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Elizabethan drama 1558 - 1603

From the Elizabethan drama comes some of the most highly respected plays in western drama.
The period coincides with the reign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603, although some consider the period
to have ended in 1642 along with the closing of the theatres.
Elizabeth I was a powerful, resolute monarch, who returned England to Protestantism, quelled a
great deal of internal turmoil and unified the nation. She was also a great supporter of the arts
which determined a surge of the theatre activities.
During her reign, some playwrights were able to make a comfortable living by receiving a royal
patronage. There was a great deal of theatrical activity and many public and many public theatres
were also built on the outskirts of London. Theatre was a popular pastime and people of all walks
of life attended. Although women were no allowed on stage, they did attend performances and
often made up a substantial part of the audience. It also drew pickpockets, cutpurses and
prostitutes.
Because of the perceived bad influence of the theatres, the Puritans were opposed to them and
succeeded in shutting them down in 1642.
Some of the most important playwrights come from the Elizabethan era, including William
Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe. They wrote plays patterned on previous
sources, including Greek tragedy, Senecas plays, Attic drama, English miracle plays, morality
plays and interludes.
Elizabethan tragedy dealt with heroic themes, usually centering on a great personality who is
destroyed by his own passion and ambition. Medieval tradition was blended with Renaissance
optimism.
The renaissance 1450 1660
Refers to the emergence and new interest in classical Greek and Roman texts that took place
between the Middle Ages and the modern period.
With the advent of the printing press in 1440, the development of the vernacular languages and
the weakening influence of the Catholic Church on daily life, Renaissance writers had new
avenues for expressing their views.
Early writers such as D. Erasmus and Thomas More staged direct attacks on the church and
society (Utopia). These writers helped open doors for later ones including W. Shakespeare.
a. For a man who is regarded by many critics as one of the most important writers in
history, very little is known about Shakespeare. Most of the details are derived from
speculations. It is assumed that he received a well-renowned, humanistic education and

given the enormous kind of situations presented in his plays, he observed many vocations
and activities.
b. W. Shakespeare was first and foremost a humanist, and all of his plays distinctly capture
this Renaissance spirit.
In his tragedy Hamlet, Shakespeare gives his title character an introspective intellect that is
both humanist and modern.
The play, published in 1600-1601, details the internal struggle that prince Hamlet of Denmark
faces in deciding whether to avenge his fathers murder by killing his uncle, the king. Although
his fathers ghost commands Hamlet to kill the murderer, Hamlet is not easily swayed and thinks
the problem for himself. In the process, Hamlet considers many ideas about philosophy and
human experience, facing a spiritual crisis all this time.
The play resonated with Shakespeares contemporary audience and has continued to affect
audiences and critics into the 21st century.
What separates Hamlet from other revenge plays is that the action we expect to see is
continually postponed while Hamlet tries to obtain more certain knowledge about what he is
doing but poses many questions: Can we have certain knowledge about ghosts? How do we
know they even exist? Etc.
Many saw Hamlet as a play about indecisiveness and thus Hamlets failure to act properly but
its more likely to see that the impossibility of certainty was what made it hard for Hamlet to
decide.