Elizabethan Drama

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What were the dominant literary themes in the Elizabethan era?

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The themes in the Elizabethan era were varied.  By looking into the plays of William Shakespeare, we can see what interested these people.  Shakespeare is the best example because he covered so many areas of human interest.

In his history plays, Shakespeare explored power and what makes a good ruler.  By delving into his own recent history, he could explore  these ideas.  The question of how to be a good ruler has been asked by countless generations.  Shakespeare shows us the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What does it mean to be a human being was the subject of his tragedies.  He explored love and jealousy, duty and revenge, power politics, and many other ideas.

In his comedies, he poked fun at us.  Love and our misunderstanding of it seems to be a favorite theme.  In these plays, the women teach the man what love truly is.

Family relationships, lost children, forgiveness, and reunification seem to dominate the late plays.

So, it would appear that the things that concern us today also concerned the people in the Elizabethan period.

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The Elizabethan era spans the years 1558–1603, when Elizabeth I ruled the United Kingdom. Both tragedies and comedies were popular forms of drama, which dominated literature of this period, along with poetry. The influence of the Italian Renaissance is undeniable in its literary tradition both in form and content.

Themes of heroism were prominent, such as in Christopher Marlowe's two-part drama Tamburlaine the Great, noted for its poetry as it loosely related the events of the life of an Asian emperor.

Shakespeare's comedies, As You Like It and Twelfth Night are both light examinations of the many faces of love and romantic entanglements. The Blind Beggar of Alexandria by George Chapman features a common theme of the period centered around disguise. Other types of comedy included dark satire. Political and historical plays, such as Shakespeare's Henry V, which focuses on events of the Hundred Years War, and Richard II, which explores the nature of kingship are Elizabethan works that prefigure the more psychological themes of Shakespeare's later plays.

Lyric poetry, sonnets, and narrative poetry were genres popular in the Elizabethan era, and common themes in all of them include humanism and nationalism. Pastoral poems, too, were popular and include Edmund Spenser's "The Shepheardes Calender" which recounts twelve months in the life of a shepherd and is meant to evoke earlier, medieval times. The queen herself wrote verse; "The Doubt of Future Foes" is a meditation on her difficult relationship with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

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