Jacobean drama (that is, the drama of the age of James 1-1603-1625) was a decadent form of the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The Elizabethan age was the golden age of English drama. But with the turn of the century the drama in England also took a turn. It does not mean that there were no dramatists left. There certainly was a large number of them, but none of them could come anywhere near Shakespeare. Just as after Chaucer poetry in England suffered a decline, similarly after Shakespeare had given his best (that is, after the sixteenth century) drama also suffered a decline. With the passage of time it grew more and more decadent, till with Shirley in the age of Charles I the old kind of drama expired and even theatres were closed (in 1642). "It was inevitable", says Long "that drama should decline after Shakespeare, for the simple reason that there was no other great enough to fill his place." The dramatists of the Jacobean age can be divided into two classes as follows: (i) The dramatists of the old school-Dekker, Heywood, Webster, Beaumont, and Fletcher. (ii) The satiric group-Chapman, Jonson, Marston, Middleton, and Tourneur. The Change of Patrons:
One of the reason for the decadence in Jacobean drama was its loss of national spirit and patronage. In the age of Elizabeth, drama was trulv national, as 'it was patronised alike bv the queen, the nobles the courtiers, and groundlings. But in the age of James I, it lost contact with common people and came to be patronised by, to quote Hardin Craig, "the courtly classes, their hangers-on, and the socially irresponsible parts of the population." Consequently, to quote the same critic "the stage spoke not to all men, but to men with somewhat specialized interests" Dramatists had to cater to the somewhat decadent courtly taste with tales of intrigue, cruelty, and immorality couched in a high-flown, "polished" style. Marked Foreign Influence:
The drama of the age of James shows, unlike that of the age of Elizabeth, a very marked foreign influence, for more ill than good. In this connexion Hardin Craig observes: "The older dramatists and their audiences had been satisfied with such intrigue as was afforded by the Italian short story. Their patriotism had sent them to Holjnshed, who had rifled Geoffrey of Monmouth... But in the new age foreign influences of increased potency made themselves felt. Dramatists borrowed the declamatory themes and exaggerated sentiments of Spanish drama, and discovered rew ranges of intrigue, crime, and licentiousness in Italy and Italian subjects. Specifically they revived the drama of revenge and, driving it to the extreme, converted it into a drama of horror." Plot-construction:
In spite of the overall inferiority of Jacobean dramatists to Elizabethan dramatists, some credit must be given to them for their gift of plot-construction. Elizabethan dramatists, including Shakespeare, did not show any skill at architectonics. Moreover, they were generally too lazy to invent plots for themselves and were content to borrow them rather too frequently. It does not mean, however, that they were plagiarists pure and simple. Shakespeare borrowed the plots of most of his plays, but by virtue of his imagination, dramatic skill, poetic gift, and psychological insight transformed them into altogether new entities. But the fact remains that he was a borrower. "The Jacobean dramatists", observes Hardin Craig, "seem for the first time to have begun to invent plots to suit their own tastes and ends." This is particularly true of the comic dramatists like Marston and Ben Jonson. Secondly, Jacobean dramatists show a greater skill in the construction and development of their plots. In many of them the various threads of the action are carefully interwoven into a wonderful harmony of texture seldom to be met with in Elizabethan plays. Jonson, Middleton, and Fletcher were particularly endowed with the gift of plot-construction. Ben Jonson's...
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