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Elizabethan Drama


Drama attempts to reflect, and comment on, the human condition. ... We know that he married Anne Hathaway, and that they had two daughters who ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Elizabethan Drama

Elizabethan Drama
  • William Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Stage

  • In the Western tradition, drama was invented by
    the ancient Greeks.
  • Drama attempts to reflect, and comment on, the
    human condition.
  • Is meant to be performed onstage, before an
  • Is difficult to truly appreciate drama in written

Review, cont.
  • The ancient Greeks created Western Drama to be a
    distillation of life in poetic form presented on
    a stage.
  • The first plays in Western literature were
    written in Athens during the sixth century B.C.
    (600-500 B.C.), but the peak period in Classical
    drama was the fifth century B.C. (500-400 B.C.).
  • The origin of Greek Drama is the same oral
    tradition from which the Homeric Epics (Iliad and
    Odyssey) descend. The story-teller would
    impersonate the epic hero as a part of his
    performance. This practice developed into drama.
  • Another key factor in the development of drama
    was the worship of the Greek god Dionysus.
    Dionysus was the god of wine and revelry. The
    Greeks held a festival of Dionysus in Athens
    every year. The first plays were presented as a
    part of the festival.

Review, cont.
  • The Great Dionysiathe Festival of Dionysus at
    Athenswas held in March.
  • Plays were performed as a part of the festival.
  • These plays were intended both as a kind of
    entertainment and a form of worship.
  • There was an altar to Dionysus in the open space
    at the base of the stage (the orchestra), and the
    chorus would dance and sing around the altar as a
    part of the play.
  • The audience honored the god by their presence in
    the auditorium.
  • People from all over Greece would attend the
    festival and as many as eighteen thousand people
    were in the audience when the plays were

Review, cont.
  • The Greeks performed both tragedies and comedies.
    However, it is with primarily with tragedy that
    we will concern ourselves for the purposes of Web
  • The elements of tragedy as laid out by the
    Athenian playwrights of the 5th Century B.C. form
    the basis of an art form which has endured to the
    present day.
  • In Unit 2, we discussed the characteristics of
    Greek tragedy, and talked about the Big 3
    tragic playwrights of the classical Athenian
    period (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides).
  • We then focused on a particular play (Sophocless
    Oedipus the King) as an example.
  • In Unit 3, we will trace the development of
    Classical drama up into the time of Shakespeare.
    It is important to remember that Shakespeare and
    the other Renaissance writers did not invent the
    form. They adapted it.

Elizabethan Drama
  • During the reign of Queen Elizabeth in England
    (1558-1603), the theater was reborn in a way that
    had not been seen since the days of the Romans.
  • The Elizabethan dramatists drew on Roman models
    in the construction of their theatrical works.
  • Elizabethan theater also descended from Mystery
    and Miracle plays put on by the Roman Catholic
  • The dramatic revival in which Shakespeare played
    a part was centered in London.
  • London was the capital of England, and its most
    populous and cosmopolitan city. The Queen held
    court there and the royals wanted to be

Elizabethan Drama, cont.
  • The theater provided low-cost entertainment and
    the nobility were its best customers.
  • Sometimes the plays were put on in theaters and
    the royals would come to the theater to see the
  • Other times, the play would be brought to the
    court and put on in the presence of the queen.
  • Shakespeare played before the queen (and later,
    the king) on many occasions.
  • The Elizabethan theater was very similar in its
    form to the auditorium of the Greeks (see Unit
    2). However, it was much smaller in scale. Only
    about three thousand people would fit into the
    Globe (Shakespeares theater in London).

Elizabethan Drama, cont.
  • The development of theater in England was a part
    of the larger Elizabethan Renaissance. During the
    reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Renaissance (which
    had begun in Italy a century earlier and spread
    slowly through Europe) reached its full flower in
  • Literacy was spreading rapidly and new ideas
    stirred debate among those who were exposed to
  • In London, the first company of actors was formed
    under the patronage of the Earl of Leicester in
    1574. Other companies soon followed.
  • These companies built theaters outside the city
    of London.
  • Most theaters were built across the river from
    the city, in Southwark, on the south bank of the
    River Thames.

Elizabethan Drama, cont.
  • The first of these new theaters was called The
    Theatre and was built in 1576.
  • Other theaters included The Curtain, The Globe,
    The Rose, The Swan, The Fortune, etc.
  • These theaters were the scene of many other kinds
    of entertainment besides plays.
  • Bear-baiting (setting dogs on a bear) and
    bull-baiting (setting dogs on a bull) were
    carried on and much betting occurred. Dog fights
    and cock fights also took place.
  • Prostitution was also rampant. Alcohol was sold.
    The theater could be a rough place.
  • The plays were put on in the open air, in natural

Elizabethan Drama, cont.
  • The companies wrote (or commissioned), produced,
    and acted the plays. A great deal of borrowing
    went on. When one theater put on a successful
    production of a play, it wasnt long before
    knock-offs were playing at the other theaters
    as well.
  • Two of the most famous playwrights of the time
    were Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe.
  • Thomas Kyds Spanish Tragedy was an inspiration
    to young William Shakespeare.
  • Christopher Marlowes Dr. Faustus, The Jew of
    Malta, and Tamburlaine also hugely influenced the
    development (and also the content) of
    Shakespeares plays.
  • As in Classical Greek Theater, plays were acted
    by men only. Womens parts were acted by boys
    dressed in womens clothes. No actresses were
    allowed onstage until well after Shakespeares

William Shakespeare
  • William Shakespeare was born a commoner in
    Stratford-on-Avon in 1564. He died a minor noble
    in Stratford-on-Avon in 1616. Many of the
    details of his life are unknown to us. However,
    there are some things that we are sure of today.
  • Through the fame and wealth amassed over the
    course of his theatrical career, William
    Shakespeare advanced the status of himself and
    his family immensely.
  • Shakespeare wrote 37 playshistories, comedies,
    and tragediesof a caliber which has never been
    matched in any literature or language.
  • He also wrote much important poetry, including
    some of the most beautiful sonnets ever written.
  • Although we remember Shakespeare mostly for his
    plays, it was his poetry that he thought was most

William Shakespeare, cont.
  • Much of Shakespeares life remains a mystery. The
    Fire of London in 1666 destroyed many of the
    records from Shakespeares time in London.
  • We know that he married Anne Hathaway, and that
    they had two daughters who survived him and a son
    who died at age twelve.
  • We know that Shakespeares grandfather was a
    farmer, and his father was a tanner and glover.
  • We know that during the 1580s, Shakespeare moved
    to London and became involved with the
    newly-developing theater scene.
  • However, the specific details of much of this are
    lost, and much of his biography is mere
    speculation and hearsay.

William Shakespeare, cont.
  • The most important thing, of course, is not
    Shakespeares life history, but rather his body
    of work.
  • Shakespeares plays can be divided into three
  • The first period (1592-1600), was a time in which
    his rivals disappeared and he had the stage to
    himself. This was the period of most of the
    histories, of A Midsummer Nights Dream, Romeo
    and Juliet, and most of the comedies.
  • The second period (1601-1608), a more somber
    period, was the time in which he wrote his great
    tragediesHamlet, Othello, King Lear, and
    Macbethmost of his Roman plays, and a few gloomy
  • The third and final period (1608-1616), was a
    time when his mood became more tranquil and
    gently disillusioned. Plays from this time
    include Pericles and The Tempest.

William Shakespeare, cont.
  • For the purposes of Web 2413, we will focus on
    Shakespeares plays, and on the theatrical tools
    he used to put them together.
  • First, it is important to remember that
    Shakespeare was a member of a joint stock acting
    company called The Lord Chamberlains Men (later
    The Kings Men). Each company had a sponsoring
    nobleman or noblewoman who vouched for the good
    behavior of the actors.
  • The joint stock acting companies of Shakespeares
    day were much like todays corporations. In a
    joint stock acting company, the members of the
    troupe received shares of the profits according
    to each mans individual contribution to the
    production as a whole.
  • This is how Shakespeare was able to amass so much
    wealth over the course of his lifetime.
  • It also meant that Shakespeare had excellent
    professional actors to help him put on this plays.

William Shakespeare, cont.
  • Shakespeare was involved in process of the
    Elizabethan theater at every levelas a co-owner,
    a playwright, a producer, a director, and an
    actor. This is one of the reasons for his
    consummate mastery of the dramatic art.
  • Shakespeare used blank verse (unrhymed iambic
    pentameter) to construct much of the text of his
  • He used a five-act structure for his tragedies
    which was rooted in Classical Roman (and hence,
    Greek) Drama.
  • Although Shakespeare never attended the
    university, his work shows a mastery of the
    poetic art which remains unsurpassed, and his
    plays deal with the big philosophical questions
    of his day.

William Shakespeare, cont.
  • In Shakespeares works, the possibilities of the
    Elizabethan Renaissance are completely realized.
  • The confusions and contradictions of
    Shakespeares day find their highest expression
    in his tragedies. In these extraordinary
    achievements, all values, hierarchies, and forms
    are tested and found wantingand all of societys
    latent conflicts are activated.
  • Shakespeare sets husband against wife, father
    against child, and the individual against
    society. He dethrones kings, levels the nobleman
    and the beggar, makes the fool the wisest of all
    characters, and questions the gods.

William Shakespeare, cont.
  • Shakespeares plays define his age.
  • The worlds of Shakespeares tragic heroes are
    collapsing around them, and their desperate
    attempts to cope uncover the inadequacy of the
    systems by which they rationalize and justify
    their existence.
  • Before the overwhelming suffering of these great
    and noble spirits, all consolations are void. All
    versions of the world order are revealed as
    incomplete and perhaps incomprehensible by
  • As Hamlet says with his last breath, The rest is
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