Elizabethan Drama, often known as early modern English drama, refers back to the plays produced by the University Wits between the Reformation and the closure of the theatres in 1642. It includes the plays of Robert Green, George Peele, Christopher Marlowe, and many others followed the monumental work of William Shakespeare.
English Renaissance Drama is usually known as “Elizabethan Drama.” However, the term “Elizabethan Drama” adequately covers only the plays written and performed publicly in England throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603).
Renaissance theatre derived from some medieval theatre traditions, such as the mystery plays that formed part of religious festivals in England and different parts of Europe. The mystery plays have been complicated retellings of legends based mostly on biblical themes, initially performed in church buildings however later becoming more linked to the secular celebrations that grew up around religious festivals. Other sources include the morality plays and the “university drama” that tried to recreate Greek tragedy.
Under Elizabeth, the drama was a unified expression so far as social class was involved. With the development of private theatres, drama grew to become more oriented towards the tastes and values of an upper-class audience. By the later part of the reign of Charles I, few new plays were written for the general public theatres, which sustained themselves on the collected works of the previous decades.
In addition to the religious mystery plays on pageant wagons and circular stages resembling modern “theatres in the round,” dramatic entertainment was carried out within the great halls of royal and noble houses. Plays were also provided by traveling bands of actors on portable stages set up at fairs and different crowd-gathering events.
The first permanent theatre in England was located in Middlesex, simply outside the walls of London. As it was known, the theatre was created by James Burbage, father of Richard Burbage, the well-known actor. There is little direct information about the appearance of The Theatre. It was dismantled in 1598, and its timbers had been carried to the Bankside, south of London, across the Thames River.
The age of Shakespeare—and Marlowe, Kyd, Chapman, Ben Jonson, and several different dramatists—extends roughly from 1590 to 1625. During this era, London most likely had more theatre houses in ratio to its population than at any other time. Excluding informal theatre spaces resembling the great halls of the aristocracy and such organizations as the Inns of Court (where England’s lawyers had been trained), there were seven open-air theatres and four indoor theatres.
The outdoor theatres relied on natural light. They used few stage props and no stage sets in the modern sense of the term. These seeming limitations inspired many probably the most brilliant features of Elizabethan drama. The lack of stage sets allowed the dramatists to create rapid, extraordinarily fluid actions. Scenes succeeded one another without interruption, considerably within the manner of twentieth-century movies. The lack of stage sets forced the Elizabethan dramatists to create what is perhaps known as a theatre of the imagination.
Genres of the Elizabethan Drama
Genres of the period included the history play, which depicted English or European history. Shakespeare’s plays concerning the lives of kings, akin to Richard III and Henry V, belong to this class, as do Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and George Peele’s Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First. Many history plays dealt with more current events, like A Larum for London, which dramatizes the Sack of Antwerp in 1576.
The tragedy was a well-liked genre. Marlowe’s tragedies have been exceptionally well-liked, such as Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta. The audiences notably liked revenge dramas, such as Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy.
Comedies have been widespread, too. A sub-genre developed during this period was the city comedy, which deals satirically with life in London after the style of Roman New Comedy. Examples are Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.
Why were Theatres Closed in Elizabethan Age?
The rising Puritan movement was hostile towards theatre, as they felt that “entertainment” was sinful. Politically, playwrights and actors had been clients of the monarchy and aristocracy, and most supported the Royalist cause. The Puritan faction, long highly effective in London, gained control of the city early within the English Civil War, and on September 2, 1642, ordered the closure of the London theatres. The theatres remained closed for many the next eighteen years, re-opening after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The re-opened theatres carried out lots of the plays of the earlier era, although usually in adapted forms; new genres of Restoration comedy and spectacle soon evolved, giving English theatre of the later seventeenth century its distinctive character.
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