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The dramatic work of Shakespeare is impressive even numerically speaking: he wrote

37 plays: many - and of many kinds. In his works there are almost one thousand characters,
belonging to different eras, various people, distinct social classes or statuses. These characters
are represented by women and men, young people, adults and old ones, by lovers and life-
weary people, by heroes and villains and also by intelligent or poor spirited people. The human
typology enlisted by the playwright is endless and offers a new perspective at each new
reading. Shakespeares work presents variety but is still a unitary one presenting different
tendencies and a remarkable internal coherence altogether. Nothing is randomly selected in the
Bards work; all characters and all events are present and happen for a reason.
The main themes, the literary motifs and symbols of all tragedies are punctured by the
same humanistic spirituality specific of the renaissance period and in all we find the same
tragic expression of human condition.
The importance of womens presence in Shakespearean tragedies is shown by their
surprising, multi-sided personalities; many times women prefer showing their honor in a
bloody ambitious manner rather than exposing traditional feminine values in general and
womanly love in particular. These characters are at the root of many reactions and changes in
situation as they stand for power and influence over the other characters.
Sometimes women in Shakespeares tragedies are seen on one hand as provocative,
moody, constantly struggling for power, cunning, daring, mischievous or even violent. On the
other hand, they appear as loving and loyal to their men, wanting to know truth and force of
character, heavenly, divine, gracious in behavior and sometimes dominated, controlled and
influenced by other characters.
In order to best illustrate the character of women in Shakespeares tragedies it is of
utmost importance to outline that the feeling which acts as an engine in these womens lives is
love. Peoples feeling of love oscillates between shallowness and deepness, and women almost
always situate themselves near the limits of the two extremes. To watch deep into their soul,
trying to decipher their personality from the perspective of a love relationship behavior means
getting closer both to the feeling of maximum purity of love and to that of its most humble
ways of expressing itself, temporarily chained by a combination of circumstances. Shakespeare

clears out such situations, managing to give life to some admirable human portraits, which
illustrate a large register of feelings, by describing womens behavior. When truth is separated
by falsehood through a more or less fortunate and expected event1, tragedy invades the scene
and the readers and spectators understand why some women deserve to be respected, while
others cant be seen as anything else but as the bearers of some erotic masks set on top of clay
bodies, incapable of loving and strictly dominated by a mean interest.

Apud. Dumutriu, Corneliu Arheologia dramelor shakespeariene, volume II Comediile , chapter III, p.
125, Bucureti, Editura ALL, 2001


1. The English Renaissance

The English Renaissance is a recently used term to define and describe the cultural
and artistic movement from the early 16th century to the early 17th century. This period of time
in the English cultural history is most times referred to as the Elizabethan era or the age of
Shakespeare, taking the name of the Renaissances most important monarch and most famous
author respectively. These names are, though, rather misleading because the English
Renaissance covers a period both before and after Queen Elizabeths reign and because
Shakespeare was not exactly a famous writer in his time.
The English Renaissance is distinct from the Italian Renaissance in several ways. First,
the dominant art form of the English Renaissance was literature, while the Italian Renaissance
was driven much more by the visual arts, such as painting and sculpture. Second, the English
movement is separated from the Italian by time: many trace the Italian Renaissance to Dante or
Petrarch in the early 1300s, and certainly most of the famous Italian Renaissance figures
ceased their creative output by the 1520s. In contrast, the English Renaissance seems to begin
in the 1520s, reaching its apex around the year 1600, and not concluding until roughly the
restoration of Charles II in the 1660s. Finally, the English seem to have been less directly
influenced by classical antiquity, which was a hallmark of the Italian Renaissance (the word
"renaissance" means "rebirth," an allusion to the Italian belief that they were merely
rediscovering or reviving lost ancient knowledge and technique); instead, the English were
primarily influenced by the Italians themselves, and rediscovered the classical authors through
While the Classical revival led to a flourishing of Italian Renaissance architecture,
architecture in Britain took a more eclectic approach. Elizabethan architecture retained many
features of the Gothic, even while the occasional purer building such as the tomb in the Henry
VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, or the French-influenced architecture of Scotland
showed interest in the new style.

Apud. The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, Preface and Playhouses and
Players, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990.

The notion of calling this period "the Renaissance" is a modern invention, having been
popularized by the historian Jacob Burckhardt in the nineteenth century. The idea of the
Renaissance has come under increased criticism by many cultural historians, and some have
contended that the "English Renaissance" has no real tie with the artistic achievements and
aims of the northern Italian artists (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello) who are closely
identified with the Renaissance. Indeed, England had already experienced a flourishing of
literature over 200 years before the time of Shakespeare when Geoffrey Chaucer was working.
Chaucer's popularizing of English as a medium of literary composition rather than Latin was
only 50 years after Dante had started using Italian for serious poetry. At the same time William
Langland, author of Piers Plowman, and John Gower were also writing in English. The
Hundred Years' War and the subsequent civil war in England known as the Wars of the Roses
probably hampered artistic endeavor until the relatively peaceful and stable reign of Elizabeth I
allowed drama in particular to develop. Even during these war years, though, Thomas Malory,
author of Le Morte D'Arthur, was a notable figure. For this reason, scholars find the
singularity of the period called the English Renaissance questionable; C.S. Lewis, a professor
of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge, famously remarked to a
colleague that he had discovered that there was no English Renaissance, and that if there had
been one, it had no effect whatsoever1.
Historians have also begun to consider the word "Renaissance" as an unnecessarily
loaded word that implies an unambiguously positive "rebirth" from the supposedly more
primitive Middle Ages. Some historians have asked the question "a renaissance for whom?,"
pointing out, for example, that the status of women in society arguably declined during the
Renaissance. Many historians and cultural historians now prefer to use the term "early modern"
for this period, a neutral term that highlights the period as a transitional one that led to the
modern world, but does not have any positive or negative connotations.
Other cultural historians have countered that, regardless of whether the name
"renaissance" is apt, there was undeniably an artistic flowering in England under the Tudor
monarchs, culminating in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The key literary figures in the

Apud. Cazamian, Louis and Legouis, Emile A History of English Literature, The Middle Ages and The
Renaissance, Book IV The Flowering of the Renascence (1578 1625) ,Chapter I General Characteristics of
the Great Period, p. 246 , by Legouis, Emile, Translation from the French by Helen Douglas Irvine Revisited
Edition, London, J. M. Deut & Sons Ltd., 1971.

English Renaissance are now generally considered to be the poet Edmund Spenser; the
philosopher Francis Bacon; the poets and playwrights Christopher Marlowe, William
Shakespeare and Ben Jonson; and the poet John Milton. Sir Thomas More is often considered
one of the earliest writers of the English Renaissance. Thomas Tallis, Thomas Morley, and
William Byrd were the most notable English musicians of the time, and are often seen as being
a part of the same artistic movement that inspired the above authors1.

2. Elizabethan England

The Elizabethan Era is the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558
1603) and is often considered to be a golden age in English history. It was the height of the
English Renaissance, and saw the flowering of English literature and poetry. The Elizabethan
Age is viewed so highly because of the contrasts with the periods before and after. It was a
brief period of largely internal peace between the English Reformation and the battles between
Protestants and Catholics and the battles between parliament and the monarchy that would
engulf the seventeenth century. The Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a time, by the
Elizabethan Religious Settlement and parliament was still not strong enough to challenge royal
England was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian
Renaissance had come to an end under the weight of foreign domination of the peninsula.
France was embroiled in its own religious battles that would only be settled in 1598 with the
Edict of Nantes. In part because of this, but also because the English had been expelled from
their last outposts on the continent, the centuries long conflict between France and England
was largely suspended for most of Elizabeth's reign.
The one great rival was Spain, with which England conflicted both in Europe and the
Americas in skirmishes that exploded into the Anglo-Spanish War of 15851604. An attempt
by Philip II of Spain to invade England with the Spanish Armada in 1588 was famously
defeated, but the tide of war turned against England with a disastrously unsuccessful attack
upon Spain, the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589. Thereafter Spain provided some support for

Apud. Idem, pp. 247 - 249
Apud. Maurois, Andr Istoria Angliei , volume I, chapter XI, pp. 347 - 348 , Bucharest, Editura Politic,

Irish Catholics in a draining guerrilla war against England and Spanish naval and land forces
inflicted a series of defeats upon English forces. This badly damaged both the English
Exchequer and economy that had been so carefully restored under Elizabeth's prudent
guidance. English colonization and trade would be frustrated until the signing of the Treaty of
London the year following Elizabeth's death. England during this period had a centralized,
well-organized, and effective government, largely a result of the reforms of Henry VII and
Henry VIII. Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from the new era of trans-
Atlantic trade.
Elizabeth provided the country with a long period of general if not total peace, and
generally increasing prosperity. Having inherited a virtually bankrupt state from previous
reigns, her frugal policies restored fiscal responsibility. Her fiscal restraint cleared the regime
of debt by 1574, and ten years later the Crown enjoyed a surplus of 300,000. Economically,
Sir Thomas Gresham's founding of the Royal Exchange (1565), the first stock exchange in
England and one of the earliest in Europe, would prove to be a development of the first
importance, for the economic development of England and soon for the world as a whole. With
taxes lower than other European countries of the period, the economy expanded; though the
wealth was distributed with wild unevenness, there was clearly more wealth to go around at the
end of Elizabeth's reign than at the beginning. This general peace and prosperity allowed the
attractive developments that "Golden Age" advocates have stressed1.
Both from an anachronistic modern perspective and from that of 16th-century
Humanism, England in this era had some positive aspects that set it apart from
contemporaneous continental European societies. Torture was rare, since the English legal
system reserved torture only for capital crimes like treasonthough forms of corporal
punishment, some of them extreme, were practiced. The persecution of witches was also
comparatively rare; while some persecutions did occur, they never reached the hysterical
proportions that disfigured some European societies so severely in this period. The role of
women in society was, for the historical era, relatively unconstrained; Spanish and Italian
visitors to England commented regularly, and sometimes casuistically/, on the freedom that
women enjoyed in England, in contrast to their home cultures.

Apud. Idem., p. 349.

Elizabeth's determination not to "look into the hearts" of her subjects, to moderate the
religious persecutions of previous Tudor reignsthe persecution of Catholics under Henry
VIII and Edward VI, and of Protestants under Maryappears to have had a moderating effect
on English society in general. While Elizabethan England has been characterized by one
skeptic as a "brutal dictatorship," it was, as brutal dictatorships go, one of the most benign1.

Science, technology, exploration

Lacking a dominant genius or a formal structure for research (as the following century
would have both Sir Isaac Newton and the Royal Society), the Elizabethan era nonetheless saw
significant scientific progress. The astronomers Thomas Digges (154695) and Thomas Harriot
(ca. 15601621) made important contributions; William Gilbert (15441603) published his
seminal study of magnetism, De Magnete, in 1600. Substantial advancements were made in
the fields of cartography and surveying. The eccentric but influential John Dee (15271608)
also merits mention.
Much of this scientific and technological progress related to the practical skill of
navigation. English achievements in exploration were noteworthy in the Elizabethan era. Sir
Francis Drake (ca. 154096) circumnavigated the globe (157781), and Martin Frobisher (ca.
153594) explored the Arctic. The first attempt at English settlement of the Eastern seaboard
of North America occurred in this erathe abortive colony at Roanoke Island (1587).
While Elizabethan England is not thought of as an age of technological innovation,
some progress did occur. In 1564 one "Guilliam Boonen" came from the Netherlands to be
Queen Elizabeth's first coach-builderthus introducing the new European invention of the
spring-suspension coach to England, as a replacement for the litters and carts of an earlier
transportation mode. Coaches quickly became as fashionable as sports cars in a later century;
social critics, especially Puritan commentators, noted the "diverse great ladies" who rode "up
and down the countryside" in their new coaches.

Apud. Idem., chapter XII, pp. 354 356.

Fine arts

It has often been said that the Renaissance came late to England, in contrast to Italy and
the other states of continental Europe; it is also a truism that the fine arts in England during the
Tudor and Stuart eras were dominated by foreign and imported talentfrom Hans Holbein the
Younger under Henry VIII to Anthony van Dyck under Charles I. Yet within this general trend,
a native school of painting was developing. In Elizabeth's reign, Nicholas Hilliard (ca. 1547
1619), the Queen's "limner and goldsmith," is the most widely recognized figure in this native
development; but George Gower (15401596) has begun to attract greater notice and
appreciation, as knowledge of him and his art and career has improved.


English Renaissance theater derived from several medieval theatre traditions. A crucial
source was the mystery plays that were a part of religious festivals in England and other parts
of Europe during the Middle Ages. The mystery plays were complex retellings of legends
based on biblical themes, originally performed in churches but later becoming more linked to
the secular celebrations that grew up around religious festivals. Other sources include the
morality plays that evolved out of the mysteries, and the "University drama" that attempted to
recreate Greek tragedy. Later, in the 17th century, the Commedia dell'arte and the elaborate
masques frequently presented at court came to play roles in the shaping of public theater.
Companies of players attached to households of leading noblemen and performing
seasonally in various locations existed before the reign of Elizabeth I. These became the
foundation for the professional players that performed on the Elizabethan stage. The tours of
these players gradually replaced the performances of the mystery and morality plays by local
players, and a 1572 law eliminated the remaining companies lacking formal patronage by
labeling them as "vagabonds." At court as well, the performance of masques by courtiers and
other amateurs, apparently common in the early years of Elizabeth, was replaced by the
professional companies with noble patrons, who grew in number and quality during her reign.
The London authorities (known as the Corporation of London) were generally hostile to
public performances, but its hostility was overmatched by the Queen's taste for plays and the

Privy Council's support. Theaters sprang up in suburbs, especially in Southwark, accessible
across the Thames to city dwellers, but not controlled by the London corporation. The
companies maintained the pretense that their public performances were mere rehearsals for the
frequent performances before the Queen, but while the latter did grant prestige, the former
were the real source of the income professional players required.
Along with the economics of the profession, the character of the drama changed toward
the end of the period. Under Elizabeth, the drama was a unified expression as far as social class
was concerned: the Court watched the same plays the commoners saw in the public
playhouses1. With the development of the private theaters, drama became more oriented toward
the tastes and values of an upper-class audience. By the later part of the reign of Charles I, few
new plays were being written for the public theaters, which sustained themselves on the
accumulated works of the previous decades.


The establishment of large and profitable public theatres was an essential enabling
factor in the success of English Renaissance drama. The crucial initiating development was the
building of The Theatre by James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Theatre was rapidly
followed by the nearby Curtain Theatre (1577). Once the public theatres of Londonincluding
the Rose (1587), the Swan (1595), the Globe (1599), the Fortune (1600), and the Red Bull
(1604)were in operation, drama could become a fixed and permanent rather than a transitory
Archaeological excavations on the foundations of the Rose and the Globe in the late
twentieth century showed that all the London theatres had individual differences; yet their
common function necessitated a similar general plan. The public theatres were three stories
high, and built around an open space at the center. Usually polygonal in plan to give an overall
rounded effect (though the Red Bull and the first Fortune were square), the three levels of
inward-facing galleries overlooked the open center, into which jutted the stageessentially a
platform surrounded on three sides by the audience, only the rear being restricted for the

Apud. Cazamian, Louis and Legouis, Emile op. cit., pp. 446 471.
Apud. Maurois, Andr op. cit., pp. 349 350.

entrances and exits of the actors and seating for the musicians. The upper level behind the stage
could be used as a balcony, as in Romeo and Juliet, or as a position for an actor to harangue a
crowd, as in Julius Caesar.
Usually built of timber, lath and plaster and with thatched roofs, the early theatres were
vulnerable to fire, and gradually were replaced (when necessary) with stronger structures.
When the Globe burned down in June 1613, it was rebuilt with a tile roof; when the Fortune
burned down in December 1621, it was rebuilt in brick (and apparently was no longer square)1.
A different model was developed with the Blackfriars Theatre, which came into regular
use on a long-term basis in 1599. The Blackfriars was small in comparison to the earlier
theatres and roofed rather than open to the sky; it resembled a modern theatre in ways that its
predecessors did not. Other small enclosed theatres followed, notably the Whitefriars (1608)
and the Cockpit (1617). With the building of the Salisbury Court Theatre in 1629 near the site
of the defunct Whitefriars, the London audience had six theatres to choose from: three
surviving large open-air "public" theatres, the Globe, the Fortune, and the Red Bull, and three
smaller enclosed "private" theatres, the Blackfriars, the Cockpit, and the Salisbury Court.
Audiences of the 1630s benefited from a half-century of vigorous dramaturgical development;
the plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare and their contemporaries were still being performed on
a regular basis (mostly at the public theatres), while the newest works of the newest
playwrights were abundant as well (mainly at the private theatres)2.
Around 1580, when both the Theatre and the Curtain were full on summer days, the
total theatre capacity of London was about 5000 spectators. With the building of new theatre
facilities and the formation of new companies, the capital's total theatre capacity exceeded
10,000 after 1610. In 1580, the poorest citizens could purchase admittance to the Curtain or the
Theatre for a penny; in 1640, their counterparts could gain admittance to the Globe, the
Cockpit, or the Red Bullfor exactly the same price. (Ticket prices at the private theatres were
five or six times higher).

Apud. The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, Idem.
Apud. Idem.