The Drama in Elizabethan age and Henry VIII



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The prose and the poetry of the renaissance never became popular literature, as they were intended for an elite readership.
Drama, on the contrary, became very popular thanks to many elements:
- the theatre were open to everybody
- prices were relatively low
- plays could be understood by everybody
- the theatre going habit was widespread
- there were a great number of talented playwright
- the language used was more alive and direct than that of poetry and prose
- The theatre was a true mirror of society

Let us consider some of these items in greater detail:
The Elisabethan theatre was a mirror of the social order and hierarchy of the Elisabethan age, in imitation of the divine one (God at the top and the inanimate objects at the bottom)

The drama derived from the breaking of this order: any action, comic or tragic, that disturbed the harmony of the universe was “dramatic” in itself.

The use of the metaphors was widespread in the Elisabethan theatre, along with the blank verse which became more and more important because plays, unlike Franch and Italian (Ruzzante, Machiavelli), which were mostly written to be read, English ones were written to be performed.

The first theatre were platforms, surrounded by galleries. The performances were so successful that within few years many new theatres were built. The most famous was “The Globe”.

In the tipical theatre there were three stages: outer, inner and upper. Very simple objects were enough to be symbolize a place or the role of an actor, for example a bush in a vase stood for a forest and a crown for a king.

Performances usually began at two o’clock p.m. and lasted about two hours. To stand in the yard cost a penny, to stand on the stage twelve pence (nobles).

The audience were personally involved in the performance and there was an intimate communication between audience and actors.

Actors were usually very well trained professional, able to pay more that one role. Women were not allowed on the stage, and they were replaced by a boy-actors. The costumes were wonderful and expensive.

All actors had to have a patron, whom they usually found among the nobles or in the person of the Queen herself.

Seneca and MAchiavelly very much influenced the Elisabeth tragedy. The Golden Age of the Elisabethan theatre coincided with the production of a large number of young playwrights coming from the university who revolutionized staging techniques. The greatest of them all was Christopher Marlowe.

In conclusion, in the Elisabethan theatre
- there was no observance of the three unities ( time, place and action)
- the chorus of the ancient drama slowly disappeared
- There was a mixture of tragic and comic elements in the same play
- Fate of destiny, which dominate men’s actions in the Greek theatre, was replaced by free and personal choice.


Henry VIII was the ideal Renaissance monarch, since he was scholar, poet, musician and sportsman. The most important event of this period was the breach with Rome. Many English people respected the religion, but dislike clerical dominance, ad the higher clergy extorted money in many ways, and were often immoral and corrupt. All this led some people to look Martin Luther as an innovator.

Henry VIII, who had defended at first the Pope against Luther, was finally induced to separate the Church of England from Rome for both political and personal reasons. He had married his brother’s widow, who had borne him a daughter, but he wanted a male heir. He had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, and asked the Pope to declare his first marriage void. The Pope refused. The king didn’t accept the Pope authority and decided to ask the Parliament, which declared his married void, and then married Anne Boleyn. He after world had four more wives, two of them executed. England was declared an Empire, and a specific act (act of supremacy) of the Parliament declared the King “ Only supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England”. His chancellor, Thomas More didn’t accept the repudiation of Pope’s autority in religions matters and died on the scaffold. In 1536 Papal authority was declared extinct.