Renaissance drama

Definition

Theater

  • European drama from about the 15th to the early 17th centuries.During this period the rediscovery and imitation of classical worksestablished the foundations of the modern theater. England's majorcontribution was the lively Elizabethan stage that produced Shakespeare.

    Renaissance drama began in Italy, with scholars initiallyattempting to recreate the original stagings of Greek and Roman plays,then adapting them to contemporary dress and speech. The new interestin classical drama was fired by the rediscovery of texts by Euripides,Seneca, Plautus, and Terence. Aristotle's Poetics, which definedthe classical genres of tragedy and comedy, came to light in the 15thcentury. The disreputable profession of acting began to assume a newdignity and the first professional companies were formed.

    In the field of tragedy, the main influence on Renaissancewriters was the work of Seneca. As early as 1315, AlbertinoMussato (1261 - 1329) wrote a Latin tragedy, Ecerinis.The first important Renaissance tragedy was Giangiorgio Trissino'sSophonisba, which was written in 1515. Other authors of tragedyincluded Italy's Pietro Aretino (1492 - 1556), Giovanni Giraldi(1504 - 73) (see Il Cinthio), and Torquato Tasso(1544 - 95); France's étienne Jodelle (1532 - 73);Spain's Juan de la Cueva (c. 1543 - 1610), and Miguel deCervantes (1547 - 1616); as well as England's Shakespeare, Kyd,and Marlowe.

    In the Renaissance theater the solemn scenes of tragedy wereoften interspersed with intermezzi (see intermezzo),song and dance interludes that borrowed from the Greco-Roman satyr-play.These interludes ultimately developed into the court masquein England, the opera in Italy, and ballet in France.

    The discovery of Roman comedy, with its stock characters andintricate plots, inspired Renaissance dramatists to write similarworks, such as Udall's Ralph Roister Doister (c. 1534).The first significant comedy written in Italian was Calandria(1506) by Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena (1470 - 1520). In 16th-centuryItaly authors of the commedia erudita began to combine aspectsof Roman comedy and tragedy with elements of the liturgical drama.A leading writer of the commedia erudita was Lodovico Ariosto(1474 - 1533). This new genre, however, provoked an importantreaction in the form of the improvised commedia dell'arte.Major comic playwrights of the era included England's Shakespeareand Ben Jonson; France's Jacques Grévin (1538 - 70)and Pierre de Larivey (c. 1540 - 1619); and Spain's Bartoloméde Torres Naharro (c. 1485 - c. 1524).

    Renaissance stage design also harked back to classical models,especially to Vitruvius (1st century BC), whose ideas influencedthe construction of the first permanent playhouses in Italy and France(although theaters in Britain and Spain adapted features from theinn courtyards in which drama had previously been performed). Greco-Romanideas influenced such Italian theater architects as Sebastiano Serlio(1475 - 1554), Andrea Palladio (1508 - 80), Giovanni Aleotti(1546 - 1636), and Vincenzo Scamozzi (1552 - 1616). Theirdesigns incorporated classical devices like the periaktoi,although new features such as the proscenium arch were alsointroduced.

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