Origins of Elizabethan Drama: From the Elizabethan Age come some of the most highly-respected plays in Western drama. Although it is generally agreed that the period began at the commencement of Queen Elizabeth I's reign in 1558, the ending date is not as definitive. Some consider the age to have ended at the queen's death in 1603, while others place the end of Elizabethan Drama at the closing of the theatres in 1642.
Some of the most important playwrights come from the Elizabethan era, including Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, and Christopher Marlowe. These playwrights wrote plays that were patterned on numerous previous sources including the Greek tragedy, Seneca's plays, Attic drama, Plautus, English miracle plays, morality plays and interludes. Elizabethan tragedy dealt with heroic themes, usually centering on a great personality by his own passion and ambition. The comedies often satirized the fops and gallants of society.
  • George Chapman (1559-1634)
  • Thomas Deckker (c.1572-1632)
  • Thomas Heywood (c.1573-1641)
  • Ben Johnson (1572-1637)
  • Thomas Kyd (1558-1594)
  • Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) Click on:
  • William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Representative Works:
  • Everyman in His Humour: Ben Johnson
  • Hamlet: Some say Shakespeare's most well-loved play, was first produced around 1600 with Richard Burbage, the leading actor in Shakespeare's company, in the title role.
  • The Jew of Malta: Christopher Marlowe's play of Machiavellian policy, was first produced in 1592. Though it is described on the title page of the 1633 edition as a tragedy, it is really a dark, satirical comedy.
  • The Spanish Tragedy: Thomas Kyd's wildly successful play propelled him into fame. The story deals with a father's desire to avenge his son's death.
  • Tamburlaine the Great: Part one of Christopher Marlowe's Tam. The Great was produced around 1587. The play was so successful that Marlowe immediately wrote a sequel. Both parts were published in 1590.These were the only published works of Marlowe during his brief lifetime. The story is based upon the career of the Mongolian conqueror Timur the Lame, or Tamerlane, who overthrew the Turkish Empire in 1402. Tamburlaine is an ambitious character who overcomes all resistance through the use of both arms and rhetoric. Throughout the course of the play, he gains allies, conquers kings, and succeeds in winning the affection of the woman of his dreams. While the Elizabethan audiences appreciated the story of Tamburlaine, it was the poetry that really set this play apart from other plays. Previous drama had often been halting and didactic in its speech, but with this production, Marlowe took Elizabethan Drama to a higher level of eloquence and sophistication. As R.C. Bald notes in his introduction to Six Elizabethan Plays, "Before his time dramatic verse had usually been rhymed, but Marlowe's sense of style gave the new measure a strength and dignity previously lacking in dramatic verse."
Miracle and Morality Plays as Influences
Second Shepards Play:
  • Let's review comic situations: disguise, hidden identity, what else? What is comic tension?
  • How does this comdey about a nativity scene evolve into a religious nativity scene?
  • Deus ex Machina with the Angel?
  • When Gil creates the idea of disguise, how do we appreciate her as a comic character? What makes this a good example of characterization?
  • Check out this novel:
  • What is the core emotional power in the last pages of the play?
Intellectual Themes:
  • humanism = rediscovered Classical lit was centered on individual;
  • worldly/earthly power = power we have & power that affects us;
  • neoplatonic search for earthly perfection;
  • ideal of courtier (definitely not chivalric knight).
Some Motifs:
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Disguise
  • Humours
  • Revenge
  • The Supernatural
  • Asides
  • Blank Verse
  • Dramatic Irony: Do you remember this term from last year? How does Shakespeare use this dramatic tool in comedy and tragedy?
  • Iambic Pentameter
  • Insults
  • Puns
  • Rhymed Couplets
  • Scenery and Setting
  • Soliloquy
  • Violence
Historical Context:
  • Master of Revels and Censorship
  • Puritans
  • Plague
  • Royal Patronage
  • Machiavelli
  • Protestantism
NB: the above was copied and gleaned from Literary Movements for Students; David Galens, Project Editor, Gale Publishing. I highly recommend this work and the other works in the series.