How Much Do You Know About English Renaissance Theatre?

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What was the period of English Renaissance theatre?

Between 1562 and 1642

What was the purpose of costumes during the Elizabethan era?

To identify social status on stage

What was the main factor that enabled the success of English Renaissance drama?

The establishment of large and profitable public theatres

What was the attitude of the Puritan movement toward theatre during the English Renaissance?


What was the primary way in which playwrights were paid during the English Renaissance?

In increments during the writing process

What were drolls during the English Renaissance?

Short comical plays allowed by the authorities during the Civil War

What was the attitude of the playwrights and actors toward the Royalist cause during the English Renaissance?

Most supported the Royalist cause

What was the main reason for the ban on theatrical plays enacted by the English Parliament in 1642?

The influence of the Puritan faction

What new genres of theatre evolved after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660?

Restoration comedy and spectacle

Study Notes

The Theatre of England between 1562 and 1642, also known as Renaissance English theatre, was the style of plays written by William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson.

The period of English Renaissance theatre encompasses the period between 1562 and the ban on theatrical plays enacted by the English Parliament in 1642.

The drama changed towards the end of the period with the development of private theatres, becoming more oriented towards the tastes and values of an upper-class audience.

The English grammar schools placed special emphasis on the trivium, which taught theatrical skills, and students would perform plays on holidays, and in both Latin and English.

Choir schools connected with the Elizabethan court performed plays and other court entertainments for the Queen, and playing companies of boy actors were derived from choir schools.

Academic drama stems from late medieval and early modern practices of miracles and morality plays as well as the Feast of Fools and the election of a Lord of Misrule.

The establishment of large and profitable public theatres was an essential enabling factor in the success of English Renaissance drama.

The playhouses were generally built with timber and plaster and were three stories high and built around an open space at the center.

Ticket prices varied based on where in the theatre a person wished to be situated, or based on what a person could afford.

Performances were done in the afternoon with no artificial lighting, but when the light began to fade, candles were lit.

Elizabethan actors never played the same show on successive days, added a new play to their repertoire every other week, and had to double roles to control salary costs.

One of the main uses of costume during the Elizabethan era was to make up for the lack of scenery, set, and props on stage.English Renaissance Theatre

  • Costumes were collected in inventory and reused when possible. The most expensive pieces were given to higher class characters because costuming was used to identify social status on stage.
  • Playwrights were primarily self-made men from modest backgrounds. Some were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, but many were not.
  • Playwrights were normally paid in increments during the writing process and had no ownership of the plays they wrote. Once a play was sold to a company, the company owned it, and the playwright had no control over casting, performance, revision, or publication.
  • The profession of dramatist was challenging and far from lucrative. Entries in Philip Henslowe's Diary show that in the years around 1600 Henslowe paid as little as £6 or £7 per play.
  • Plays on biblical themes were common, and Peele's David and Bethsabe was one of the few surviving examples.
  • Only a minority of the plays of English Renaissance theatre were ever printed. Through much of the modern era, it was thought that play texts were popular items among Renaissance readers that provided healthy profits for the stationers who printed and sold them.
  • The rising Puritan movement was hostile toward theatre, as they felt that "entertainment" was sinful. Politically, playwrights and actors were clients of the monarchy and aristocracy, and most supported the Royalist cause.
  • The Puritan faction, long powerful in London, gained control of the city early in the First English Civil War, and on 2 September 1642, the Long Parliament, pushed by the Parliamentarian party, under Puritan influence, banned the staging of plays in the London theatres.
  • Even after 1642, during the English Civil War and the ensuing Interregnum, some English Renaissance theatre continued. For example, short comical plays called drolls were allowed by the authorities, while full-length plays were banned.
  • The performance of plays remained banned for most of the next eighteen years, becoming allowed again after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
  • The theatres began performing many of the plays of the previous era, though often in adapted forms. New genres of Restoration comedy and spectacle soon evolved, giving English theatre of the later seventeenth century its distinctive character.
  • Major English playing companies from 1572 to 1642 are charted in a timeline.

Test your knowledge of English Renaissance Theatre with our quiz! From the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson to the construction of the playhouses, this quiz will challenge you on all aspects of this fascinating period of theatre history. Learn about the evolution of drama, the role of costumes, and the challenges faced by playwrights and actors. Take the quiz now and see how much you know about this influential era of theatre!

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