The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) ushered in an era of well being, newdiscoveries and artistic pursuits in England. The theatre as entertainment flourishedand became popular. Its popularity matched that of 5 th Century Greece. The Elizabethanage is often extended till 1642 when the theatres were closed under the Puritanicalrevival.
Here are its most prominent characteristics:1-The SocietyIn the Elizabethan Times, Drama became the national passion with a wide variety ofpeople from merchants to peasants vied for a place in the social order and stability inthe Elizabethan. The new Elizabethan introduced a hero who was not ascertain of hisfate and was full of doubts and passions that catapulted drama as the favorite pass timefor many The use of expansive metaphors in text and performances were so successfullead to the opening of first public theatre known as ‘The Theatre’ by a carpenter JamesBurbage. This was the spark that ignited the passion that led to Charlotte Marlowe, BenJonson and Shakespeare and his famous "The Globe" in the future.This age is also known for experimentation leading to new discoveries which providedrich content for drama, poetry and prose. Use of theology, geography and scienceprovided new dimension to literature of the time.
However, with the crowing of James I content became a tool for glorification of absoluteroyal power. The drama of the time became an exercise for propaganda glorifying theKing and the monarchy. The development of the proscenium stage was attributed to thisage only. There was emphasis on visual with the designer gaining importance in thisage.There were political considerations as well as uncontrolled large crowds encouragedimmoral behavior with the coming of Puritan age theatre was resigned to private homesand public houses until the its revival by Charles II in 1660.2- The theatreRenaissance period influenced many properties of the theatre like actors were attachedto companies that performed throughout the country.
They enjoyed aristocraticpatronage and survived the lean winter moths easily on such appreciation. LordAdmiral’s Men which had Christopher Marlowe on the ranks were the leading companyof the time with Lord Chamberlain’s Men had a budding William Shakespeare.The performances were held in open like the public courtyards, inns etc with lavishentrances behind them and windows. Spaces were craftily used to create the scenes ofheaven and hell etc. Specifically constructed theatres were still not available.
The facial features, body language and more garments of an actor were cleverly manipulated toestablish drama in his/her personality. There were scare props so costumes became lavish withloud and extravagant appearances. Costumes used by actors like red wig, long hooked nose gavea sense of comic chrome to the vindictive and greedy nature of man. There were manyfeatures of Elizabethan theatre that was violative of sanctity of godliness withTranvestism being quite popular (men dressed up as women on stage, a Biblical sin).3-Forms:There were mainly three forms of drama:1. Tragedy with spectacular and violent deaths of the protagonist.
Revenge became theultimate pursuit in most tragedies with Romance as the main objective,2. History plays also ended in catastrophe or in triumph with the nation projected as thehero. Histories valorized patriotism, often of jingoistic nature.3.
Comedy was the third form. The main aim was to make people laugh but they werenot as prominent as the other two genres.With Shakespeare’s ;The Comedy of Errors” and "Taming of the Shrew", humor becamefarcical. The superficiality of Court comedies like "Midsummer Night's Dream" wasanother highlight of the age. There were also satirical plays for the likes of Ben Jonson etc who preferred thesubstance over show. Tragedy became the most popular genre and was replete withviolence, horror and gore.
4-Popular themes:Among the various popular themes was Anti-Semitism as Elizabethan society and isreflected in plays of the periwas rife with such hatred as seen in ChristopherMarlowe's The Jew of Malta and William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.Revenge was another popular theme. Be it a ghost like in Thomas Kyd's The SpanishTragedy or a Prince in Shakespeare’s Hamlet the motive of revenge became the maincounter-motive in drama especially tragedies. Practical set plays and costumes alsoadded to the passionate rendering of such revenge plots and realistic portrayals onstage.Another theme that was prominent was the supernatural as the society of the time washighly superstitious with people believing in the supernatural forces. Ghosts became theprime moving force in many tragedies.
Use of psychology was extensive and was founded on the theory of humours inside ahuman body, namely, blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Mental health was afunction of correct balance between these humours or bodily fluids like in BenJonson's Every Man in His Humour , also referred as the "comedy of humours".5-Dramatic Devices:Several devices were used to instill a level of awe and intrigue in the drama. Asides orprivate conversations and soliloquy are used to engage with the audience and becamequite popular.
.Iambic pentameter with five two-syllable units or "feet" was the most popularconstruction of the age. Use of Blank Verse without the iambic pentameter was also usedprofusely in Elizabethan plays. It was usually restricted to the characters of noble originsand aristocracy.Rhymed couplets or couple verses of poetry are used to signal the end of a part or act,Use of abuses and insults is also extensive in the Elizabethan drama with verbal dueling,a strong suit of Shakespearean plays.
Like s of ‘ungrateful fox’ or ‘a plague-sore" areplastered all over his plays.Clever wordplay and puns were employed like in Romeo and Juliet to incite a level oflayering to the characters.Use of subterfuge like a disguise was used frequently as a means to obtain secretinformation like in Shakespeare's As You Like It.