Historical Background

Although fifteenth-century England had been a time of grave civil unrest and violence, by the time Shakespeare achieved prominence during Elizabeth and James’ reigns it was enjoying a period of socio-political security and respect for the arts. Queen Elizabeth’s reign extended from 1558 until 1603, when she was succeeded by the Scottish King James. Shakespeare received the patronage of both monarchs during his career as a playwright.

Elizabeth’s reign was not without its tensions. There was an intense religious climate in which the Queen had to act decisively. The religious tensions that existed during Elizabeth’s reign continued during James’ reign, when he was pitted against the Puritans. England had gone to war with Spain. In other foreign affairs, the Queen was moderate, practicing a prudent diplomatic neutrality. There were, however, several plots on her life.

There was also evidence of progress. The nation experienced a commercial revolution. Elizabeth’s government instituted two important social measures: “the Statute of Artificers” and the “Poor Laws,” both of which were aimed at helping the people displaced and hurt by changing conditions. Laws were passed to regulate the economy. Explorers started to venture into the unknown for riches and land. The machinery of government was transformed. The administrative style of government replaced the household form of leadership.

The Elizabethan Age was an age...

(The entire section is 490 words.)