Topic 44 – Shakespeare’s life and world. Most representative works.

Topic 44 – Shakespeare’s life and world. Most representative works.



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. The fifteenth century.

2.2. The beginning of Tudor Age.

2.2.1. Historical and political background.

2.2.2. Literary events.

2.3. The Elizabethan Age (1558–1603).

2.3.1. Main literary productions. Verse. Song. Prose. Drama.

2.3.2. Elizabethan Drama. Drama before Elizabethan Age. Main characteristics of Elizabethan Drama.

2.3.3. William Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama.


3.1. William Shakesperare: his life. Family and education. Marriage.

3.2. William Shakespeare: his career.

3.2.1. Style.

3.2.2. Order of the plays. Earlier works: the Sonnets. Love comedies. Historical plays. Classical plays. Tragicomedies. Romances.





1.1. Aims of the unit.¿hall present the soc ial, historical, cultural and linguistic background of England during the Tudor Age (1485-1603). Then, we will start by offering the most relevant bibliography in this field as a reference for the reader, and by presenting our study in five main chapters, which will set up the context for the analysis of this presentation.

Chapter 2 namely provides a historical background for the Tudor Age (1485- 1603), since it is essential to understand many aspects of our subsequent comments on Shakespeare’s life and career during the Elizabethan Age (at the end of Tudor Age). So, we shall start by tracing back to (1) the fifteenth-century to review the main historical events and literature productions taking place at that time, namely drama (mystery and morality plays), religious lyric, Scottish poetry and the most important event, the arrival of printing, which coincides with (2) the beginning of Tudor Age. Within this period we shall review (a) the historical and political background regarding the changes that Renaissance and the Reformation established, and (b) literary background regarding prose, poetry and drama.

Finally, we shall focus in the late sixteenth century, on the proper (3) Elizabethan Age, where we shall go deeper in the development of the (a) main literary productions, such as (i) verse in the figures of Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Ralegh, the Jacobethans, and Christopher Marlowe; (ii) the song in the figure of Thomas Campion; (iii) prose, represented by John Lyly, Thomas Nasche and Richard Hooker; and finally, (iv) drama, namely focused on the figures of the earlier authors John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, and a late -century Shakespeare ; (b) the Elizabethan Drama regarding (i) drama before the Elizabethan Age and (ii) main characteristics of Elizabethan Drama, which shall lead us to the relationship between (c) William Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama.

Chapter 3 shall analyse the figure of William Shakespeare and his relationship to the Elizabethan

Drama since he is the most famous writer of the era not only in tragedy, which was the most

common drama of the time, but also in poems, comedies, historical drama, tragedies, tragicomedies,

and finally, romances. Therefore, we shall examine Shakespeare’s life and career in the following sections to put an end to our presentation of Elizabethan Age. Within (1) Shakespeare’s life, we will review (a) family and education and (b) his marriage; (2) Shakespeare’s career regarding main works regarding (a) style and (b) the order of the plays, that is, (i) earlier works: the Sonnets; (ii) love comedies, (iii) historical plays, (iv) classical plays, (v) tragicomedies, and (vi) romances.

Chapter 4 will be devoted to the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting. Chapter 5 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study, and Chapter 6 will include all the bibliographical references used to develop this account of discourse analysis strategies.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to the historical and literary background of the Tudor Age is based on Rogers, The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature (1987); Sanders, The Short Oxford History of English Literature (1996); Alexander, A History of English Literature (2000); Ward & Trent, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (2000); Allan Neilson , Lectures on the Harvard Classics (2001); The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (2003); and two network links, such as and Finally, on Shakespeare, we have included Wells, The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies (1986).

The background for educational implications is based on the theory of communicative competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by Canale, From Communicative Competence to Communicative Language Pedagogy (1983); Hymes, On communicative competence (1972); Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (2000); and Rivers, Teaching Foreign-Language Skills (1981). In addition, the most complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by the guidelines in B.O.E. (2002); and the Council of Europe, Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference (1998).


Chapter 2 namely provides a historical background for the Tudor Age (1485- 1603), since it is essential to understand many aspects of our subsequent comments on Shakespeare’s life and career during the Elizabethan Age (at the end of Tudor Age). So, we shall start by tracing back to (1) the fifteenth-century to review the main historical events and literature productions taking place at that time, namely drama (mystery and morality plays), religious lyric, Scottish poetry and the most important event, the arrival of printing, which coincides with (2) the beginning of Tudor Age. Within this period we shall review (a) the historical and political background regarding the changes that Renaissance and the Reformation established, and (b) literary background regarding prose, poetry and drama.

Finally, we shall focus in the late sixteenth century, on the proper (3) Elizabethan Age, where we shall go deeper in the development of the (a) main literary productions, such as (i) verse in the figures of Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Ralegh, the Jacobethans, and Christopher Marlowe; (ii) the song in the figure of Thomas Campion; (iii) prose, represented by John Lyly, Thomas Nasche and Richard Hooker; and finally, (iv) drama , namely focused on the figures of the earlier authors John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, and a late -century Shakespeare; (b) the Elizabethan Drama regarding (i) drama before the Elizabethan Age and (ii) main characteristics of Elizabethan Drama, which shall lead us to the relationship between (c) William Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama.

2.1. The fifteenth century.

Historically speaking, the fifteenth century was under the reigns of Henry V (1413-1422), Henry VI (1422-1461), Edward IV (1461-1483), Edward V (1983), Richard III (1483- 1485) and Henry VII (1485-1509), this latter is mid-way between Middle English and Tudor Age. At that time, the English language was officially used at both the oral and written levels in most fields, except legal records (still written in Latin), the Statutes of Parliament (written in French until 1489) and in ceremonial formulae (still French). Yet, for our purposes, we shall focus on the literary productions which reinforced the national feeling which had ensued the loss of Normandy and led the inhabitants of the island to a general adoption of English in subsequent centuries.

Regarding literary work, although English poetry was the dominant tradition of fifteenth-century

(established by Chaucer and Gower), there was also good English writing in the fifteenth century, particularly in lyric and drama and prose, but no major poet. Yet, other relevant authors in Middle English literature are Thomas Hoccleve (1369-1426), who called Chaucer his ‘father’, scratched his living as a copyist at Westminster, lacking his master’s skill and his diplomacy; John Lydgate (1370-1449), who was a monk of Bury St Edmunds, and did well out of English verse; and a dynasty of ‘courtly makers’ (from courtly literature: romance) represented by Lydgate, Charles d’Orléans and James I of Scotland, Henryson, and Dunbar (Rogers, 1987).

Moreover, the decasyllable lost its music in the 15th century, as words altered in accent and inflection. As English topped up with prestige words from Latin and French and doubled its resources, its eloquence took the form of reduplication, pairing English and Romance synonyms. New literary streams and events were entering this century, for instance:

Drama. Fifteenth-century writers played an important role in the development of vernacular drama, which distinguished between mystery and morality plays:

o On the one hand, Miracle or Mystery plays represented Biblical history in Latin

and in local tongues. These plays were cycles of religious dramas performed by town guilds, craft associations of a religious kind. It is relevant to bear in mind that English drama is Catholic in origin and that a branch of it, liturgical drama, spread over Europe after the 10th century. Although they were last suppressed in 1580 at the Reformation, they continued in Catholic Europe. As Greek tragedy began in religious rite, medieval European drama also began with the representation of the central Christian story in the Mass, and in the annual cycle of services developed by the early Church, where Mystery Pla ys have their origin (other records survive from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Ireland and Scotland).

o On the other hand, morality plays showed the fate of the single human person in the 15th and 16th centuries, played by travelling companies. The moralities had a final moral, but it is to the Mysteries that Elizabethan dramma will owe a long-

established communal participation in religious drama, civic comedy and secular drama, recorded but not extant.

Also, religious lyric developed from Latin songs and hymns. If we trace back in history, hymns came into the Latin church in the fourth century, bringing in accentual rhythm and

rhyme from popular songs. There is a large literature of Latin songs, sacred and profane,

from every century.

The oldest prose narrative was also familiar in English, apart from those in scripture. Hence, Le Morte Darthur (1470) of Sir Thomas Malory, which derived from the French prose La Mort Artu . Malory acknowledges the French prose books on whichhe draws, but not his English verse sources. His prose is rhythmical, and there is a larger narrative rhythm to his scenes, well-paced and with dramatic exchanges, which tells us of conflict and loss in a courtesy world. In fact, the status of Le Morte Darthur owes much to its printing by William Caxton (1422-91), who also printed a Canterbury Tales in 1477 (Alexander, 2000).

Finally, Scottish poetry took place in the late fifteenth century and showed a mix of four tongues: Highland Gaelic. Lowland English, clerkly Latin, and lordly Anglo-Nor man French.

2.2. The beginning of Tudor Age .

2.2.1. Historical and political background.

The beginning of Tudor Age is set on 1 August 1485, when Henry Tudor claimed the crowns of England and Wales, and disputed these with Richard III. Also, the beginning of Tudor Age not only marked the start of Reinassance, but also the end of the medieval Arthur since, the day before in the Abbey of Westminster, the publisher William Caxton finished printing a long prose romance, Le Morte Darthur, or ‘The Death of Arthur’, by Sir Thomas Malory (d. 1471). A week later, Henry Tudor arrived at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, where “the coincidence of art and power had begun” when Henry unfurled above them the flag and standard of King Arthur, the red dragon, which announced that the sleeping lord had returned.

Then “Henry, grandson of Owen Tudor, was the king who had come to claim the throne of Arthur, and a fornight later, at Bosworth Field (22 August), this first Arthurian Tudor defeated Richard III and took the crown. In London, at the same time, in copies of Morte Darthur, Malory’s first audience would have read that in many parts of England men declared that King Arthur, though slain at Salisbury, was not dead. A century later, in 1590, the last of the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth,

was no less a figure in this Arthurian story” (Rogers, 1987). She was addressed in a Spenser’s

romance, The Faerie Queene , as the dreadful goddess of Justice who can restore the golden world.

The early Tudor period, particularly the reign of Henry VIII, was marked by a break with the Roman Catholic Church and a weakening of feudal ties, which brought about a vast increase in the power of the monarchy. Stronger political relationships with the Continent were also developed, increasing England’s exposure to Renaissance culture as ‘the revival of learning’. This meant a turn to classical models of verse, which began with a man Chaucer called ‘Fraunceys Petrak, the lauriat poete’ (who was an Italian humanist and collected classical manuscripts).

Hence, humanism became the most important force in English literary and intellectual life, both in its narrow sense (the study and imitation of the Latin classics) and in its broad sense (the affirmation of the secular, in addition to the otherworldly, concerns of people ), and in fact, the contrast between Renaissance learning based on classical models and medieval ignorance is often exaggerated. Yet, in 1517, the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther’s attacks on the Church’s Penitential system, order and doctrine.

The Reformation, like the Renaissance, was an outcome of a gradual transfer of authority away from weaker central and communal structures to stronger local individual ones, and an accompanying transfer from external to internal ways of thinking, feeling and representeing. These changes brought about the division of Europe into Catholic or Protestant. With this background in mind, Henry VIII wrote the first book by an English king since King Alfred, though in Latin not English (Defence of the Seven Sacraments). He was helped by Sir Thomas More, a lawyer’s son, who had a new faith in education since rhetoric challenged the medieval sciences of logic and theology.

Also, Henry asked Rome for the divorce of Catherine of Aragon (unable to produce a male heir) to marry Ann Boleyn. Then, after being excommunicated (since he went ahead with marriage), Henry made himself Supreme Head of the Church (at that time the Church of England) and held to Catholic doctrines, but in the six years under his young son Edward VI (1547-53), reform was imposed. For the next six years, her daughter Mary returned Catholicism, recalling the Benedictines to Westminster Abbey. Finally, Elizabeth I (1558-1603), Ann Boleyn’s daughter, gradually imposed a compromise between Protestant teaching and Catholic practice, but Catholics lost ground when Rome declared the Queen illegitimate (1570).

2.2.2. Literary events.

The Reformation brought about authors like Thomas More (1478- 1535), Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-

1542) and The Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) as the main representative figures in this period. Thus:

Sir Thomas More was familiar with the examples and warning of classical historyand the art of persuasive public speaking and of literary composition. In fact, More wrote ‘Utopia’ which describes an ideal country, like Plato’s ‘Republica’. The Reformation made it clear that a humanist education would not restrain the passions of men. Lord Chancellor More defended orthodoxy against freethinking heresy, repressing Protestant versions of the Bible.Also, religious prose with bible translation and instructive prose, and drama.

Sir Thomas Wyatt was a courtier, a diplomat in France and Spain who had a scholar’s tongue. Hence, poetry is one of Wyatt’s part and adapted a sonnet of Petrarch (published in

1815) where a dear is identified in ‘Ann Boleyn’. He had a learned tongue, metrical control and a gifted satirism. Yet, Wyatt’s voice is independent and personal. He was the most successful sonneteer among early Tudor poets, and was, with Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, a seminal influence. In fact, they published together Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), which was the first and most popular of many collections of experimental poetry by different, often anonymous, hands. A common goal of these poets was to make English as flexible a poetic instrument as Italian.

Finally, the Earl of Surrey, was the eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk, head of the nobility in England. He wrote songs and sonnets which became even more popular than Wyatt’s poems. Normally, genlemen did not print verse but circulated in manuscripts. Yet, as stated above, Wyatt and Surrey first printed in 1557 Tottel’s Miscellany of Songs and Sonnets in Mary’s reign. In this work, modern verse-forms reached print, that is, the sonnet, and an unrhymed iambic pentameter , first used in Surrey’s version of Virgil’s Aeneid II and IV, known as ‘blank verse’ (Alexander, 2000:83).

Moreover, we may mention first, the development of religious and instructive prose with the aim to promote native vernacula r English. Since prose has such a varity of tasks, its history is not readily summarized, but we can distinguish bible translation, since the Reformation created an urgent need for a religious prose (Miles Coverdale -1488-1568- produced the first complete printed English bible in 1539). Secondly, instructive prose perfects a storytelling mode originally oral. Writer took their ideas of style from Cicero and Quintilian to get Latin-derived words which would worry

linguistic patriots. Hence, main authors to be mentioned are Sir Thomas Elyot (c.1490-1546) who

wrote ‘Governor’ (1531) for Henry VIII, the humanist John Cheke (1514-1557) who became tutor to Edward VI, and Roger Ascham (1515-1568) who dedicated his ‘Toxophilus’ (1545) to Henry, which earned him a pe nsion.

The Reformation may also account for drama. The fact the major literature of the period 1540-1579 was in the translation of religious texts meant “the suppression of the monasteries and their schools,which did not go into education and poets needed patrons. Before the Elizabethan theatre opened, there was no paying profession of writing. University men tried vainly to bridge the gap between uncommercial ‘gentle’ status and scribbling for a tiny market. Yet in this fallow period secular drama began. Mystery and morality plays continued, and the Mysteries until Shakespeare’s day” (Alexander, 2000).

Guilds clubbed together to buy pageant waggons and costumes and companiesof players travelled between inns and great houses . Hence, a new kind of play, the interlude, was now played between courses in big houses at Christmas and Easter, and was considered to be a moral entertainment. Drama became a family habit and soon many authors appeared on stage, thus John Rastell (1470-

1536) with his own interlude ‘The Four Elements’ (with the first printed music), John Heywood (c.1497-1580), author of the farcical interlude ‘The Four Ps’, Nicolas Udall (1504-1556), who adapted Roman comedies by Plautus and Terence, for instance, ‘Ralph Roister Doister (first English comedy for pupils), and Jasper Heywood (1535-1598), John’s son, who translated into English Seneca’s ‘Troas’.

2.3. The Elizabethan Age (1558–1603).

So, these forces developed during the reign (1558–1603) of Elizabeth I, which became one of the most fruitful eras in literary history.The activities and literature of the Elizabethans reflected a new nationalism, which expressed itself also in the works of chroniclers (John Stow, Raphael Holinshed, and others), historians, and translators and even in political and religious tracts. A wide range of new genres, themes, and ideas were incorporated into English literature, and Italian poetic forms, especially the sonnet, became models for English poets.

So, the last two decades of the Elizabethan golden age are so cro wded with special talents: in 1552

were born Edmund Spenser and Walter Ralegh, and in 1554 Philip Sidney, John Lyly and Richard Hooker. This generation began what was completed by Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare (b.1564), and John Donne and Ben Johnson (b.1572) at the end of Tudor England; let alone the second-rank dramatists and the theologians (Rogers, 1987).

2.3.1. Main literary styles.

Hence this period saw a variety of prose, artful, lively and dignified variety of literary styles among which we may distinguish: verse (Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Ralegh, the Jacobethans, Christopher Marlowe), song (Thomas Campion), prose (John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, Richard Hooker), and namely, drama (Shakespeare, and an unprecedented abundance of non- dramatic poets and translators). Verse.

Verse is namely represented by the figures of Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney, who were pupils of humanist schools. Their writings show a new conscious art and formal perfection in perfect single Middle English lyrics. Apart from Chaucer’s lyrics, metrical perfection was not an aim. English verse had learned French syllabic metres in the twelfth century, and had adapted them to its own stress-based ryhythms. Also, linguistic changes such as the loss of the final –e made many fifteenth-century poets lose their metre.Yet, late-Elizabethan verse is too exuberant to be classical in the way of Horace or Virgil, but its formal perfection made it classical for future English poets. In spite of its pretensions, Elizabethan verse was not neo-classical (since it is first found in Jonson’ Jacobean verse). Hence we shall examine the most representative literary figures regarding verse: Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Ralegh, the Jacobethans and Chris topher Marlowe.

1. Sir Philip Sidney.

Sir Philip Sidney (b.1554) was a non-dramatic poet, to whom Spenser dedicated his apprentice work, The Shepheardes Calender (1579). He led a group which sought to classicize English metre, called the Aeropagus. Son of the Governor of Ireland, he had

public ambitions, of which his writing was a part. Sidney wrote three books: Arcadia

(1577) a romance, Defence of Poesy (1580), a formal writing, and Astrophil and Stella ((1589), a sonnet sequence. Artful in strategy and rhetoric, Sidney is simple in diction and his inventive play hid his sanity and seriousness. Due to his Defence , he was the first in a line of poet-critics (Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, Arnold, Eliot) since the book was the first classic of English literary criticism.

2. Edmund Spenser.

Edmund Spenser (b.1552) was a scholarship boy at Cambridge,w her he translated sonnets by Petrarch and Du Bellay. In 1579 he wrote The Shepheardes Calender and from 1580, he was a colonist in Ireland, writing The Faerie Queene , which was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. Spenser’s craft was the admiration of poets since his iambic beat was regular and speech accent coincided with metrical accent. He used a smooth verse and decorous diction which are features of his style, remarkable for ceremony and harmony, which create the poems’ unique atmosphere. Hence Spenser was loved by Milton and the Romantics

afterwards, but in the 18th century his influence faded.His style suited to ‘medieval’

romance, preferring a modern elegance to Gothic extravagance.

3. Sir Walter Ralegh.

Sir Walter Ralegh (c.1552-1618) was the son of a country gentleman, who spoke broad Devonshire all his life. He was a poet of huge talent who hardly printed, just an amateur. He wrote thirty poems which are scattered gestures of a large personality, among which we may mention The Ocean to Cynthia (pub.1870) and History of the World (1614). His poems advertise ambition and honour, and also, moral verses. Yet, Ralegh embodied the extremes of his age’s ambitions.

4. The Jacobethans.

After Sidney, Spenser and Ralegh, leaving Shakespeare aside, the 1590s are perhaps the richest decade in English poetic history, where over thirty poets of at least some talent were known to be writing satires, elegies and some libertine verse before 1600. They were called the ‘Jacobethans’ (John Donne, Emrys Jones). They produced in the decade between 1600

and 1610 which was good even without drama. Jacobean tragedy is said to be very black

indeed, since a sceptical analytical mood coincided with a more Calvinist temper in the face of Catholic Europe.

5. Christopher Marlowe.

Finally, Chistopher Marlowe gracefully reworked Latin lyric themes and other lyrics of the time in his poems. He also translated the first book of Lucan into blank verse, and The Elegies from Ovid are polished and witty, but the Ovidian Hero and Leander has a brilliance of a new kind. Marlowe aimed to exploit his discovery of ‘classical’ glamour in his drama. Song.

English music was famed in the 15th century, but poems-with-music survived in numbers from the

16th century. Singing was heard at work, in home and in tavern, at court and in church. Sung words must be singable and their sense taken in at one hearing, yet the words of 16th -century and 17th – century songs are not, like those of many later art songs, vacuous, except in refrains such as ‘Hey, nonny, nonny’ or in other many songs dedicated to the seasons (Alexander, 2000). Literary history

can say little about the anonymous poems which fill the popular lyric anthologies in the form of songs, thus from Tottel’s Miscellany (1557) through A Paradise of Dainty Devices and A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions to England’s Helicon (1601). These songs were realized in catchy metrical hexametres and linguistic schooling encouraged delight in language. This was the time of

‘Voice and Verse’ and the ‘art song’. One of these song-writers was Thomas Campion (1567-1620),

an inventive composer and masque-maker, who wrote the best quantitative verse accompanied only by own silent music (and verbal intelligence). Prose.

Regarding prose, we shall deal with three main authors, thus John Lyly (c.1554- 1606), Thomas Nasche (1567-1601) and Richard Hooker (1553-1600). First, John Lyly was the grandson of the author of the standard Latin gramma r, hence an outcome of the revived grammar schools in art prose (used by Sidney). He was famed for the highly artificial, versatile and much imitated prose

work Euphues (1578). Secondly, Thomas Nasche’s extravagance was to be notices by the titles in

his works Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Divell (a complaint of a poor writer), Christs Teares over Jerusalem (an apocalyptic satire), The Terrors of the Night (a study of nightmares), and so on. Finally, Richard Hooker was a closely-reasoned moderate writer who defended puritanism in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Policy, a defence of the apostolic episcopal order and doctrine of the Church of England, appealing to natural law as well as the Bible (Alexander, 2000). Drama.

Following Alexander (2000), due to the Reformation, drama had to move out of the church and into the street although the Mystery plays, which dramatized biblical stories in all- day cycles on summer holy days, continued into Shakespeare’s time. Yet, the Reformation had transferred muc h pageant and spectacle to the State since the theatre was the chief place where the concerns of the day could be ventilated. Drama explores the interests of a large new audience and therefore, theatres were erected by commercial companies outside the City, namely on the South Bank of the Thames, “the home of diversions not permitted in the City”.

2.3.2. The Elizabethan Drama.

This variety was called ‘Elizabethan Drama’ for Queen Elizabeth, who was popular for her love of religion and arts. When the Renaissance reached England, this intellectual and artistic impulse found its fullest and most la sting expression in the drama which, due to a fortunate group of coincidences, affected the people of England at a moment when the country was undergoing a rapid and pe aceful expansion. In addition, the development of the language and the forms of versification had reached a point which made possible the most triumphant literary achievement which that country has seen: the Elizabethan Drama. In fact, the Elizabethan Age achieved this lit erary success through different intellectual and artistic representations of reality: the chronicle history, tragedy and comedy.

2.3.1. Drama before Elizabethan Age.

As stated above, “throughout the Middle Ages the English drama, like that of other European countries, was mainly religious and didactic, its chief forms being the Miracle Plays, which presented in crude dialogue stories from the Bible and the lives of the saints, and the Moralities, which taught lessons for the guidance of life through the means of allegorical action and the personification of abstract qualities. Both forms were severely limited in their opportunities for picturing human nature and human life with breadth and variety. With the revival of learning came naturally the study and imitation of the ancient classical drama, and in some countries this proved the chief influence in determining the prevalent type of drama for generations to come. But in England, though we can trace important results of the models given by Seneca in tragedy and Plautus in comedy, the main characteristics of the drama of the Elizabethan age were of native origin, and reflected the spirit and the interests of the Englishmen of that day” (Ward & Trent,


2.3.2. Main characteristics of Elizabethan Drama.

In fact, these interests of the Englishmen of that day, that is, the audience, were reflected in the characteristics of Elizabethan Drama. So, the main elements in this literature variety are namely the pla ce, that is, the commercial theatre, the audience, the actors, the theatre language, special effects on stage, and fina lly and the most important element, the playwrights.

Regarding the place, that is, the commercial theatre , we can say that it played an important role in this era. Without theaters, there would be nowhere for the play to be performed. There were two types of theaters: indoor and outdoor. Outdoor theaters were public theaters whereas indoor theaters were private ones. As stated previously, drama had moved out of the church into the streets where it dramatized biblical stories called Mystery Plays. The Church was cowed, and the theatre became the main place where the concerns of the day could be forgotten. Therefore, theatres were built by commercial joint-venture companies outside the City, mainly on the South Bank of the Thames. According to Alexander (2000:108), the first attempt to build a permanent public theatre was on the part of James Burbage (a carpenter-actor-impresario) in 1576. The Theatre was built for the Earl of Leicester’s players.

Later on, in 1599 the new Globe (a theatre) stood “three storeys hign, near Southwark

Cathedral, surrounded by other theatres, houses, inns, churches, shops, brothels, cockpits and bearpits. Puritans would fear the theatre and the Court watched it, but plays were licensed. The theatre was popular and brought about a cultural mix of popular vigor and crudity with poetry and intelligence (Alexander, 2000).

The other essential part in theatre was the audience. The audiences were always large and very excited at plays. At first, strolling players did not make money since audiences melted away as the hat went round. Yet, in London indoor theatres of the 1550s the common people had to pay an equivalent to one penny to sit in the front fo the theater. Unless it was raining, these people had the best seats in the theater. The audience would participate in the play by cheering, hissing, or even throwing rotten vegetables. The audience would know that plays were about to be performed by a flag that rose over the theater.

Regarding the players, Elizabethan actors were all male. Females were not allowed to act in the theater, so all female parts were played by men whose voices had not changed yet. Actors had to have good memories, strong voices, and the ability to fence, sing and dance. The costumes that the actors wore were very elaborate, but not historic .

Regarding the theatre speech, this is still a mystery. Vocabulary in the Elizabethan Era was very different than it is now but Modern historians are not sure about all of the word meanings at that time. This is why some of the phrases used are hard to understand.

With respect to special effects, most of them referred to death scenes, which were very gory and realistic. For instance, to show an eye falling out, a grape would fall to the floor. In addition, animal organs were used to show scenes where organs fell out of actors’ bodies. And finally and the most important element, the playwrights. We shall mention six of the most well-known of Elizabethan playwrights, among whom the first five playwrights are

considered to be earlier authors, that is, the predecessors of Shakespeare1 . They were John

Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd, and Christopher Marlowe, whose contributions were respectively, ‘Endimion, Man in Moon’, Friar Bacon Friar Bungay, Rosalynde (the source for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”), Spanish Tragedy ; and Doctor Faustus. Lyly, Greene, Lodge, Kyd and Marlowe are known as the University Wits and they

clip_image001are said to have defined the London Theater.

1 Although some of them have been already mentioned, we consider relevant to include them in this section as part of Elizabethan Drama and as predecessors of Shakespeare.

Thomas Lyly (1554-1606) wrote for schoolboys and the choristers of the Chapel

Royal, who played in a private theatre made in the ruins of Blackfriars. He was a humanist debate, conducted in elegant prose with choral interludes. He was quite polite in writing in contrast to his other colleagues, who wrote for middle -class patrons of mixed tastes. His most famous works were Campaspe (1583) and Endimion, Man in Moon (1589).

Robert Greene (1558- 15592) gave hints to Marlowe’s work ‘Dr Faustus’. One of his most famous plays was Friar Bacon Friar Bungay (1588).

Thomas Lodge ’s work Rosalynde was the source for Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Thomas Kyd (1558- 94) was the author of The Spanish Tragedy; or, Hieronymo is Mad Again . Kyd pioneered the revenge play and he was hugely popular. He is said to have written a lost play about Hamlet.

Christopher Marlowe was born shortly before William Shakespeare, and many people think that he is the greatest of early Elizabethan writers. “He started writing plays for an acting company called the “Admiral’s Men”. His major literary works were tragedies, as lots of Eliza bethan dramas were. Other than Doctor Faustus, his other two greatest works were Tamburlaine and Jew of Malta. Marlowe’s major literary achievements are the use of refined blank verse, spiritual drama, dramatic action, and the Rennaisance hero. He loved learning and hated ignorance. This was apparent in many of his literary works. Marlowe was a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, even though records show that Marlowe was not gentleman. Records show that he was involved in two tavern brawls. In one of the brawls, a man lost his life. In the other brawl, Marlowe was stabbed in the eye and he died three days later. Conspiracy has been suspected about his death” (, 2004).

Finally, William Shakespeare is situated in the middle of the Elizabethan Period, and he is considered to be the most famous writer in the era ; maybe the greatest of all time. His plays have very good plots, characterization, and backgrounds. Other than tragedy, which was the most common drama of the time, Shakespeare wrote great comedies, tragicomedies, and histories. His characters come alive, and they are admired and even envied by people. His plots are full of action. Hamlet was the most popular of his tragedies and among his most successful comedies was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Perhaps his most famous tragicomedy was The Tempest, and Richard III and Henry V are two of Shakespeare’s histories that have

been made into films. Shakespeare succeeded in how to combine the best aspects of

Elizabethan drama with classic drama. This enriched his imagination and humor and, consequently, the age of Shakespeare is considered a great time in English history.

2.3.3. William Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama.

Therefore, regarding Elizabethan Drama we shall namely focus on William Shakespeare, who fulfilled the promise of the Elizabethan period since his history plays, comedies, and tragedies set a standard never again equaled. Hence he is universally regarded as the greatest dramatist and one of the greatest poets of all time and this is the reason why we shall examine more closely his life and career.


As stated above, the figure of William Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Drama are closely related since he is the most famous writer of the era not only in tragedy, which was the most common drama of the time, but also in poems, comedies, historical drama, tragedies, tragicomedies, and finally, romances. Therefore, we shall examine Shakespeare’s life and career in the following sections to put an end to our presentation of Elizabethan Age. Within (1) Shakespeare’s life, we will review (a) family and education and (b) his marriage; (2) Shakespeare’s career regarding main works regarding (a) style and (b) the order of the plays, that is, (i) earlier works: the Sonnets; (ii) love comedies, (iii) historical plays, (iv) classical plays, (v) tragicomedies, and (vi) romances.

3.1. William Shakespeare: his life.

There is little information available on the figure of Shakespeare regarding his origins and early life. In fact, no biography of Shakespeare deserve s any confidence since they all have been constructed on the premise of “apparently,” “probably,” “there can be little doubt”; “perhaps”, “it would be natural,” “according to what was usual at the time” and so forth. In this section we shall try to

approach as many details as possible on his life: name, birthdate, family, early marriage, among


3.1.1. Family and education.

First of all, the most accepted data are that William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon was, as a man of letters, actually the author of a great mass of work which now goes by his name, and that, as a man, he was liked and respected by nearly all who knew him. These things are proved, the first critically, the second legally and historically.

Secondly, following Ward & Trent (2000), it is relevant to say that the name of Shakespeare appears to have been very common, particularly in the sixteenth century, and there were at least two John Shakespeares who were citizens of the town about the time of the poet’s birth. The uncertainty of the poet’s birthday is one of the best known things about him. He was baptised on 26 April,

1564; and probability, reinforced by sentiment, has decided on the 23rd, St. George’s day, for the earlier initiation.

He would seem to have had three brothers and two sisters and, although we are not quite sure about the identity of his parents, old records affirm that his father was a John Shakespeare (son of Richard), who, at one time, was a “prosperous gentleman” or, at any rate, a prosperous man of business as woolstapler, fellmonger and so forth, thinking himself gentleman enough to make repeated applications for coat armour, which, at last, were granted. This John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, an heiress of a good yeomanly family, but as to whose connection with a more distinguished one of the same name there remains much room for doubt.

Still, following Ward & Trent (2000), “there was a free grammar school at Stratford, to which, as the son of his father, he would have been entitled to admission; and it has been supposed that he went there”. Yet, there are some doubts on whether he ever went to school. The point is only of importance, first in regard to Jonson’s famous ascription to him of “small Latin and less Greek”; secondly, and much more, in relatio n to the difficulty which has been raised as to a person of no, or little, education having written the plays. The fact is that he showed how to mix ignorance and innocence surprisingly.

3.1.2. Marriage.

Following Ward & Trent (2000), “the story of his marriage underwent an unsubstantial evolution. First, on 28 November, 1582, two husbandmen of Stratford, named Sandells and Richardson, became sureties for £40 in the consistory court of Worcester to free the bishop from liability in case of lawful impediment, by pre-contract or consanguinity, to the marriage of “William Shakespeare and Anne Hathwey” which might proceed hereupon with only one publication of banns. On 26

May, 1583, Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna, was baptised at Stratford. Moreover (a much more surprising thing than this juxtaposition), on the very day before the signing of the bond, a regular licence was issued for the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Whateley (a coincidence extraordinary in any case, most extraordinary if we note the extreme closeness of the names Hathwey and Whateley and remember that Anne Hathaway is not otherwise traceable, though Agnes Hathaway (the two names are in practice confused) is).

Yet, this mystery has been less dwelt on that the irregular chronological adjustment to the birth of Susanna. On this, on the apparent fact that the wife was eight years older than the husband, who was only eighteen, on his long absences from Stratford and on the solitary bequest (and that an afterthought) of his second-best bed to his wife, have been founded romances, moralisings, censures, defences, hypotheses of formal antenuptial contract, every possible symptomatic extravagance of the lues commentatoria, every conceivable excursion and alarum of the hunt after mares’ nests. The only rational course of conduct is to decline to solve a problem for which we have no sufficient data; and which, very likely, is no problem at all.

3.2. William Shakespeare: his career.

Regarding the successful career of Shakespeare, we find no relationship with his childhook since we do not even know when he began his dramatic career; we know the actual date of the first production of very few of his pieces, let alone that of their composition. Almost all the commonly received stuff of his life story is shreds and patches of tradition, if not positive dream work. Here we offer, otherwise, an account of his style and the established order of plays since they show not only a chronological order but also a typology of genres.

3.2.1. Style.

The feature of style is quite difficult to establish since it is the most disinguished from the other greaterst writers. He has mannerisms which are adopted or discarded for fashion’s or season’s sake. He has no mannerism in the sense of natural or naturalised gesture which is recognisable at once. When we say that a phrase is Shakespearean, it is rather because of some supreme and curiously simple felicity than because of any special hall- mark, such as exists in Milton and even in Dante. Thus the greatest utterances of Prospero’s epilogue to the masque, Cleopatra’s death words, the crispest sayings of Beatrice and Touchstone, the passion of Lear, and the reveries of Hamlet, among others.

Secondly, his extraordinary copiousness of vocabulary is well ascertained and closely connected with this peculiar absence of peculiarity in his style. The writer given to mannerism necessarily repeats, if not particular words, particular forms of phrases. Further, Shakespeare, like almost all good English writers, though to the persistent displeasure of some good English critics, coins words with the utmost freedom, merely observing sound analogy. He shows no preference for “English” over “Latin” vocabulary nor any the other way.

In fact, it is possible to talk about Shakespeare’s style for ever, but impossible in any way to define it. We can talk about Shakespearean Blank Verse: management of metre, pause, trisyllabic substitution and the redundant syllable. It is the mastery of English prosody from the thirteenth century onwards, but in the teeth of critical dicta in his own day and for centuries to follow (regarding trisyllabic substitution). In addition, the decasyllabic norm is kept, although religiously observed. But it has absolute freedom: no sense that it wishes to convey, and no sound that it wishes to give as accompaniment to that sense, meet the slightest check or jar in their expression. Finally, just to mention that he tried a magic manipulation of all verse sonnet, stanza, couplet and lyric, reaching his very highest point in regard to blank verse (Ward & Trent, 2000).

3.2.2. Order of the plays.

Following Alexander (2000:111), “Shakespeare wrote on average two plays a year between c.1588-

1590 and 1611, except in 1592- 1594 when bubonic plague shut the theatres. His contemporaries saw or read Shakespeare play by play, as we do in the theatre or at sxhool. But the Folio gave

Shakespeare as a whole to readers, and before approaching representative plays the order of his

writing is worth a look, both chronologically and in terms of genre”. We must note that his earlier works are the Sonnets, which stand in a very different category form that of the plays, so we shall analyse them as another type of work within the list. So, he began with Sonnets (poems), “comedies of love, and chronicle-plays. The first decade produced nine plays called after kings of England, ten comedies of love an two non-historical tragedies. The second decade shows more critical comedies, with tragedies and Roman plays, followed by four romances, ending with The Tempest. Ten years after Elizabeth’s death he worked with Fletcher on Henry VIII and on Two Noble Kinsmen” (2000).

Hence we shall classify Shakespeare’s works following the order of composition of the plays, namely taken this compilatio n from the Oxford Shakespeare (1988) edited by S. Wells and G. Taylor, where the dates of the early plays are conjectural. Earlier works : the Sonnets.

With respect to Shakespeare’s earlier works, nothing he wrote before he was 28 does survive. His best non-dramatic poems are found in the volume entitled Shake -speares Sonnets, published in

1609. His sonneteering began in 1593-1594, the year in which he also published Venus and Adonis

and The Rape of Lucrece, longish verse-narratives of sexual passion, modelled on Ovid. “It may, however, be fully admitted that the Sonnets stand in a very different category from that of the plays. Not only does the poet of this kind speak ex professo from his heart, while the dramatist speaks ex professo as an outside observer and “representer,” but there is no poetry of this kind which approaches Shakespeare’s Sonnets in apparent vehemence and intensity of feeling. There is even hardly any which mingles, with the expression of that feeling, so many concrete hints, suggesting so broadly a whole romance of personal experience, as they do” (Ward & Trent, 2000).

It is a surprise to discover that the Sonnets express and ideal love for a beautiful man, since it would have been more of a surprise for the reader to find that the poet’s mistress is neither fair, young,noble, chaste nor admirable. His love for the ‘woman colured ill’ is sexual and obsessive. Friendship and love (bene velle and amare) exchange parts, combine, divorce, sublimate or materialise themselves and each other in such a fashion to be caught and fixed in any form. Yet, the Sonnets are considered to be great poetry in the sense of great fiction, expressions of feeling, and great facts. Love comedies.

Shakespeare’s early plays are mostly comedy and history at the same time since they are a kind of plays more open and inclusive than tragedy, where half of his dramatic output is comic. Comedy was easier to write than history: there was a repertory to hand in Roman comedy and medieval romance, and the humanist wit and polish of Lyly. Also, “in comedy he had a stock of devices already proven on the stage: disguise, mistaken identity, the contrasting perspective on love of men and women, parents and children, masters and servants” (Alexander, 2000:116).

Following Allan Neilson (2001), “in the field of comedy, Shakespeare’s supremacy is hardly less assured. From the nature of this kind of drama, we do not expect in it the depth of penetration into human motive or the call upon our profounder sympathies that we find in Tragedy; and the conventional happy ending of Comedy makes difficult the degree of truth to life that one expects in serious plays. Yet the comedies of Shakespeare are far from superficial. Those written in the middle of his career, such as “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night,” not only display with great skill many sides of human nature, but with indescribable lightness and grace introduce us to charming creations, speaking lines rich in poetry and sparkling with wit, and bring before our imaginations whole series of delightful scenes.”

Yet, love comedies consist namely of five plays (among others less representative such as Pericles, The Merry Wives, Measure for Measure, Much Ado about Nothing), which are The Two Gentlemen of Verona (whic h comes before them all, and is very near them as a whole, but with perhaps later in qualities), Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. Yet, let us examine them separately.

1. The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1590-1591).

This is his earliest surviving play and it is a love-comedy with familiar ingredients: a duke, young rivals, a father called Antonio, a daughter who dresses as a boy to follow her lover, a ring, a glove, a friar’s cell, comic servants, and a song. The plot, though “romantic” enough in both, is much closer knit and more thoroughly carried out by the dramatis personae than the shuffle of stock characters in the Errors, the sanguinary dream procession of Titus, or the masque-like intricacies of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

The verse, still of the same general character, is settling down towards blank verse only

and that blank verse free. The poetical beauties in The Two Gentlemen are, occasionally, of all but the very hig hest kind, while in All’s Well there is much fine verse, Lafeu is a comic, not burlesque, character of great interest, and there is a further advance towards the Shakespearean clown proper.

2. Titus Andronicus (1592).

Titus Andronicus has been denied to Shakespeare, but this denial really passes the bounds of all rational literary criticism. The reason is that the play was acted and published in 1594 and was included with Shakespeare’s by Meres in 1598, and included in the folio by Shakespeare’s intimates and dramatic associates in 1623. It is possible that Meres was mistaken and that the piece acted and printed in 1594 was not Shakespeare’s. Titus is the one play of Shakespeare which is assuredly of the Marlowe school and the one play, too, which is almost wholly what is called “repulsive” because of the stiff “single moulded” blank verse line hardly ever. should expect as one very probable result of the novitiate in such a case as Shakespeare’s.

3. The Comedy of Errors (1594).

The Comedy of Errors is a mere adaptation of a Roman comedy by Plautus, Menaechm (c.254-184 BC). Its earliness is shown by the comparative absence of character, by the mixed and rough-hewn quality of the prosody (a connected view of Shakespeare’s versification will be given later) and, last and most of all, by the inordinate allowance of the poorest, the most irrelevant, and, occasionally, the most uncomely wordplay and foolery. Also, the imperfect training in speech and metre makes it stand as the most immature of all the plays, and may well have been the earliest.

4. Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594 -1595).

Similarly, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare cannot make up his mind what metre to select: blank verse, couplets, stanzas, fourteeners more or less doggerel, but he tries them all by turns and does them all with a delightful improvisation. He has a real plot

although he overloads it in every direction with incident and character. There is almost

everything in the piece but measure and polish.

5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595).

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen and even Titus Andronicus Shakespeare puts at the service of the drama a larger measure and intenser form as well as the splendid poetry. However, there is hardly less of this in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as it comports with comedy, it is of a less poignant and transporting nature. And this play, as was remarked above, is more of an olio of metres. But, in certain respects, it still marks progress. I

If not in all parts, in the whole, it is the most original of Shakespeare’s plays in point of subject up to this time; in fact, it is one of the most original of all in that respect. And this subject is worked up into action with a skill not yet displayed. In fact, Shakespeare here depends more on incident than on character. The multiplicity of the interests and beauties in this short play is almost bewildering since the play involves four marriages and ‘a most rare vision’. There is the stuff of half a dozen poetical comedies in it, yet not in the least confusedly disposed.

6. As You Like It (1599-1600).

This is a romantic comedy which was to be triumphantly contradicted by its counterpart, Twelfth Night. Yet, both comedies are believed to have followed Much Ado but it is not positively known which appeared first. Twelfth Night was acted on 2

February 1601-2 whereas As You Like It is put some two years before. Yet, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night form a trio of which, As You Like It has a certain pre-eminence, and may put in a claim to be the greatest of Shakespeare’s comedies wihin typical romantic comedy (excluding The Tempest as belonging rather to that middle kind for which there is no English name).

There is hardly more than one fault in it, which is very rare in Shakespeare, though extreme ly common in his contemporaries. The fault is that he concluded the play with a violent revolution merely communicated by a messenger. With this exception, there is

nothing that exceeds the licence of romantic character comedy. The vividness of almost

every scene and passage is unmatched even in Shakespeare; there are no longueurs; and, if there were, Rosalind and Touchstone would save them. The poet has not resorted in this play to supernatural machinery to help his glamour, as he did earlier in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and later, in The Tempest. We are no further from ordinary life than romance always is, and in the least extraordinary regions of romance itself.

7. Twelfth Night (1601).

This play marks the mid-point of Shakespeare’s career as a ripe love -comedy with a happy ending. Twelfth Night was acted on 2 February, 1601-1602 and it would seem to retain a little more of the characteristics of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies. But, in reality, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night form a trio of which the best thing to say is that only the man who wrote the other two could have written any one of them. This play is as much music as action since the players dance to a series of variations upon love. Yet, among the many variations of love explored in this play, there is no jeaulosy. Actually, it is Shakespeare’s last innocent play. Historical plays.

Of the various forms which Elizabethan drama took, the first to reach a culmination was the so- called Chronicle History. This is represented in Marlowe’s works, the greatest of the predecessors of Shakespeare. As a form of dramatic art the Chronicle History had many defects and limitations. The facts of history do not always lend themselves to effective theatrical representation, and in the attempt to combine history and drama both frequently suffered. Actually, historical plays (Greek and Roman) are classified as tragedies and have caused trouble, for Shakespeare did not follow the classical division of dramatic experience into comedy and tragedy.

Instead, he often put comedy into tragedy and vice versa, upsetting the classically-minded. These plays should not be judged by comparison with the realism of the modern drama. The authors sought to give the actors fine lines to deliver, without seeking to imitate the manner of actual conversation; and if the story was conveyed interestingly and absorbingly, no further illusion was sought. If this implied some loss, it also made possible much splendid poetry.

Shakespeare himself produced ten plays belonging to the type , which reflected the interest the

Elizabethans took in the heroic past of their country, and before the vogue of this kind of play passed nearly the whole of English history for the previous three hundred years had been presented on the stage. He wrote them in order of the reigns of the kings in their titles. Yet, the order of the reigns was not the order of composition, hence we find two tetralogies : the first tetralogy (the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III) was written in 1590-1593 and the second tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2), and Henry V) was composed in 1595- 1599. Let us examine each play separately.

1. First tetralogy: the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III.

Henry VI (1591-1592).

Many scenes are not orig inally taken out from his pen, that is, many of the battle pieces, French and English, the starting of the rose dispute, the quarrel of Winchester and Gloucester and the deaths of both. There is not much to say about the three parts of Henry VI, thus they do not exhibit much change between them; while, independently of positive changes, the whole composition of Part I is very much less Shakespearean, even as compared with his earliest probable work, than that of the other two. At any rate, we may safely return to the position that, in this chronicle work, Shakespeare had new and admirable opportunities for developing his grasp of character and for getting into complete working order that remarkable and, in fact, unique, conception of the loose, many-centred drama kept together by the character itself.

Richard III (1592-1593).

Richard III are examples of adaptation and of the working up of existing materials. The processes and results of the adaptation. Richard III bears very much less resemblance to its predecessor, The True Tragedie of Richard III, and some have regarded it as almost an independent following of Marlowe’s Edward II. It certainly resembles that play in bursts of poetry of a somewhat rhetorical kind, in the absence of purely comic episodes or scenes and in the

concentration of character interest on the hero. It is, at any rate, full of life, with

nothing in it either of the peculiar dream quality of Marlowe or of the woodenness of certain other early playwrights.

2. Second tetralogy: Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V.

Richard II (1595).

This is an early historical tragedy, modelled on Marlowe’s Edward II in its set- up and its manipulation of our sympathies. Richard II is rich in poetry and in ideas, making the play look symbo lic, sacramental and symphonic by means of formal, ceremonial verse almost throughout.

Henry IV (1596-97, 1597- 98).

The two parts of the play are a many-sided representation of the life of England, that is, they mingle verse and prose, high and low, court and tavern, royal camp and rebel camp, and so on. We can see in this play the comic and festive side of unruly popular life, more of its disease and low tricks. The actual play (for its two parts are practically one) is, undoubtedly, one of Shakespeare’s greatest achievements; and, seeing that he had already proved himself able to supply pure poetry in unlimited quantities and in any required degree of strength, no drawback or shortcoming could possibly be urged. The entwining

and enforcing of the purely historical part is wonderful in itself.

Henry V (1598-1599).

Throughout this play we see the seamy side of the tapestry of history alternate with the public side. The sacred ideals of England and of kingship are set up at the start of the play and are described by means of a display of gorgeous rhetoric and national exultation. Classical plays.

With the classical plays, we come to a new and very interesting group. In a sense, of course, Titus Andronicus belongs to it; but nothing like the extreme earliness of that piece belongs to any of the others. Namely five classical plays are worth mentioning: Julius Caesar (1599), Troilus and Cressida (1602), Timon of Athens (1605), Antony and Cleopatra (1606) and Coriolanus (1608). Let us briefly examine them separately.

1. Julius Caesar (1599).

Julius Caesar has the mark of an earlier date in that its interest is of a diffused character, and that there is a certain prodigality of poetic passages put in everybody’s mouth. The titular hero perishes before half the play is done, and his place is taken first by Antony and then by Brutus. Nor does he make any very copious appearance even before his murder. Further, the marvellous Shakespearean impartiality seems to take delight in doing the best for each of these heroes in turn while the prodigality above referred to furnishes not merely the three, Cassius, who is all but a fourth hero, and Portia, but quite insignificant people (Marullus, Casca, Calpurnia) with splendid poetical utterance.

The magnificent speech of Antony, the great exchange of mind between Brutus and Cassius, both as friends and as foes, and the dialogue between Brutus and Portia are, among many other things, the interest of the theme. Moreover, its central interest from the point of view of romance (the death and revenging of Caesar)is perfect, though from the point of view of unity of character, which is Shakespeare’s general appeal, it may be thought somewhat lacking. Practically, however, Julius Caesar, is of the panoramic, if not of the kaleidoscopic, order of drama and its appeal is of sequence rather than of composition.

2. Troilus and Cressida (1602).

For Troilus and Cressida, a licence to print was obtained in 1602-1603, but the players objected, and it was not published till half a dozen years later. Some of the blank verse is fairly mature, and instead of transcending his materials (as Shakespeare almost

invariably does) he has failed almost entirely to bring out their possibilities. In fact, if it

were not for certain speeches and touches chiefly in the part of Ulysses, and in the parts of the hero and heroine, it might be called the least Shakespearean of all the plays.

3. Timon of Athens (1605).

He wrote this piece just after King Lear. The play is as chaotic as Troilus and, except Timon himself, it has no character of interest in it. This play stands in the sharpest contrast to the great Shakespeare’s most easy-going fashion.

4. Antony and Cleopatra (1606).

Antony and Cleopatra has nearly as infinite a variety as its incomparable heroine herself: its warmth and colour are of the liveliest kind, its character drawing is of the Shakespearean best, the beauties of its versification and diction are almost unparalleled in number, diversity and intensity, and, above all, the powers of the two great poetic motives, love and death, are utilised in it to the utmost possible extent. Even this long list of merits does not exhaust its claims. From the technical side, it is the very type and triumph of the chronicle play, of the kind which dramatises whole years of history, solid portions of the life of man, and keeps them dramatically one by the interwoven threads of character interest, by individual passages of supreme poetry and by scenes or sketches of attaching quality.

5. Coriolanus (1608).

This classical work is certainly not deficient in variety of incidents and characters, but every incident and every personage is, in a way, subservient to the hero. The ordinary descriptions of the dramatis personae (friend/mother/wife to Coriolanus) acquire a new appositeness from this feature. Here Shakespeare lets psychical evolution furnish the characters’ contrast in his real changes from enmity to friendship, and then from hospitality to treachery, with the changes of Coriolanus from the height of Roman patriotism to actual hostility against his ungrateful and degraded country, and from that hostility to semi-reconciliation, at least to the foregoing of vengeance. This character has provided Shakespeare with the opportunity of working out a “one -man” drama, as,

except in inferior specimens like Timon he has done nowhere else. For, even in Hamlet,

the single and peculiar life of the hero does not overshadow all the others, as is done here. However, great as Coriolanus is, it is not nearly so great as Antony and Cleopatra. Tragicomedies.

Closely connected with the historical plays was the early development of ‘Tragedy’. But in the search for themes, the dramatists soon broke away from fact, and the whole range of imaginative narrative also was searched for tragic subjects. While the work of Seneca accounts to some extent for the prevalence of such features as ghosts and the motive of revenge, the form of tragedy that Shakespeare developed from the experiments of men like Marlowe and Kyd was really a new and distinct type.

Such classical restrictions as the unities of place and time, and the complete separation of comedy and tragedy, were discarded, and there resulted a series of plays which, while often marked by lack of restraint, of regular form, of unity of tone, yet gave a picture of human life as affected by sin and suffering which in its richness, its variety, and its imaginative exuberance has never been equaled. The murder of Caesar in ancient Rome exemplified the medieval idea of tragedy: the downfall of a great man, that is, a tragic hero.

However, Shakespeare was by no means alone in the production of tragedy masterpieces. Contemporary with him or immediately following came Jonson (c.1582-1637), Marston (c.1575-

1634) , Middleton (c.1570-1627), Massinger (1583-1639), Ford (1586-c.1639), Shirley (1596-1666), and others, all producing brilliant work; but the man who most nearly approached him in tragic intensity was John Webster (c.1580-c.1625). His works The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malf i (1614) are two favorable example s of his ability to inspire terror and pity and become one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan Age. In addition, although his range is not comparable to that of Shakespeare, he is unsurpassed in his power of coining a phrase which casts a lurid light into the recesses of the human heart in moments of supreme passion.

Still, Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest master of ‘Tragedy’ where he reached his greatest height. In fact, his four great tragedies –Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth – are his finest productions and they represent the noblest pitchof English genius. They do not conform strictly to a

defined type, except that each ends in the death of the hero, just as the comedies end in marriage,

and that each finds the noble protagonist in an evil plight. Let us examine these four tragedies.

1. Hamlet (1600-1601).

The world of Seneca and of Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedy is morally corrupt, their incident and language sensationalistic: malignant plotting, cunning death, madness. Hamlet has all this, and its complex plot is conducted with the usual dexterity. Yet it is an entirely new kind of play, for in his long soliloquies we are given unprecedented access to the thoughts and feelings of Hamlet, an admirable hero in a horrible world. His madness is feigned, but he is poisoned by the evil around him, mistreating Ophelia, his love, sparing the life of Claudius when he finds him praying, and so on. Only when Hamlet is sent to England to be killed can he defend himself.

The enormous length of the play is diversified by the most varied, and, at times, most exciting, action. In the common phrase, there is something for everyone, that is, the supernatural, the death of Polonius, that of Ophelia, the fight or almost fight in the churchyard, the duel, the final slaughter scene (simply an excit ing moment for the mere vulgar), in other words, the pity of all these things for the sentimental, the poetry of them for those who can appreciate it. And, above all, and with all, there is the supreme interest of the character presentment, which informs and transforms the incidents, and which, not merely in the central figure, is the richest and most full to be found in Shakespeare.

Hamlet was perhaps the most popular at the time of its production, and it has held its interest and provoked discussion as perhaps no other play of any time or country has done. This is in part due to the splendor of its poetry, the absorbing nature of the plot, and the vividness of the drawing of characters who marvelously combine individuality with a universal and typical quality that makes them appeal to people of all kinds and races. But much also is due to the delineation of the hero, the subtlety of whose character and the complexity of whose motives constitute a perpetual challenge to our capacity for solving mysteries (Sanders, 1996).

2. Othello (1603-1604).

This work is the second of the so-called major tragedies coming after Hamlet. Othello is not a play about ‘kingship’, but rather about human passion. It is called ‘tragicomedy’ because it takes material that we usually associate with comedy, and explores its tragic possibilities. Shakespeare sought to examine here the tragic implications of a series of themes to which he had already devoted some attention in earlier comedies: human passion, the ‘evil’ intentions, comic situations, judgements, and so on.

Following Drakakis (1980 :16), “the play offers us an insight into the ways in which Shakespeare refined and developed his own dramatic art. His choosing of the figure of a Moor for his hero was a stroke of brilliance. Othello’s blackness singles him out from the other characters in the play, but it would be quite wrong to infer from this that Shakespeare was concerned to depect some sort of crude ‘racial’ conflict. To the Elizabethans the figure of the Moor represented, not an ethnic but a moral type.”

3. King Lear (1605-1606).

Following Alexander (2000:124), “King Lear is larger than the other tragedies in its moral scope. It is a play of good and evil, a parable with little psychology of character. It begins like a fairy tale: the old king asks his three daughters to say which loves him best. His youngest, Cordelia, hloves him but is not prepared to outbid her sisters to gain a richer portion of the kingdom. The subplot also has a fairy-tale ending, in which the good brother Edgar defeats the evil brother Edmund in single combat. Virtue does not triumph in King Lear, yet vice fails miserably. The play is a struggle between good and evil, a play rather than a tract. Christianity does not pretend that goodness is rewarded in this world.”

King Lear owes its appeal less to its tendency to rouse curiosity than to its power to awe us with an overwhelming spectacle of the suffering which folly and evil can cause and which human nature can sustain. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its intricacy of motive and superabundance of incident, it is the most overwhelming of all in its effect on our emotions.

4. Macbeth (1606).

Compared with King Lear, Macbeth is a simple play, but nowhere does one find a more masterly portrayal of the moral disaster that falls upon the man who, seeing the light, chooses the darkness. Shakespeare is believed to have written this work at different times. Thus, the second scene, that in which the “bleeding sergeant” appears, and some few other passages, are, in verse and phrase, whole stages older than the bulk of the play, which, in these respects, is fully equal to its great companions. The character interest is limited to the hero and heroine. Lady Macbeth is quite peerless since the fresh handling of the supernatural illustrates the curious fertility of the writer in a direction where, especially when it is blended with events and motives not supernatural, failure is not so much the usual, as the invariable, result. Romances.

Following Alexander (2000:126), “Shakespeare ended his career with romance and tragicomedy. His plays do not state his views, but his choice of subject indicates changing interests. In his last plays, he fixes on the relation of father and daughter. The strong and often subversive role played by sexual attraction in Shakespeare’s writing (from Hamlet onwards) takes a different turn after Antony and Cleopatra . In his last works, the pattern is that of the medieval romances which contribute to the plots: stories where deep human wishes come true. The lost are found, wrongs can be righted, death is not separation, and families are reunited in love. Here we are the most representative romances in Shakespeare’s last works.

1. The Winter’s Tale (1609).

Following Ward & Trent (2000), “The Winter’s Tale is a story, which is certainly more romantic than dramatic. But the fascination of the play is drawn from the abundance of Sicilian scenes, the partly tragic opening and pastoral continuation of the Bohemian, and the tragicomedy and coup de théâtre of the end. Poetry appears chiefly in flash of phrase for the first three acts till the great storm scene at the end of the third, with the rather severe punishment of Antigonus and the contrasted farce of the shepherds. But, in the fourth, where comedy and romance take the place of farce and tragedy, and

especially in Perdita’s famous flower speech, it overflows; and there is plenty of it in

the fifth”

2. Cymbeline (1610).

Cymbeline is considered to be the most disorderly play in Shakespeare. Not only does he take his largest romantic licence of neglecting unity of time and place or mix plots and interests with the most insouciant liberality, but he leaves his materials, his characters, his events, at a perfect tangle of loose ends. Still, the interest is maintained, partly because of the actual attraction of many of his episodes, because of the exquisite poetry which is showered upon the play in every direction and, most of all, because of the perfect charm of the character of the heroine.

3. The Tempest (1611).

The three predecessors of this play (mentioned above) begin with tragedy and end in comedy, but in The Tempest the tragic matter is already in the past. The play is original in its fable, and observes the unities of time and place. Prospero, the main character, has educated his daughter, but failed to educate an earthy goblin he found on the island, Caliban. Prospero then uses his magic to raise the tempest and bring onto the island those who overthree him: his brother Antonio and Alonso King of Naples. Eventually, he resigns his magic, and will return to Naples to see the wedding of Miranda with Alonso’s son. This play relies greatly upon the image-making powers of language and use the transforming power of music.


Literature, and therefore, literary language is one of the most salient aspect of educational activity. In classrooms all kinds of literary language, either spoken or written, is going on for most of the time. Yet, handling literary productions in the past makes relevant the analysis of ‘literature in the

Elizabethan period’ and the figure of ‘Shakespeare’. Who does not know the mos t popular sentence

who reads ‘To be or not to be. That’s the question’?

Currently, action research groups attempt to bring about change in classroom learning and teaching through a focus on literary production under two premises. First, because they belie ve learning is an integral aspect of any form of activity and second, because education at all levels must be conceived in terms of literature. The basis for these assumptions is to be found in an attempt, through the use of various modes of literary genres, to develop understanding of students’ shared but diverse social and physical environment.

Learning involves a process of transformation of participation itself which has far reaching implications on the role of the teacher in the teaching- learning rela tionship. This means that literary genres are an analytic tool and that teachers need to identify the potential contributions and potential limitations of them before we can make good use of the genre analysis techniques: poems, comedies, historical accounts, tragicomedies and romances.We must bear in mind that most students will continue their studies at university and there, they will have to handle successfully all kind of genres, especially the non-fiction ones within a worlwide framework.

But how do Elizabethan literature tie in with the new curriculum? Elizabethan literature may be approached in linguistic terms, regarding form and function (morphology, lexis, structure, form) and also from a cross-curricular perspective (Sociology, History, English, French, Spanish Language and Literature). Spanish students are expected to know about the British culture and its influence in Europe since students are required to know about the culture and history of its own language. So, Elizabethan literature is easily approached by means of the subjects of History, Language and Literature.

In addition, one of the objectives of teaching the English language is to provide good models of almost any kind of literary productions for future studies. Following van Ek & Trim (2001), ‘the learners can perform, within the limits of the resources available to them, those writing (and oral) tasks which adult citizens in general may wish, or be called upon, to carry out in their private capacity or as members of the general public ’ when dealing with their future regarding personal and professional life.

Moreover, nowadays new technologies may provide a new direction to language teaching as they

set more appropriate context for students to experience the target culture. Present-day approaches deal with a communicative competence model in which first, there is an emphasis on significance over form, and secondly, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of new technologies. Hence literary productions may be approched in terms of films and drama representations in class, among others.

The success partly lies in the way the language becomes real to the users, feeling themselves really in the language. Some of this motivational force is brought about by intervening in authentic communicative events. Otherwise, we have to recreate as much as possible the whole cultural environment in the classroom. This is to be achieved within the framework of the European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System which establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where students are intended to carry out several

communication tasks with specific communicative goals, for instance, how to produce a literary text

(oral or written): writing a poem, acting out in a theatre play, representing a film scene orally , and so on.

Analytic interpretation of texts in all genres should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2002). There are hidden influences at work beneath the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual. The literary student has to discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examination. The main aims that our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of cultural themes, as our students must be aware of their current social reality within the European framework.


This study has looked at the relevance of Elizabethan literature masterpieces through the figure of Shakespeare so as to link his works with the Tudor Age. So, as we have seen, Chapter 2 introduced the historical background for the Elizabethan period, where, historically speaking, we have presented the social, historical, cultural and linguistic background of England between 1485 to

1603, that is, from Renaissance to the end of Tudor Age, in order to analyse the most relevant

literary works under a variety of forms: poems, comedies, tragicomedies, classical works and

romances, among others.

It is in the figure of Shakespeare (among many other relevant authors) that we have reviewed the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century by reviewing his life and career, his main works and finally, his wide range of masterpieces. So far, we have attempted to provide the reader in this presentation with a linguistic, historical and cultural background on the vast amount of literature productions in Elizabethan Age, and its further developments up to the seventeenth century.

Language learners, even 2nd year Bac hillerato students, do not automatically establish similiarities between British and Spanish literary works, which seem obvious to teachers; on the contrary, learners need to have these associations brought to their attention in cross-curricular settings . As we have seen, understanding how oral literature developed into written one is important to students, who are expected to be aware of the richness of English literature.


Allan Neilson, W. et al. 2001. Lectures on the Harvard Classics, edited byVol. XLI. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14;, 2001.

Alexander, M. 2000. A History of English Literature. Macmillan Press. London.

Baugh, A. & Cable, T. 1993. A History of the English Language. Prentice- Hall Editions.

B.O.E. 2002. Consejería de Educación y Cultura. Decreto N.º 112/2002, de 13 de septiembre. Currículo de la

Educación Secundaria Obligatoria en la Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia.

B.O.E. 2002. Consejería de Educación y Cultura. Decreto N.º 113/2002, de 13 de septiembre. Currículo de

Bachillerato en la Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia.

Canale, M. 1983. From Communicative Competence to Communicative Language Pedagogy, in J. Richards and R. Schmidt (eds.). Language and Communication. London, Longman.

Council of Europe (1998) Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European

Framework of reference.

Hymes, D. 1972. On communicative competence. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Rogers, P. 1987. The Oxford Illustrated Hi story of English Literature. Oxford University Press. Sanders, A. 1996. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. Oxford University Press.

Ward & Trent, et al. 2000. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York:

Wells, S. 1986. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Other sources include:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2003. Columbia University Press.