Renaissance drama emerged and flourished in the 1500s and 1600s. Emerging out of medieval drama, which was heavily focused on morality, mystery, and miracle plays, the English theater of this period produced some of the greatest and most influential plays in literature. One of the earliest plays from the period is Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, a revenge play, which would influence Shakespeare. The dramatists of this era primarily worked in three genres: comedy, tragedy, and history. The genre lines often blurred between the three, with history frequently overlapping the other two. Aside from Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson, Webster, Ford, and Middleton were other major playwrights.
Renaissance, of course, means "rebirth" and there was a rediscovery, starting in Italy, of classical arts and culture. While some of the English writers could read these texts in the original Latin, many came to these sources in translation or second-hand. Plutarch's Lives provided many writers with historical material from the Roman period, while Ovid's Metamorphosis was a key source for mythology. Shakespeare, for example, used other sources, like the writings of Plautus, for all of his plays; originality was not as highly prized as it is now.
In terms of conventions of the stage, only men were allowed to act. Boys played women's parts. Many of the theaters, most famously the Globe, were round and open air. Seating was dependent on status and money, with the best seats in the balcony. Those who paid the least and stood in front of the stage were known as the groundings. During the Renaissance, theater appealed to a cross-cultural audience. The theaters were closed several times due to plague and were considered dens of iniquity and immorality by the Puritans, who shut them down when they took power.
A final characteristic of the plays of the time is the highly wrought, allusive, and poetic language the writers used. Many authors, such as Shakespeare, used blank verse in some of his plays, when he didn't use iambic pentameter. Marlowe, who influenced Shakespeare, also experimented with the new, less structured form. The language was, overall, very stylized and theatrical. In the best of these writers's work, the language transcends the period they were writing in and brings a psychological depth and introspection that had heretofore been absent in drama.