16th - 17th century
Queen Elizabeth, in succeeding her sister to the throne in 1558, inherited a huge government debt, religious conflicts and a long war with France which had severely weakened the military.
Under her rule England became a European power to be reckoned with but religious frictions brewed on the homefront. One major point of contention with the Protestants and the Puritans was performances. To appease them Elizabeth ordered actors to find someone from the nobility to sponsor their troupes, or leave the country.
Nobles made themselves available as mentors and, notwithstanding strong opposition, the theatre flourished during the 16th and early 17th century.
The religious fanatics finally got their wish when a civil war broke out in 1642, and all theatres in England were shut down.
William Shakespeare (born 1564) was sponsored by King James and formed a company called “The King’s Men.” Initially his plays were all about kings and wars: Henri VI or Richard III. His first comedy, The Comedy of Errors, is a story borrowed from Plautus,The Twins. Several comedies followed: including Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well, borrowed from Boccaccio. After The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare was tormented by the existential questions of life: Julius Cesar, Hamlet, Othello.
Christopher Marlow (born 1564) an atheist and allegedly a spy for Queen Elizabeth, Marlow had a fiery temperament that reflected in his plays. His role model was Nicolo` Machiavelli and, much like Cesare Borgia, his heroes are ambitious and calculating, and eventually devoured by their own passions. Marlow was accused of heresy and killed during a brawl.
Ben Jonson (born 1572) shows little compassion for mankind’s failings. He used his talents to poke fun at other playwrights and spent a short time in jail with two comrades for writing a play that offended King James (later he and the king were friends). His popularity declined after he wrote a dud called The Devil is a Donkey.
Synopsis of Shakespeare's