Renaissance Drama in England
From Medieval to Renaissance Drama
Mystery plays ->
Morality plays ->
Other public “spectacles”…
The Elizabethan Drama
The Elizabethan era saw a
great flourishing of literature, especially in the field of drama. 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 clichés, 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 of high ―physical realism‖ was probably more cathartic for the Elizabethan spectator.
Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent,1889
Elizabethan Drama and Acting – Main Features
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. Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd
Examples: Gorboduc (or Ferrex and Porrex) by Sackville & Norton, The
The Elizabethan Playhouse
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, 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).
The Elizabethan Playhouse
The public theatres were three
stories high, and built around an open space at the centre. Usually polygonal in plan to give an overall rounded effect (though the Red Bull and the first Fortune were square), the three levels of inwardfacing 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.
The English Renaissance Drama
1.The early tragedies
2. The early comedies
3. The plays of the ―University Wits‖ 4. 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 welleducated 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)...
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