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Elizabethan drama developed upon the medieval Miracle plays, Morality, Interlude, Masques, and Pantomime that largely dealt with biblical and mythological themes. The Tudor dynasty introduced secular themes in drama; exercising his monarchical powers, “…Henry VIII was inadvertently legitimizing great national issues as subjects for plays.” (Saquet, 1968, pp .105.). Queen Elizabeth I, on her part, built three prominent outdoor theatres: The Rose, The Swan, and The Globe.

The European Renaissance made a deep impact on English Drama; Richard Green (1974) in his History of the English People remarked, “Few events in our literary history are so startling as this sudden rise of the Elizabethan drama.” Latin plays gained popularity after the successful performance of Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Royster Royster (1552), an adaptation of Miles Gloriosus of Plautus, an old Latin comedy. The University Wits preserved the purity of the classics, but it was subverted in the hands of the nativists.

Like in prose and poetry, the radical shift in the Elizabethan drama occurred at the big “psychological moment”, encapsulating the new patriotic fervor unleashed by the British victory at the Battle of Armada. Lyle, Nash, and Marlow upturned the crass theatre into refined dramatics while inspiring national pride. Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, written in 1587, in its prologue, underlining this spirit stated: “…We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war, Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine Threatening the world with high-astounding terms…”

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Ben Jonson (1573-1637) was an accomplished Elizabethan dramatist. Most of his plays like Volpore, using satire, served as critical insights into the urban English society’s superficial values and deceit, especially that of London during the era. His other important dramas were The Alchemist, Bartholomew Fair, and Epicoene.

However, the most astounding literary luminary of the Elizabethan age was William Shakespeare. Speaking of Shakespeare’s genius, Goethe (1749-1832) remarked, “I do not believe that any book or person or event in my life ever made such a great impression on me as the plays of Shakespeare. They appear to be the work of some heavenly genius.” The bright optimism generated by Shakespearean drama can be aptly described by one of his lines in Romeo and Juliet: “Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.”

Shakespeare’s comedies and tragic plays have transfixed readers and scholars generation after generation; “The plays have held the stage, the poetry is in our minds, the characters have become archetypes” (Bate, 1998). His comedies, full of wit, vivid imagination, and playful characters included Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labours Lost, The Tempest, and As You Like It. His tragedies, along with their intense dramatic power, on the other hand, reflect pessimism with humanity. Hamlet, for instance, perceives the fragility of human strength as a human clock – the touch on one wheel tends to destabilize the working of the rest.

It was during Shakespeare’s lifetime that the Elizabethan drama witnessed its downfall; chiefly because of vulgarity and sensationalism creeping into it. Thanks to the unpleasant handiwork of the popular dramatists and its fierce rejection by the Puritan zeal, Elizabethan theatre gradually receded into its sunset days. The British Parliament eventually closed down theatres for being hubs of evil degeneration (Young, 2006).   

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