The Elizabethan Era's Effect on Shakespeare's Works

Topics: Elizabeth I of England, William Shakespeare, Elizabethan era Pages: 7 (2892 words) Published: June 13, 2011
The Elizabethan Era's Effect on Shakespeare's Works
If every playwright in Shakespeare's time aspired, as he did, to paint a portrait of an age in their works, his would have been the Mona Lisa, leaving the most lasting impression on generations to come and at the same time, one of the world's most baffling mysteries. Surely it is no coincidence that the world's most celebrated dramatist would've lived during the time when one of the world's most powerful rulers in history reigned. Or was it? How much influence from the Elizabethan era was infused into Shakespeare's plays? Especially since it was a time of religious reformation and fluctuating political relations, in which England was very much in the thick of. The events and personalities of the Elizabethan age helped Shakespeare create a vivid and colorful world to build his plays on, and in return, Shakespeare's genius helped to define this pinnacle of English history. To best understand Shakespeare, it is crucial to understand the age in which he lived and worked. The Elizabethan era was characterized by a renascent interest in the arts, long forgotten because of the many years of turmoil and political unrest that preceded it. Most notably was the War of the Roses, in which the two Houses of Lancaster and York fought over possession of the English crown until finally the Lancastrians were defeated. However, their victory was short-lived for it was soon snatched away by the Duke of Gloucester, the same duke that legend say murdered two young princes in the Tower of London. He is also known as Richard III. In the end, Henry VII defeated him in Bosworth, which heralded the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. This royal ruling house, reigning for over a century, was able to catapult England from its indigent and inferior international standing as just a pawn between the two powerhouses of the era, Spain and France, to a proud and confident nation, greatly in part to Queen Elizabeth's brilliant tactical diplomacy and strong foreign policies. At the same time, a religious reformation was taking place in England. The previous two monarchs before Elizabeth had failed to establish a fair compromise for both the Protestants and Catholics of England; Edward VI, the first heir after Henry VIII, had inherited the Protestant stance of his father and was constantly at odds with the Catholics. Mary, the second to take the throne after Edward's short reign and Elizabeth's stepsister, wanted to revert England to Catholicism and utilized drastic measures in an attempt to do so. Part of her father's reformation program was seizing all ecclesiastical holdings and selling them to the middle class. This gained him support from the newly made landowner bourgeoisie, who were against Mary's rule for it would mean they would have to give up their property. When Elizabeth rose to the throne, she saw the disputes and in a decisive move, chose an ambiguous stance over religious matters, although she had a slight leaning towards the Anglican Church. Elizabeth adopted the title of Supreme Governor Etc., allowing people to append whatever the saw fit at the end. Because of her lenity toward the state religion, the Dutch, German and French flocked to England because they were being persecuted in their own countries. Shakespeare himself, during his time in England, lodged with a Huguenot family, who were skilled Calvinist craftsmen from France. His parents were ardent Catholics who probably brought up their son with the same principles and teachings, but because of Edward V's rule and the Reformation, the authority of the Catholic Church in Stratford diminished as all of its property was annexed and the local town government was replaced with rule by the middle class. He brought up his own daughter as a Protestant, but it is never clear which religious beliefs Shakespeare personally held. Because of his upbringing and the Reformation, which probably heightened his sensitivity toward religious subjects,...
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