"The Elizabethan drama is not a Minerva- like creation,springing full grown from the head of one man; it is rather an orderly , though rapid, development in which many men bore a part."
The English drama had its origin in religion, it grew out of the liturgy of the church.the early religious plays were of two types ; the mystery plays , based upon the subjects taken from the Bible ; and the miracle plays , dealing with the lives of the saints. the early dramas were didactic in nature , its purpose being to instruct people in the chief facts of the scriptures or inthe events of the lives of the saints. in the begining, the church had this drama under its control, it was written by the clergy, acted by the clergy within the church and its language was the latin of the church service. with time it became more secularized and as it became more popular, large crowds thronged to the church. the venue of the performance was first shifted to the porch and then to the streets of the village. Laymen now began to take part inthe performances and write and perform them. latin was then replaced by english, the native tongue. these performances were crude and poor in literary quality but they lasted till 16th centuary. there is every reason to believe that shakespeare witnessed some such performed as a boy , for the remark "out herod herod" in Hamlet is an obvious reference to the braggart Herod of the old miracle plays.
from such origins evolved the true drama in england. its evolution was much influenced and hastened by the revival of learning and the consequent study of the classical drama of the greek and romans. The comedies of plautus and terence and the tragedies of seneca wwere first studied and acted at universities. and then attempts were made to fashion english plays from these models. the first real comedy in english is rolph roister doister, written by nicholas udall and acted about in the middle of the 16th centuary. the first tragedy was gorbodue or ferrex and porrex written by nicholas udal and norton.
the period from 1550 to 1575 was aperiod of great confusion in the history otf the english drama. there was a temporary conflict between the humanists like sir phylip sydney who stood for the classical tradition and a faithfull imitation of ancient models, and the writers and actors who wrote for the common man with the aim of providing him with fun and entertainment and who did not care to follow any classical conventions or rules of art. their attempts were crude but they presented the strong nationalistic tastes of the english. the former were the founders of the "classical' drama; and the latter were of the "romantic" form. the best known exponent of the classical form is ben johnson , a great contemporary of shakespeare. the classical form was characterized by
- unity of subject or tone
- lack of action, the " romantics" on the other hand cared for no other unity except the unity of impression and preovided more action and incident than narratio.
by the time shakespeare emerged on the dramatic scene of england , the romantic drama was firmly established. this was the achievement of a band of young men who were shakespeare's immediate predecessors. they are known as the 'university wits'.
"they were a group of university men who had been trained in the school of classics and had learned much more about about dramatic workmanship but who while profiting by their lessons, discarded their special principlets of composition ."