Elizabethan drama



  • English drama during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603).England's first great era of the theater was crowned by the emergenceof the world's most renowned dramatist, William Shakespeare.Other prominent writers of the Elizabethan age included the UniversityWits - Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd,John Lyly, and others - whose work for the stage shows the influenceof ancient Greek and Roman playwrights, especially Seneca.

    The first English tragedy, Gorboduc, was writtenand performed by law students of London's Inner Temple in 1562 withElizabeth in the audience. The first extant English comedy, RalphRoister Doister by Nicholas Udall, was performed around 1563.Distinct genres to emerge during the era include revenge tragedyand the citizen comedy.

    Some 21,000 Londoners, or one-eighth of the population, attendedthe theater at least once a week. Elizabeth herself saw only aboutfive professional productions a year, for which she paid each companyabout ten pounds. She banned plays about religious or political subjectsbecause these had been used as propaganda in earlier reigns; the mysteryplay was also prohibited.

    As unlicensed actors were classified as vagabonds, they oftensought the patronage of noblemen; among the companies supported inthis way were the Chamberlain's Men and the Admiral'sMen, together with several boy companies. During plagueperiods, the London theaters closed and actors went on gruelling toursof the regions in order to survive. Many actors became famous, however,such as Richard Burbage (see Burbage family), EdwardAlleyn, and William Kempe, while those who had financial interestsin the theaters in which they performed also became wealthy.

    The first permanent public playhouse in England, the Theatre,was opened in 1576 by James Burbage, Richard's father. Others quicklyfollowed: the curtain Theatre in 1577, the Rose Theatre in 1587, theSwan Theatre in 1594, and the famous Globe Theatre, at whichmany of Shakespeare's works were given their first performances, in1599. The average audience capacity was 2000 to 3000 people. The venueswere classified as 'liberties' beyond the city's jurisdiction.