persons or groups. So it is in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth”. But it is not always so. The love of Othello may be said to contend with another force, as the love of Romeo does; but Othello cannot be said to contend with Iago as Romeo contends with the representatives of the hatred of the houses, or as Macbeth contends with Malcolm and Macduff. ? Thomas Stothard, The Meeting of Othello and Desdemona (c. 1799). Hamlet completely baffles Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have been sent to discover his secret, and he arranges for the test of the play scene: the advance of A. But immediately before the play scene his soliloquy on suicide fills us with misgiving; and his words to Ophelia, overheard, so convince the King that love is not the cause of his nephew’s strange behavior, that he determines to get rid of him by sending him to England: the advance of B. The play scene proves a complete success: decided advance of A.

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