Day Four

History of English Renaissance
     The English Renaissance occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries during which an interest in classicism and humanism rose and artistic innovation was explored. This innovation occurred during the reign of Elizabeth I and was a time during which the battles between warring factions (Protestant vs Catholic, parliament vs monarchy) were temporarily settled. The English Renaissance was mainly focused on the art forms of literature and music. During this time the Elizabethan theatre flourished and some of the most memorable playwrights in history wrote and performed their plays.


Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama
     Elizabethan drama refers to plays produced under the reign of Elizabeth I and was heavily influenced by the medieval dramatic traditions (mystery, morality plays). This time period includes playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and comedic playwright Thomas Dekker. The establishment of theatres and acting companies also began to expand and drama became fixed and permanent in the lives of the English audience.



     The reign of James I coincided with what is considered the Jacobean era of drama. During this time period England and Scotland were unified and some of the first English settlements were founded in North America. Although many of Shakespeare’s greatest plays were written in this time period, Jacobean literature was influenced mainly by the rise of Ben Jonson, satire, and the revenge plays of John Webster and Thomas Kyd.


Christopher Marlowe
     Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury, England in 1564 and was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian next to William Shakespeare. Born into a temperamental and sometimes violent family, Marlowe was often in trouble with the law and this violent nature was later reflected in many of his plays. Despite this Marlowe showed a high level of intellectual capabilities and would attend Cambridge, graduating as a Master of Arts. He left for London in 1587 and his first play Tamburlaine was debuted later that year. His most well known plays include Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, and the Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Marlowe’s life was cut short when he was stabbed to death for unknown reasons in 1593, adding furthur mystery to this brilliant playwrights short life.
     There is much controversy surrounding the life and writings of Christopher Marlowe. He was ‘a man who rebelled, who thought for himself, and who liked to shock.’ Influenced by classical theatre, he often wrote plays with ancient central figures and heroes but always questioned and stretched the boundaries of what was considered acceptable. In his personal life Marlowe was prone to violence, thought to be atheist, and many also believed him to be homosexual. Many of these ideas transferred into his writings and plays and made him an influential if not heretical dramatist.
     Christopher Marlowe’s protagonists were unique for the English Renaissance. His characters often had ‘unusual states of mind’ (12) and often died violent, graphic deaths on stage. His hero’s defied customary norms and values of their society and as such threatened the values of Marlowe’s society as well. In his first tragedy, Dido, Queen of Carthage, Marlowe chose to show Aeneas (often the hero) as a somewhat foolish character. This made Dido the hero of the story, a controversial idea in a time when women had few rights. In Tamburlaine, he showed the contradiction between the simple shepherd and the savage warrior by combining the two conflicting ideas in one hero. His hero’s also dealt with issues of sadism, masochism, and the ‘dark arts.’ These themes combined with his alleged atheism held the implication that he was an enemy of God in a time of strict religious observance.


Doctor Faustus


     Dido, Queen of Carthage
     Tamburlaine, part I
     Tamburlaine, part II
     The Jew of Malta
     Doctor Faustus
     Edward II
     The Massacre at Paris


William Shakespeare
     Although he is the foremost Elizabethan dramatist, like many other playwrights of the English Renaissance, little is known about the life of William Shakespeare. He was the third child of John and Mary Shakespeare and was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England in 1564. He may have attended the King’s New School in Stratford-upon-Avon but there is little record of where he received education and no proof that he attended any kind of university. Shakespeare produced most of his known works between 1589 and 1613, during which time he had a successful career as an actor, writer, and part owner of the acting company the Lord Chamberlains’ Men. After retiring in 1613 he returned to Stratford-upon-Avon and died 3 year later.
     Shakespeare’s plays are traditional divided into tragedies, comedies, and histories and most remained unpublished until 1699 (80 years after his death!) until the First Folio was published. He also wrote a collection of sonnets dealing with love, beauty, and time. Shakespeare would have been influenced by the classical theory of drama but like Marlowe, he made his own additions and innovations to his plays. His tragedies showed the emotional complexities of human nature and attempted to explore what it meant to be human. In his comedies Shakespeare strayed further from the classical models in which he made romantic intrigue the center of the play. Shakespeare’s histories reflected the lives of the English Kings and are often described as propaganda to celebrate the Tudor monarchy. Most of Shakespeare’s plays remain undated because Shakespeare was not actively involved in the publishing of his works. This has also led to some theories about whether or not William Shakespeare actually wrote his own plays with some people attributing his writings to Francis Bacon and even Christopher Marlowe.
     Shakespeare has become one of the most praised and studied Elizabethan dramatists. Although he wrote in the conventional style of blank verse, he later adapted and twisted these conventions to create varied styles of verse to reflect the turmoil or spontaneity of his characters. His plays expanded the potential of theatre to express characterization, language, and plot. He also used soliloquies, which had been used simply to convey information, as a way to delve into the psychology and mind of his characters. His use of language also helped to standardize and shape the modern English language. Ben Jonson, another Elizabethan playwright and critic, described Shakespeare’s works as ‘not of an age, but for all time.’ (14)

     Henry VI, Part I
     Henry VI, Part II
     Henry VI, Part III
     Richard III
     The Comedy of Errors
     Titus Andronicus
     The Taming of the Shrew
     The Two Gentlemen of Verona
     Love's Labour's Lost
     Romeo and Juliet
     Richard II
     A Midsummer Night's Dream
     King John
     The Merchant of Venice
     Henry IV, Part I
     Henry IV, Part II
     Much Ado about Nothing
     Henry V
     Julius Caesar
     As You Like It
     Twelfth Night
     The Merry Wives of Windsor
     Troilus and Cressida
     All's Well That Ends Well
     Measure for Measure
     King Lear
     Antony and Cleopatra
     Timon of Athens 
     The Winter's Tale
     The Tempest
     Henry VIII 
     Two Noble Kinsmen
As You Like It Cryptogram
Decipher this famous quote!


Ben Jonson
     Ben Jonson was born in 1572 in Westminster, England. He began his schooling at Westminster but never completed it and late became an actor in the Earl of Pembroke’s company. A writer of comedy, Jonson spans the gap between Elizabethan and the darker Jacobean styles of drama during the English Renaissance. He is best known for his satirical plays including Volpone and Bartholomew Fair. Jonson also wrote court masques from 1605 through 1630s, after which he retired and died in 1637.
     Jonson’s writing styles can be divided into early, middle and late productions. Many of Jonson’s early writings were comedic satires that were often short with loose plots and undeveloped characters. He also wrote a few tragedies but these were not very well received by audiences. His play structure became more solidified during his middle writing period and he began writing plays for the Lord Admiral’s Men in 1597. Fighting and controversy marked Jonson’s work at the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and was heavily involved in the ‘War of the Theatres.’ In 1599 there was a ban on satire in prose and verse publications. The controversy unfolded until 1602, with opposing playwrights denigrating each other in their plays. In 1603 with the ascension of James I to the English throne, Ben Jonson also began to write masques for the court as well.
     Jonson’s middle comedies portray themes of money, trickery and moral ambiguity and his plays were set in contemporary and recognizable times and locations. Ben Jonson’s plays were heavily influenced by classicism and humanism. These plays adhered to the classical unity of time, place, and action as described by Aristotle. He also believed that the theatre had an obligation to act as a moral education for the audience but he used comedy not tragedy to do this. Jonson also worked on poetry for a time but began writing plays again after a devastating fire destroyed his library. These later plays pale in comparison with his earlier works and were mainly conventional romantic comedies.
     Ben Jonson was a towering literary figure during the 17th century in England and had enormous influence of the writers of Restoration comedy. He was also one of the first dramatist to be considered a ‘professional’ writer and one of the first to publish his works to make money.


Bartholomew Fair


     Every Man in His Humour
     Every Man out of His Humour
     Sejanus His Fall
     Eastward Ho!
     Epicoene, or the Silent Women
     Bartholomew Fair
     The Devil is an Ass
     The Sad Shepherd

Day Five

The Globe Theatre and the Rose Theatre
     The Globe Theatre is a site in London that is often associated with William Shakespeare. Built in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, it was likely an open-air amphitheater that could house 3000 spectators. During a performance of Henry the Eighth in 1613, the theatre went up in flames and was rebuilt the following year. Like all other theatres in London, the Puritans closed it in 1642.
     The Rose Theatre was also an Elizabethan theatre and was one of the first to be built in London’s Southwark district. The Rose was built in 1587 by Philip Henslowe and was unique from other theatres in that it had the ability to stage large scenes on two levels. The Rose was home to the Admiral’s Men for a time but was abandoned in 1605 and torn down in 1606.
Elizabethan Theatres
The Curtain
The Swan
Blackfriars Theatre
The Fortune
The Hope
Red Bull Theatre
Red Lion
Acting Companies
     Acting companies played a large role in the perpetuation of theatre during the English Renaissance. These companies were organized around shareholders that owned a portion of the company and were also responsible for its management. Most companies had around 25 players, this included actors, minor actors and apprentices. Most acting companies were also associated with a specific theatre. These companies also often sought the patronage of a noble household, which would allow them a certain amount of legal protection to function in society but it was not uncommon for companies to be suppressed for political reasons. Acting companies saw a greater expansion during the reign of King James I (1603-1616), during which most companies jumped form 6-7 performances a year at court to more than 20.
     One of the leading acting companies in London during the English Renaissance was the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This was the playing company that William Shakespeare wrote for throughout most of his career. Founded in 1594, the company mainly performed the works of Shakespeare, but also performed plays by Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. Unlike many other actors of the day, the members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men avoided scandal and controversy that marred other companies. They would later change their name to the King’s Men after receiving the royal patronage of King James I in 1603.
     The Lord Admiral’s Men was the other leading acting company and was considered the only rival to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. In the 1580s they associated themselves with the Rose Theatre and its builder Philip Henslowe. The performed various plays including those of Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker and George Chapman. In 1597 some of their former members became ensnared in the controversy the surrounded the play the Isle of Dogs, the play was immediately suppressed and the actors returned to the Lord Admiral’s Men. In 1603, after leaving the Rose Theatre for the Fortune, they received the royal patronage of Prince Henry and became known as Prince Henry’s Men.
Elizabethan Acting Companies
Lady Elizabeth’s Men (Princess Elizabeth)
Leicester’s Men (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester)
Lord Strange’s Men (Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange)
Pembroke’s Men (Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke)
Worcester’s Men (William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester)


John Webster
     John Webster is perhaps the most obscure of English Renaissance writers and is considered on of the darker Jacobean tragic poets. Most place his birth date around 1579-1580 in London. He likely attended Middle Temple but most of his life is centered on his theatrical activities. He likely began his career working with other playwrights such as Thomas Dekker and is believed to have apprenticed with John Marston on the Malcontent. Although he was capable of writing comedies, his greatest accomplishments centered around his dark and often disturbing tragedies the White Devil and the Duchess of Malfi. His plays often showed the darker side of human nature and TS Eliot described him as a man who saw ‘the skull beneath the skin.’(4) Webster also frequently had his plays centered around women and servants.
     The Duchess of Malfi was first performed in 1613-1614 at the Blackfriars Theatre by the King’s Men and although many critics ridiculed its excessive violence, its complex characters and poetic language were well received and the play has enjoyed continued stage success.


The Duchess of Malfi


     The White Devil
     The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi at the Globe Theatre in London