What are major features of Jacobean drama, especially with reference to the works of John Webster, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, and Thomas Dekker?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As we are limited in space, below is some information on Jacobean drama and Jacobean playwrights to help get you started. The Jacobean era began when James I took over the crown in England, 1603-25. While Shakespeare was still writing during this period, he was no longer the lead playwright, giving way to a whole new generation of playwrights. The Jacobean plays were not full of the same romantic love as Shakespeare's plays but instead were grim satires of contemporary society and contained a great deal of realism. Jacobean plays were particularly violent, cynical, pessimistic, and frequently dealt with the theme of society's moral corruption.

John Webster, one Jacobean era playwright, is especially known for The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfy. The play The White Devil was actually not well liked, but The Duchess of Malfi received better reception. The White Devil satirized the historical figure Vittoria Accoramboni who was truly murdered in Padua, Italy, in 1585. Webster used the theme of appearances vs. reality to show just how much Vittoria's famous outwardly beauty hid a very morally depraved interior. It further satirizes the Jacobean state of marriage by portraying the characters' marriages as no more than shams that lead to both divorce and murder.

Francis Beaumont worked alongside John Fletcher to write both Jacobean comedies and tragedies. One of their most famous works, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, particularly satirized English society. The play parodies audiences of plays by having two characters, the grocer and his wife, be audience members who complain about plays always being about the noble class rather than the working class. The parody next has the grocer's apprentice perform the role of an knight-errant by rescuing customers from a barber shop. The purpose of the play is to satirize English class divisions and especially to satirize the dominating merchant class.

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