DRAMA IN THE ELIZABETHAN AGE • During the reign of Elizabeth I, drama became the truly nation literary manifestation of the time for different reasons: • 1 the theatres were open to everybody, and admission prices were relatively low • 2 plays could be understood even by people who were unable to read and write • 3 the language used was more alive and direct than that of poetry and prose • 4 a new interest in classical drama had been introduced by Humanism • In the Elizabethan theatre the view of the world was still based on the idea of social order in imitation of the divine order. • The Elizabethan “hero” full of passions and doubts, however,replaced the old allegorical character and the relationship between the laws of man and those of nature were emphasized. • Storms and other phenomena symbolising disharmony and chaos in the universe were presented as a consequence or presage of criminal actions which brought chaos and anarchy to society • Even the language was affected by the concept of hierarchy. • The monarch was often compared to the sun or to a lion to stress not only his power, but also his unique, irreplaceable role. • Language was in verse and not in prose. • The use of metaphors was widespread and unlike the French and Italian plays of the time, which were mostly written to be read, the English ones were written to be performed and required actors’ great verbal skill. STRUCTURE OF THEATRES • In 1576 James Burbage built the first permanent theatre outside the walls of the City of London. • Before that year, actors had no stable home and acted in the halls of the noblemen’s houses, in royal palaces or at the inns of Court. • Permanent theatres were circular or octagonal • Within the outer walls there were three tiers of roofed galleries, looking down on the stage and the yard were the poor spectators stood • Most of the action took place on a roofed stage (outer or apron stage). • Behind the stage there was an inner stage hidden by a curtain (when it wasn’t used). The inner stage was the place for smaller scenes such as Juliet’s tomb in “Romeo and Juliet”. • Over the back of the outer stage there was a third space:upper stage used by musicians or to represent a balcony or the walls of a town. • Characters entered and disappeared through two doors on either sides of the curtain, or through a trap-door opening on the floor of the outer apron • There was very little scenery. Simple objects were enough to symbolise a place or the role of an actor: so a table stood for a room, a bud in a vase for a forest, and a crown for a king. • Plays were acted in daylight. They began at two o’clock in the afternoon and lasted for little more than two hours. To go and stand in the yard cost one penny; to sit in one of the galleries two pennies. The nobles or those who could afford up to 12 pence could sit on the stage, while the “groundlings” gathered around its three open sides. • Actors were very well trained professionals, able to play more than one role, skilled in dancing and fencing. • Women weren’t allowed on the stage, they were replaced by boy-actors. • All the actors had to have a patron, whom they usually found among the nobles or in the person of the queen herself. • These patrons often gave their names to the company they sponsored. • The Elizabethan theatre was the product of a perfect fusion of traditional and classical elements. Plautus influenced comedy while Seneca influenced tragedy. • (the revenge theme, sanguinary plots, bloody scenes,the presence of ghosts, long monologues) • In the Elizabethan tragedies however there was: 1. no observance of the three unities (space – time – action) 2. a mixture of tragic and comic elements in the same play 3. a deep moral conflict between good and evil. THE UNIVERSITY WITS • The Golden Age of the Elizabethan Theatre coincided with the dramatic production of playwrights with a university education from Oxford and Cambridge grouped under the name of the university wits. The greatest of them was Christopher Marlowe. The Tragical History of Christopher Marlowe February 1564-May 30, 1593 • Born in Canterbury, son of a shoemaker • Studied at Canterbury thanks to a scholarship and took his B.A.1583. • Became a secret agent for the Queen. (?) • After leaving Canterbury, he went to live in London where he shared a room with Thomas Kyd (one of the University wits) and joined a group of intellectuals, led by sir Walter Raleigh, who met to debate philosophy and religion • Accused of murder, he was imprisoned but soon released. • Marlowe’s dissolute life, atheism and freethinking made him dangerous in the eyes of the Privy Council who decided to arrest him. Before he could be arrested, however, Marlowe was killed. On 30th May 1593, he was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl and it is believed that his death was not accidental, but “planned” for political reasons. • It is said that Marlowe was an atheist, a rebel,a spy, a dangerous and unreliable person. But he was also a scholar, a keen observer and interpreter of his time, well acquainted with court intrigues, the evil and the suffering of the human soul and the inner conflicts of people wavering between Protestantism and Catholicism. Works • During his short life, he wrote five dramatic works: • Tamburlaine the Great (1586-87) • Doctor Faustus (1588-89) • The Jew of Malta (1590) • Edward II (1591) • Dido, Queen of Carthage (1593) • Translations from Ovid and Lucan • Poems: The Passionate Shepherd and the unfinished Hero and Leander Themes His plays embody the true spirit of the Renaissance, concentrating on man as opposed to God. The most important themes are: • the thirst for power which can be reached through political greatness, unlimited knowledge or immense wealth • Rebellion against restrictive institutions • Unlimited ambition • The final sense of solitude which overcomes the tragic hero when he realizes that unlimited power is unattainable. Features • Marlowe’s works represent a departure from the didactic spirit of the Morality Plays and his characters are no longer personifications of virtues or vices, but are enriched by human passions and faults. • He improved blank verse • He gave unity and form to the drama: initial search for power – ambition – destruction; these were no longer isolated scenes but formed the complete parabola of a man’s life • Language rich in hyperbole • He was the first writer to interpret the discovery of the New World in philosophical terms. For Marlowe America was not so much “conquest” or “colonization”, but a new spirit of freedom. It was the symbol of the limitless power of man and of new horizons open to knowledge. Doctor Faustus • It deals with power through knowledge,wheras Tamburlaine the Great deals with physical and political power. • The plot was not invented but taken from the real history of a reputed German magician, Georg or Johannes Faustus, who lived at the beginning of the 16 century and whose biography was translated into English under the title of The Historie of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus. • Marlowe was fascinated by this story and decided to transform Faustus from a necromancer into a scholar and theologian who, dissatisfied with the scientific methods of his time, turns to magic. To obtain full power he sells his soul to the devil in return for 24 years of pleasure and supernatural knowledge. • As time passes, however, he becomes more and more aware of the emptiness of his bargain: he is still just a man bound to die and the only reality is now damnation. In his final soliloquy, at the completion of 24 years,overcome by fear and remorse, he expresses his despair and mental agony, but it is too late because a host of devils appears and carries his soul off to hell. A Morality Play? • Doctor Faustus is often regarded as a Morality Play,but it is different from the medieval play Everyman where Death is a character, God is vindictive and the only life possible to reach eternal salvation is the one leading to death. Faustus does not believe in predestination and life after death; according to him theology and philosophy (Medieval and Renaissance thought) are too restrictive and the only means to fulfil his ambitions is a pact with Mephistopheles. A “self-made man” • Faustus reflects the ambition and the restlessness of the Renaissance man, who is still linked to medieval culture but wants to be the maker of his own destiny. • Faustus is an intelligent learned man tragically seduced by a rational power greater than he was mortally meant to have. The character of Doctor Faustus is, an ideal of humanism, but Marlowe shows him to be damned, thus satirizing the ideals of Renaissance Humanism. • Faustus’s downfall is linked to the fact that he is and will always be human – thus flawed and corrupt.