Sunday, June 13, 2010

Early Elizabethan Drama

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION


Drama is general any work meant to be performed on a stage by actors. A more particular meaning is a serious play; not necessarily tragedy. Diderot and Beaumarchais were responsible for this restricted usage.
English Drama (1560-1642) is sometimes referred to as 'Elizabethan Drama', and not unreasonably so, as the dramatic writing of the period gained its initial momentum under Queen Elizabeth I and, although the tone of the plays changed during the early years of the seventeenth century, the era as a whole represents the first and greatest age of English drama. Strictly speaking, Elizabethan Drama ends with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.
A rather vague classification applied as a rule to the second half of the 16th century and the early part of the 17th. Elizabeth actually reigned from 1558 to 1603. Some take the period to run from her accession to 1642, the year when the theatres were shut. In this case it includes the Jacobean and much of the Caroline period. The forty-odd years of Elizabeth's reign alone were remarkable for their creative activity and output in English literature, especially drama. At this time there flourished some dozens of dramatists, many of whom were prolific writers. Apart from drama, almost every literary form was exploited, developed and embellished.










CHAPTER II
DISCUSSION


1. The Beginning of Drama
Drama is the most natural of the art, being based on one of the most fundamental of the human and animal faculties the faculty of imitation. It is through imitation that animals learn to fight, climb, hunt. It is through imitation of that human children learn to talk and to perform a great number of complicated human functions. This imitative faculty or as we may call it, mimetic faculty, makes us all actors almost from the cradle. Children play at being doctors, cowboys, Wild West pioneers, spacemen, kings and queens. Kittens play at being tigers, puppies play at being dogs. This is acting, but it is not yet drama. It is believed that the first drama was not play, but a serious activity performed by grown men, expressing man’s highest instinct-the religious instinct.
There are many theories about the beginning of drama in ancient Greece. "Standard usage includes those words and expressions understood, used, and accepted by a majority of the speakers of a language in any situation regardless of the level of formality. The on most widely accepted today is based on the assumption that drama evolved from ritual. As such, these words and expressions are well defined and listed in standard dictionaries. Many people believe that the first drama was based on four things: the mimetic faculty, sympathetic magic, a belief in gods, and a fear of starvation.
We shall see religion and drama closely mixed throughout the early history of the art in Europe. With the Greeks, two thousand five hundred years ago, drama had reached a more sophisticated stage of development than the mere representation of the death and resurrection of a god, but it had its beginning in very crude village ceremonies: tragedy comes from tragos, the Greek word for a goat, and perhaps the first tragedies were merely dances round sacrificial goat, or song from a chorus dressed as goats. (The goat has an interesting history in the older religions: it was regarded by the Greeks as the most lustful of the animal and hence, perhaps, the most fertile: animal fertility was closely connected with the fertility of the earth. The Hebrews used, symbolically, to load a goat with their sins and drive it out into the desert: Chirst is sometimes compared to this scapegoat). Comedy comes from komos, meaning a revel , the sort of rough country party which honoured the god Dionysus-a god of vegetation, a suffering god, who dies and comes to life again, particularly as a god of wine, who loosens care.
As time passed some rituals were abandoned, but the stories, later called myths, persisted and provided material for art and drama. Both colloquial usage and slang are more common in speech than in writing. Those who believe that drama evolved out of ritual also argue that those rites contained the seed of theater because music, dance, masks, and costumes were almost always used, Furthermore, a suitable site had to be provided for performances and when the entire community did not participate, a clear division was usually made between the ""acting area"" and the ""auditorium.

2. The Beginnings of English Drama
In 1935 a play by T. S. Eliot, dealing with the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket, was produced in Canterbury Cathedral. It was followed by a rash of religious plays, written for perform¬ance in churches and cathedrals up and down England. The wheel had conic full circle. The English Drama had returned to its place of origin, the Christian Church.
And yet the Christian Church has never been over-friendly towards the Drama. If we go back to the last days of the Roman Empire we can understand why. The plays presented to a jaded, perverted-public in the reigns of the last Emperors were marked by .a filthiness, a love of sheer outrage And horror, that seem hardly credible. The Church condemned such a prostitution of art, and, when the Roman theatres were closed, the Drama lay, as it were, stunned by its own excesses for many centuries. When Drama, crime- back to Europe, it and modestly, in the service of the church itself.
Some scholars have already commented on the dramatic qualities of the Mass of the Catholic Church. The Mass has movement, dialogue, color, development, and climax. It would seem that the Church is concerned with conveying to its members the majesty of the theme of Christ’s sacrifice, through dramatic means. Ritual is one aspect of a religion, another aspect is doctrine. And so, by a natural transition we can expect that dramatic means might also be used for conveying to the common people — people unable to read or to take much pleasure in sermons — the more important, of the teachings of the Church.
As early as the ninth century, we find genuinely dramatic dialogue inserted into the mass for faster Sunday. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated on that day, and this Resurrection is made actual immediate through a dialogue between the Angels at Christ's tomb and the three Maries who have come to look at His body:

Angels : "Whom do you seek in this tomb, O follower of Christ?'
Women : "We seek Jesus Christ Who was crucified, O Angels.
Angel's : 'He is not here: He his risen again as He said He would Go, proclaim that He has risen from the sepulcher.

Starting in the fourteenth century, these guild dramas had in all nearly three centuries of life, for we still find mention of them in the regin of James I. But it is not to them that we have to look for the origins of the great Elizabethan drama. Before this drama can come into being, we need a new tradition a tradition of secular subjects for plays and of professional actors to act them.
Starting in the fourteenth century, these guild dramas had in all nearly three centuries of life, for we still find mention of them in the regin of James I. But it is not to them that we have to look for the origins of the great Elizabethan drama. Before this drama can come into being, we need a new tradition a tradition of secular subjects for plays and of professional actors to act them.
In the last days of the fifteenth century we find it rather hard to distinguish between the morality and the interlude. The main difference seems to lie, not in theme, but in place and occasion of performance.

3. Early Elizabethan Drama
The story of Elizabethan drama begins not in the theatres but in the Inns of Court of London. Often fails to recognize that the Elizabethan reception of Seneca occurred in two distinct phases, and only accurately describes the second of these. The first took place in the 1560s. Prior to this decade there was little concern with Seneca in England, with only a handful of philosophical works and fragments of the drama published in manuscript and print. Beginning in 1559, however, there was intense interest in the author, especially at the universities and early English law schools, the Inns of Court, where students and fellows translated most of the drama and performed a series of Senecan and neo-Senecan plays. The later phase took place in the 1580s and 1590s when, after a decade-long break in the performance and publication of Seneca, Thomas Newton compiled the first English anthology of the Tenne Tragedies (1581), and Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and Shakespeare adapted elements of the drama for their plays.
The difference between the phases is pronounced. Later playwrights imitated aspects of the tragedies, but earlier ones engaged with them comprehensively and in their entirety. Thus, in the 1560s authors fully translated nine of the tragedies into English. At the same time, many authors wrote original plays, such as Thomas Sackville (ca. 1536-1608) and Norton's (1530/32-85) Gorboduc (performed 1562).
Seneca is seen even in the medium that Sackville and Norton who both achieved administrative responsibility under Elizabeth, and Sackville additionally a knighthood and the estate of Knole. Derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s legendary but inaccurate Historia Regum Brittaniae, written in the twelfth century and first printed in 1508, the dramatic action follows the conventions of Senecan tragedy which became so popular in the Early Modern theatre. Stylistic echoes from this early example are evident in Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson and many others. Gorboduc had less influence on Marlowe than on Shakespeare - Marlowe’s characters tend to be doers rather than debaters - but the phrase.

Thou never suck’d the milk of woman’s breast;
But, from thy birth, the cruel tiger’s teats
Have nurs’d thee;


Is brilliantly condensed into Edward’s line:

Inhumaine creatures, nurst with Tiger’s milke.

One of the most popular plays of the whole period covered by Shakespeare's career was The Spanish Tragedy, probably by Thomas Kyd (1558-94). Kyd startles with spectacular stage devices adopted from Senecan drama. The story concerns the murder of Horatio – who is in love with the beautiful Belimperia – by agents of his rival in love.
Hieronimo is the knight marshal of Spain and the father of Horatio. In the onset of the play he is a dedicated servant to the King of Spain. However, the difference in social status becomes apparent when his son is wrongfully murdered by Balthazar, the son of the viceroy of Portugal, and Lorenzo, the son of the Duke of Spain, which eventually causes tragic events to unfold. In order to revenge the death of his son, Hieronimo takes on additional roles, a playwright and an actor. He uses his position in the King's court to write and perform a play within a play. This performance mirrors the actual events surrounding Horatio's death, and within this show Hieronimo commits his own acts of revenge against the perpetrators. Many critics see Hieronimo as a dynamic character that by the end of the tragedy has become obsessed with taking revenge against the murderers of his son. Literature of 16th century England was greatly concerned with plots of deceit, confusion and madness as its central theme. The Spanish Tragedy is no different.
When Hieronimo is distraught with grief we have the following outburst:

O eyes, no eyes, but fountains fraught with tears!
O life, no life, but lively form of death!
O world, no world, but mass of public wrongs!
Confused and filled with murder and misdeeds!

Early comedy owes something to the Roman comic playwrights. Nicholas Udall (1504 – 23 December 1556), sometime head-master at Eton, and celebrated for the severity of his discipline, is the founder of English comedy. Evidences remain of his liking for Terence and for Erasmus: in 1533 he compiled and published certain translations from Terence under the title of Flowers from Latin speaking; and he translated Erasmus's Apophthegms in 1542, and his Paraphrase of the New Testament between 1542 and 1545.
The date of the composition of his comedy Ralph Roister Doister, is not ascertained: Mr. Collier suggests that it was written in Udall's youth. It is a great step in advance of moralities and interludes. The author names Plautus and Terence as his models, and terms the work an interlude or comedy, as if wishing to claim kindred with a higher order of composition. He had sufficient genius to borrow from the Romans a superior construction of play without sacrificing any of his native humour to foreign affectations. Roister Doister rises above preceding dramatic representations in English in the formal excellence of being divided into Acts and Scenes, and, still more, in having a plot based upon lively misunderstandings--the proper and peculiar plot of comedy. Its leading characters, too, are deliberate studies. The action of the play consists in the wooing of a widow, Dame Constance, by a boastful half-witted rich fellow, Ralph Roister Doister, who is set on and befooled by Matthew Merrygreek, an imitation of Terence's clever rogue and parasite. The play opens with the entrance of Merrygreek singing and cheerfully recounting his various shifts to gain an idle livelihood. Ralph, he says, is his chief banker and sheet-anchor, and one of the greatest louts in the kingdom. Presently Ralph enters, and from that moment till the end of the play is the victim of Merrygreek's tricks and extortions. The rogue discovers that he is in love, and ready to run mad; and after hearing of the lady's wealth, and moralizing that marriage money usually shrinks, he works in the most amusing way on the hero's vanity.
A more sophisticated kind of comedy was developed by John Lyly (1554?-1606). John Lyly's plays, written for child actors, and for the select audience at Elizabeth's Court, retain some of the same artifice of his elaborate prose works. The strong point of Lyly's plays is that they are written in witty prose, and are elegantly constructed. Lyly builds his comedies around a central debate, rather in the fashion of The Courtier. Endimion, probably his best known play, debates the nature of love in a fashion very similar to Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost.
Like Peele, Lyly tended to write plays with more than one level of the plot, so that the minor characters -- borrowed from the cheeky servants of Roman comedy -- parody the actions of those in the main plot. This is a tradition that goes back to some of the earliest plays that survive: notably the interlude Fulgens and Lucrece.
Lyly's popular prose romance, Euphues, or The Anatomy of Wit, set the fashion for the decade before Shakespeare started writing. Euphues is a rather moral romance distinguished by its elaborate style.
Lyly was one of those who wanted to raise English prose to the height of sophistication of the great Latin stylists. The result is at times almost comic to us now--and soon became the subject of parody in his own time--but it was an important development in the awareness of English writers of the power of the language they spoke.
Falstaff parodies Lyly's euphuistic language in Henry the Fourth, Part One when he acts the part of Hal's father:

Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou art accompanied. For though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, so youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears. (2. 4. 403-7)

George Peele (1556?-97?) is responsible for one of the most delightful of the pre-Shakespearian comedies – The Old Wives' Tale, a play which explores the tradition of romantic comedy (like Clyomon and Clamydes, though more sophisticated) within the framework of a play-within- a-play, rather like the (incomplete) frame of The Taming of the Shrew. Peele also took advantage of the growing convention of mingling several plots in the one play, so that often the action of the main plot was parodied in the sub-plot.
John Milton took the theme of the two brothers and their sister, called the Lady, lost in a journey though the woods for his Comus.
The last pre-Shakespearian writer of comedies is Robert Greene (1558?-92), whose certainly the most picturesque and one of the most important of the University Wits. In the Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (not known to have been acted before February, 1592, but probably written in 1589) Greene once more attempted to emulate Marlowe; and he succeeded in producing a masterpiece of his own. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, which doubtless suggested the composition of Greene's comedy, reveals the mighty tragic genius of its author; but Greene resolved on an altogether distinct treatment of a cognate theme. Interweaving with the popular tale of Friar Bacon and his wondrous doings a charming idyl (so far as we know, of his own invention), the story of Prince Edward's love for the Fair Maid of Fressingfield, he produced a comedy brimful of amusing action and genial fun. Friar Bacon remains a dramatic picture of English Elizabethan life with which The Merry Wives alone can vie; and not even the ultraclassicism in the similes of its diction can destroy the naturalness which constitutes its perennial charm.

















CHAPTER III
CONCLUSION


 Drama is the most natural of the art, being based on one of the most fundamental of the human and animal faculties the faculty of imitation.
 Many people believe that the first drama was based on four things: the mimetic faculty, sympathetic magic, a belief in gods, and a fear of starvation.
 The story of Elizabethan drama begins not in the theatres but in the Inns of Court of London.
 The first true English tragedy is Gorboduc – by Thomas Sackville (ca. 1536-1608) and Thomas Norton (1530/32-85).
 One of the most popular plays of the whole period covered by Shakespeare's career was The Spanish Tragedy, probably by Thomas Kyd (1558-94).
 Nicholas Udall (1504 – 23 December 1556), is the founder of English comedy.
 A more sophisticated kind of comedy was developed by John Lyly (1554?-1606).
 George Peele (1556?-97?) is responsible for one of the most delightful of the pre-Shakespearian comedies.
 John Milton took the theme of the two brothers and their sister, called the Lady, lost in a journey though the woods for his Comus.
 The last pre-Shakespearian writer of comedies is Robert Greene (1558?-92).

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