Elizabethan Drama Historical Context

Historical Context

Master of Revels and Censorship
Every play had to be submitted to the Master of Revels for licensing before performance. He acted as the official censor and would often force the deletion of passages or references that were deemed offensive. Gerald Eades Bentley, in “Regulation and Censorship” from The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590–1642, observes that

most of the censoring activities were intended to eliminate from the stage five general types of lines or scenes: 1. Critical comments on the policies or conduct of government. 2. Unfavorable presentations of friendly foreign powers or their sovereigns, great nobles or subjects. 3. Comment of religious controversy. 4. Profanity (after 1606). 5. Personal satire of influential people.

The Office of Revels was originally established to select and supervise all entertainment of the sovereign, but as time progressed, its power grew. In 1581, a patent was issued that centralized the regulation of all plays and players with the Master of Revels. The man holding this position became quite powerful and prestigious, for he could significantly change the tone and intent of any production through censorship or could prevent the production from occurring altogether. The position was also very lucrative, as the Master of Revels received a tidy sum for each play that was licensed.

Puritans
The Puritans were extremely zealous Protestants who held strict views on matters of religion and morality. They shunned all forms of entertainment, including music and dancing, because they believed that these diversions turned a person’s thoughts away from concentration upon the Bible and spiritual matters. Puritans considered the theatre to be an ungodly institution and vocally denounced it as “wicked” and “profane.” Throughout the Elizabethan era, they actively campaigned against the public playhouses because they felt that such institutions threatened England’s morality. Numerous Puritan writers produced pamphlets warning against the dangers of attending the theatre and attacked the actors as sinners and heretics. As John Addington Symonds notes in his essay...

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