1.1 The Historical Overview
1.2 The Elizabethan and Jacobean Ages
1.2.1 Political Peace and Stability
1.2.2 Social Development
1.2.3 Religious Tolerance
1.2.4 Sense and Feeling of Patriotism
1.2.5 Discovery, Exploration and Expansion
1.2.6 Influence of Foreign Fashions
1.2.7 Contradictions and Set of Oppositions
1.3 The Literary Tendencies of the Age
1.3.1 Foreign Influences
1.3.2 Influence of Reformation
1.3.3 Ardent Spirit of Adventure
1.3.4 Abundance of Output
1.4 Elizabethan Poetry
1.4.1 Love Poetry
1.4.2 Patriotic Poetry
1.4.3 Philosophical Poetry
1.4.4 Satirical Poetry
1.4.5 Poets of the Age
1.4.6 Songs and Lyrics in Elizabethan Poetry
1.4.7 Elizabethan Sonnets and Sonneteers
1.5 Elizabethan Prose
1.5.1 Prose in Early Renaissance
1.5.2 The Essay
1.5.3 Character Writers
1.5.4 Religious Prose
1.5.5 Prose Romances
1.6 Elizabethan Drama
1.6.1 The University Wits
1.6.2 Dramatic Activity of Shakespeare
1.6.3 Other Playwrights
1.7. Let‘s Sum up
This unit will make the students aware with:
The historical and socio-political knowledge of Elizabethan and Jacobean Ages.
Features of the ages.
Literary tendencies, literary contributions to the different of genres like poetry, prose and drama.
The important writers are introduced with their major works.
With this knowledge the students will be able to locate the particular works in the tradition of literature, and again they will study the prescribed texts in the historical background.
1.1 THE HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
The literary decline after Chaucer‘s death was due in considerable measure to political reasons. The dispute about the throne, which culminated in the War of Roses, dissipated the energy and resources of the country and finally destroyed in large measure the noble families. The art and literature depended on their patronage. The accession of Henry VII in 1485 brought about a period of quiet and recovery. Henry VII established a strong monarchy and restored social and political order. He curtailed the powers and privileges of barons and patronized the new rich class. The country resumed its power among European nations, and began through them to feel the stimulus of the Renaissance. Caxton‘s press, which was established in 1476 in London, was the earliest forerunner of Renaissance in England. Rickett remarks: The Renaissance had come with Caxton.‖ It began in London with the publication of English masterpieces that awakened a sense of their national life in the minds of the people.
King Henry VIII, who acceded to the throne of England in 1509, began an era of significant and purposeful changes. He ruled in the spirit of modern statecraft. He encouraged trade and manufacturers, and increased the wealth of the country. He hastened the decline of feudalism by allowing men of low birth to high positions. Thus the court became the field for the display of individual ambition. Men of talent and learning found honourable place in his court. During his reign England contributed her part to the spread of the new civilization and new learning. Education was popularized. Cardinal‘s College and Christ Church College at Oxford were founded. The Reign of Henry VIII also expedited the Reformation which had begun in England nearly two centuries before with Wycliffe. The spirit of emancipation of conscience from priestly control was strengthened by the example of German and Swiss reformers. In 1534 Henry VII enforced political separation from Rome on the occasion of the annulment of his first marriage. It provided an opportunity for radical theological reforms. Hugh Latimer was a powerful spokesman of the spirit of Reformation. His writings represent a development of popular English prose. The Reformation and various religious and political controversies gave rise to the writing of pamphlets, serious and satirical. The translation of the Bible by William Tyndale and Miles Caverdale is a significant development in English prose. During Henry‘s reign the court emerged as a great patron of learning, art and literature. The atmosphere of peace and calm which began to prevail after long turmoil and chaos paved the way for extraordinary development of literary activity. Edward VI ruled from 1547 to 1553. The reign of Queen Mary from 1553 to 1558 was marred by religious conflicts. She restored Roman Catholicism in England. Creative activity was arrested during her time but it was replenished with much greater vigour in the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558 – 1603). The above historical overview is just an introduction to the socio-political and religious conditions leading to the golden period which is called the Age of Elizabeth. The English Renaissance covers a long span of time, which is divided for the sake of convenience into the following three periods: i) The Beginning of Renaissance (1516 – 1558). ii) The Flowering of Renaissance (1558 – 1603). It is actually called the Age of Elizabeth. iii) The Decline of Renaissance (1603 – 1625). It is also termed the Jacobean Age. Let‘s see these literary periods through different perspectives.
1.2 THE ELIZABETHAN AND JACOBEAN AGES Both the Elizabethan and Jacobean Periods in the history of English literature are also known as The Age of Shakespeare. This span of time is the golden age of literature. It extends from the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 to the death of James I in 1625. It was an era of peace, of economic prosperity, of stability, of liberty and of great explorations. It was an age of both contemplation and action. It was an era which was illustrious for the unprecedented development of art, literature and drama. John Milton calls England, during this age, as ―a noble and puissant nation, rousing herself, like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks.‖ Let‘s see the main characteristics of this age.
1.2.1 Political Peace and Stability
Elizabeth brilliantly framed and followed the policy of balance and moderation both inside and outside the country. A working compromise was reached with Scotland. The rebellious northern barons were kept in check. She, therefore, could successfully establish peace in traditionally disturbed border areas. Under her able administration the English national life rapidly and steadily progressed.
1.2.2 Social Development
It was an age of great social contentment. The rapid rise of industrial towns gave employment to thousands. Increasing trade and commerce enriched England. The wealthy were taxed to support the poor. This created the atmosphere for literary activities.
1.2.3 Religious Tolerance
It was an era of religious tolerance of peace. Upon her accession she found the whole nation divided against itself. The north was largely Catholic, and the South was strongly Protestant. Scotland followed the Reformation intensely. Ireland followed its old traditional religion. It was Elizabeth who made the Anglican Church a reality. Anglicanism was a kind of compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism. Both the Protestants and the Catholics accepted the Church. All Englishmen were influenced by the Queen‘s policy of religious tolerance and were united in a magnificent national enthusiasm. The mind of man, now free from religious fears and persecutions, turned with a great creative impulse to other forms of activity. An atmosphere of all pervading religious peace gave great stimulus to literary activity.
1.2.4 Sense and Feeling of Patriotism
It was an age of patriotism. Queen Elizabeth loved England ardently and she made her court one of the most brilliant courts in Europe. The splendour of her court dazzled the eyes of the people. Her moderate policies did much to increase her popularity and prestige. Worship of the Virgin Queen became the order of the day. She was Spenser‘s Gloriana, Raleigh‘s Cynthia, and Shakespeare‘s ―fair vestal throned by the West.‖ Even the foreigners saw in her ―a keen calculating intellect that baffled the ablest statesmen in Europe.‖ Elizabeth inspired all her people with the unbounded patriotism which exults in Shakespeare and with the personal devotion which finds a voice in the Faery Queen. Under her administration the English national life progressed faster not by slow historical and evolutionary process. English literature reached the very highest point of literary development during her period.
1.2.5 Discovery, Exploration and Expansion
This is the most remarkable epoch for the expansion of both mental and geographical horizons. It was an age of great thought and great action. It is an age which appeals to the eye, the imagination and the intellect. New knowledge was pouring in from all directions. The great voyagers like Hawkins, Frobisher, Raleigh and Drake brought home both material and intellectual treasures from the East and the West. The spirit of adventure and exploration fired the imagination of writers. The spirit of action and adventure paved the way for the illustrious development of dramatic literature. Drama progresses in an era of action and not of speculation. It has rightly been called the age of the discovery of the new world and of man.
1.2.6 Influence of Foreign Fashions
Italy, the home of Renaissance, fascinated the Elizabethans. All liked to visit Italy and stay there for some time. People were not only found of Italian books and literature, but also of Italian manners and morals. Consequently the literature of England was immensely enriched by imitating Italian classics.
1.2.7 Contradictions and Set of Oppositions
It was an age of great diversity and contradictions. It was an age of light and darkness, of reason and of unreason, of wisdom and of foolishness, of hope and of despair. The barbarity and backwardness, the ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages still persisted. Disorder, violence, bloodshed and tavern brawls stillprevailed. Highway robberies, as mentioned in Henry IV, Part I, were very common. The barbarity of the age is seen in such brutal sports as bear baiting, cock and bull fighting, to which numerous references are found in the plays of Shakespeare. Despite the advancement of science and learning people still believed in superstitions, ghosts, witches, fairies, charms and omens of all sorts. In spite of great refinement and learning it was an age of easy morals. People did not care for high principles of morality and justice. Bribery and international delays of justice were common evils. Material advancement was by fair means or foul, the main aim of men in high places. Hardly anyone of the public men of this age had a perfectly open heart and very few had quite clean hands. In spite of the ignorance and superstition, violence and brutality, easy morals and lax values, Elizabethan Age was an age in which men lived very much, thought intensely and wrote strongly. Let‘s discuss the literary tendencies of the age.
1.3 THE LITERARY TENDENCIES OF THE AGE
1.3.1 Foreign Influences
England was under the full effect of the revival of learning. It was now not confined to the scholars alone at the universities and to the privileged ones at the court. The numerous translations of the celebrated ancient classics were now available for common people who could not read the original classics. Then it came under the all pervading influence of humanism, openness of mind, love of beauty and freedom. The knowledge of the world of antiquity exercised a great influence on the literature of this period. It was obtained through the recovery of the writings and works of art of the classical period. The idea presented in the literature of Athens and Rome that life was to be lived for its many sided development and fullest enjoyment, had a powerful influence on the literature of the period. The writers and artists cultivated the artistic forms used by classical poets, orators, sculptors and architects. In the year 1453, when the Turk Vandals invaded Constantinople, many Greek scholars, took shelter along with their manuscripts and libraries in Italy. Italy became the centre of classical literature and culture. Italy, thus, became the teacher of Europe in philosophy, art and literature.
1.3.2 Influence of Reformation
Both the Renaissance and the Reformation greatly influenced the literature of this age. Hudson says, ―While the Renaissance aroused the intellect and the aesthetic faculties, the Reformation awakened the spiritual nature; the same printing press which diffused the knowledge of the classics, put the English Bible into the hands of the people; and a spread in the interest of religion was accompanied by a deepening of moral earnestness.‖ All the great writers and dramatists of the Elizabethan Age were influenced by both the Renaissance and the Reformation.
1.3.3 Ardent Spirit of Adventure
An ardent spirit of adventure characterized this age. The new discoveries and explorations beyond the seas by voyagers kindled human imagination and popular curiosity. The entire literature of this period, especially the plays of the university Wits and Shakespeare, are imbued with the spirit of adventure and imagination.
1.3.4 Abundance of Output
It was an age rich in literary productions of all kinds. In Elizabethan Age treatises, pamphlets, essays, prose romances, sonnets, both Petrarchan and Shakespearean, Lyric, plays etc. were abundantly written. The output of literary productions was very wide. Several important foreign books were translated into English. By the end of Elizabeth‘s reign, many of the great books of modern times had been translated into English. Many translations were as popular as the original works. Many celebrated writers, including Shakespeare, derived the plots of their works from translations. Sir Thomas North translated Plutarch‘s Lives John Florio translated Montaigne‘s Essais. It was an era of peace and of general prosperity of the country. An intense patriotism became the outstanding characteristic of the age. It is the greatest and golden period of literature in English which developed all genres of literature.
1.4 ELIZABETHAN POETRY
One of the literary historians called Elizabethan age as a nest of singing birds about the composition of poetry in this period. There were many poets who contributed to develop this form of literature and it reached the peak of its development. The poets not only adopted and innovated the forms of poetry and wrote on the varied themes. The poetry of Elizabethan era mirrors the spirit of Age. It reflects the spirit of conquest and self-glorification, humanism and vigorous imagination, emotional depth and passionate intensity. Sublimity was considered to be the essential quality of poverty. Spenser, Shakespeare and Marlowe had the immense power to exalt and sublimate the lovers of poetry. The poetry of his period is remarkable for the spirit of independence. The poets refused to follow set rules of poetic composition. Consequently, new poetic devices and new linguistic modes developed. All varieties of poetic forms like lyric, elegy, eclogue, ode, sonnet etc. were successfully attempted. Thematically, the following main divisions of poetry existed during this period:
1.4.1 Love Poetry
The love poetry is characterized by romance, imagination and youthful vigour, Sidney‘s Astrophel and Stella, Spenser‘s Amoretti, Daniel‘s Delia, Marlowe‘s Hero and Leander, Shakespeare‘s Venus and Adonis and his sonnets are noticeable love poems of this period. 1.4.2 Patriotic Poetry
The ardent note of patriotism is the distinctive characteristic of Elizabethan poetry. Warner‘s Abbicen‘s England, Daniel‘s Civil Wars of York and Lancaster, Draytron‘s The Barons War and The Ballad of Agincourt are some memorable patriotic poems.
1.4.3 Philosophical Poetry
Elizabethan age was a period both of action and reflection. Action found its superb expression in contemporary drama. People thought inwardly. The tragedies of Shakespeare represent this aspect of national life. Brooke‘s poems, On Human Learning, On Wars, On Monarchy, and On Religion have philosophical leanings.
1.4.4 Satirical Poetry
It came into existence after the decline of the spirit of adventure and exploration, of youthful gaiety and imaginative vigour towards the end of Elizabeth‘s reign. Donne‘s Satires and Drummond‘s Sonnets are some fine examples of this type of poetry. In the reign of James I life‘s gaiety was lost. A harsh cynical realism succeeded. Poetry had grown self-conscious. Poetry had crept under the shadow of the approaching civil conflicts.The poetry of this age is original. The early classical and Italian influences were completely absorbed and the poetry of this period depicts the typical British character and temperament.
1.4.5 Poets of the Age
Wyatt and Surrey traveled widely in Italy. They brought to England the Italian and classic influence. They modeled their poetry on Italian pattern. They are the first harbingers of the Renaissance in English poetry. They are the first modern poets. The book that contains their poems is Songs and Sonnets, known as the Tottle‘s Miscellany. The brief introduction of the major poets of the age is necessary to be discussed along with their remarkable works.
I. Sir Thomas Wyatt.
Wyatt brought to English poetry grace, harmony and nobility. He followed the Italian models and attempted a great variety of metrical experiment – songs, sonnets, madrigals and elegies. He was the first poet, who introduced sonnet, which was a favorite poetical form in England with Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Arnold and many others. He first of all introduced personal or autobiographical note in English poetry. Wyatt‘s true ability as a poet is revealed not by the sonnets but by a number of lyrics and songs that he composed.
II. Earl of Surrey
Surrey is a disciple of Wyatt rather than an independent poetical force. His sonnets are more effective than those of Wyatt. The former followed the Petrarchan pattern of sonnet, whereas the latter modified it and made it typical English. The Petrarchan form is perhaps more impressive, the modified English form the more expressive. Shakespeare followed the English pattern of sonnet, introduced by Surrey. He was the first poet to use blank verse in his translation of Aeneid.
III. Thomas Sackville
Sackville was a great humanist whose only contribution to England poetry is The Induction. He has a sureness of touch and a freedom from technical errors which make him superior to Wyatt and Surrey.
IV. Sir Philip Sidney
Sidney was the most celebrated literary figure before Spenser and Shakespeare. As a man of letters he is remembered for Arcadia (a romance), Apology For Poetry (a collection of critical and literary principles) and Astrophel and Stella (a collection of sonnets). These 108 love sonnets are the first direct expressions of personal feelings and experience in English poetry. He analyses the sequence of his feelings with a vividness and minuteness. His sonnets owe much to Petrarch and Ronsard in tone and style.
V. Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser is rightly called the poet‘s poet‖ because all great poets of England have been indebted to him. C. Rickett remarks, ―Spenser is at once the child of the Renaissance and the Reformation. On one side we may regard him with Milton as ―the sage and serious Spenser‖, on the other he is the humanist, alive to the finger tips with the sensuous beauty of the Southern romance.‖ Spenser‘s main poetical works are:
The Shepherd‘s Calendar (1579), two eclogues, March and December, are prescribed in your syllabus for detailed study.
Amoretti (1595), a collection of eighty eight Petrarchan sonnets
Epithalamion (1959), a magnificent ode written on the occasion of his marriage with Elizabeth Boyle
Prothalamion (1596), an ode on marriage
Astrophel (1596), an elegy on the death of Sir Philip Sidney
Four Hymns (1576) written to glorify love and homour
His epic, The Faerie Queen (1589 – 90).
Spenser‘s finest poetry is characterized by sensuousness and picturesqueness. He is a matchless painter in words. His contribution to poetic style, diction and versification is memorable. He evolved a true poetic style which the succeeding generations of English poets used. The introduction of Spenserian stanza is Spenser‘s most remarkable contribution to poetry. He is great because of the extraordinary smoothness and melody, his verse and the richness of his language, a golden diction which he drew from every source – new words, old words, obsolete words. Renwick says, ―Shakespeare himself might not have achieved so much, if Spenser had not lived and laboured.‖ Dryden freely acknowledged that Spenser has been his master in English. Thompson referred to him as ―my master Spenser‖. Wordsworth praises him as the embodiment of nobility, purity and sweetness. Byron, Shelley and Keats are his worthy followers. The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by Spenser‘s word-paining and picturesque descriptions. Therefore he is aptly called Poet‘s poet.
VI. Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman
The Hero and Leander was left incomplete due to Marlowe‘s untimely death. It was completed by Chapman. This poem is remarkable for felicity of diction and flexibility of versification. The poets show great skill in effectively using words and images. Besides completing Hero and Leander, Chapman also translated Iliad and Odyssey and composed some sonnets.
VII. William Shakespeare
Shakespeare composed many beautiful sonnets and two long poems – Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece . In the former the realistic passions are expressed through equally realistic pictures and episodes. It is remarkable for astonishing linguistic beauty. The latter is a contrast to the former. Having painted the attempts of an amorous woman, Shakespeare now proceeded to represent the rape of a chaste wife.
VIII. Ben Jonson
Ben Jobson was a pioneer in the field of poetry. His poetic work consists of short pieces, which appeared in three collections – Epigrammes, The Forest and The Underwood. He is a first-rate satirist in Elizabethan poetry. The spirit of satire looms large in these three collections of his poetry. He presents vivid sarcastic portraits in ten or twenty lines. His moral satires were nobler in tone and more sincere in expression than of Hall or Marston. Ben Jonson was the first English poet to write Pindaric odes. His Ode to Himself is a fine example of this genre. His poetic style is lucid, clear and free from extravagances. He is also the forerunner of neo-classicism, which attained perfection in the works of Dryden and Pope. To Celia, Echo‘s Song and A Song are his memorable lyrics.
IX. John Donne
As the pioneer of the Metaphysical Poetry, Donne stands unrivalled. His contribution to poetry will be discussed along with the metaphysical Poetry. (For detailed study refer unit 2 of this book.) Apart from the above major poets, there are few poets whose names need to be mentioned. They are Joseph Hall, John Marsten, George Wither, and William Browne because they contributed or verse satire to the literature of Elizabethan period. 1.4.6 Songs and Lyrics in Elizabethan Poetry
The Elizabethan England was the golden age of songs and lyrics. A number of poetical miscellanies, consisting of short lyrics and songs by various poets, appeared. Some famous anthologies are Tottle‘s Miscellany (1557), The Paradise of Dainty Devices, A Handful of Pleasant Delights, The Phoenix Nest, The Passionate Pilgrim and England‘s Helicon. These collections contain countless songs and lyrics composed by various poets. Nearly two hundred poets are recorded in the short period from 1558 to 1625. Here we can consider only those poets who have infinite riches in a little room. Various factors contributed to the unique development of lyricism during this period. The feeling of stability, peace and contentment enabled poets to compose songs and lyrics full of zest for life. Everybody, down from the flowery courtier to the man in the street, wrote lyrics. Translations from other languages inspired the people to write. The Elizabethans loved music. Music and lyric are closely related. It was an age of romance which also contributed to the development of lyricism. The Elizabethan lyrical poetry seeks expression in a great variety of poetical forms. The lyric itself appears, now under the pastoral convention, now as sonnet and sonnet sequence, now in various composite literary forms. The Elizabethan songs were of various kinds. They were love songs, religious songs, patriotic songs, fantastic songs, war songs, philosophical songs and religious songs. They were composed in every mood, grave, romantic, fantastic, sentimental, mocking and cynical. Even the plays and prose romances are full of songs and lyrics. Form and expression were joined together and the lyrics became an expression of the soul. Love is the main theme of Elizabethan songs and lyrics. It is fanciful love, love that laughs and entreats and sighs. The pastoral elements like shepherds‘ feasts, shepherds‘ loves and joys of countryside characterize most of the songs and lyrics of this period. Sir Philip Sidney wrote many songs which are characterized by depth of passion, exquisite beauty, romance and fancifulness. He inserted songs in the Shepherd‘s Calendar. His songs are characterized by loftiness, sensuousness, picturesqueness and superb musical quality.
Marlowe‘s genius was lyrical. He sang songs in the pastoral strain: ―Come with me and be my love.‖ Shakespeare‘s comedies and romances are littered with songs. His songs have rare originality and spontaneity. Freshness and rustic realism runs in many of his songs. Some of his songs are fanciful and fantastic. Some of his songs express the poignant feelings of love. His songs have a magic of their own and are noticeable for spontaneity and sweetness. Shakespeare‘s contemporary dramatists also incorporated songs in their plays. Thomas Dekkar composed two beautiful songs. Beaumont and Fletcher contributed ―Lay a garland on my horse‖ and ―Hence, all our vain delights‖. Ben Jonson‘s masques and comedies have many lovely songs. Lyly‘s songs are remembered for their delicate melody, flawless diction, and light and refined note. Green‘s songs are full of English feelings, pastoral and Renaissance fancies. Peele‘s lyrics survive for their melody and cadence, and Nash‘s are now frolicking and open, and gain musically melancholy. Lodge‘s songs are more varied and more inclined to pastoralism. Breton‘s songs are fresh, copious and are imbued with fine artistic feeling. Thomas Campion deserves praises for his attractive lyrics and songs, which he himself adopted to musical requirement. He was stirred to rapture by sacred and profane love alike. His songs and lyrics are characterized by the deft use of sweet and apt phrases, musical quality of a high order and a mastery of complicated metres. He could express fantastic areas with great ease, spontaneity and felicity. Samuel Daniel has to his credit a sonnet series called Delia, a romance entitled The Complaint of Rosamund, a long historical poem The Civil War and a large number of masques. Daniel is a master of closet lyric. Drayton wrote many lyrics, verse tales and pastorals. Purity of his poetic style is admirable. He simplified English language by removing eccentricities and arbitrary inventions. The Elizabethan lyric is light and airy. It is an expression of the holiday mood of its author. What distinguishes the lyrics of this period is their musical quality, the flight of fancy and the note of gay and joyous abandonment.
1.4.7 Elizabethan Sonnets and Sonneteers
The sonnet originated in Italy in the fourteenth century. It is particularly associated with the name of Petrarch, though it had been used before him by Dante. It was originally a short poem, recited to the accompaniment of music. The word sonnet is derived from the Italian word ―sonnetto‖, meaning a little sound or strain. In course of time it became a short poem of fourteen lines with a set rhyme scheme. The sonnets of Petrarch and Dante were love sonnets. Petrarch addressed his sonnets to Laura and Dante to Beatrice. It enjoyed great popularity in Italy during the fifteenth century. (You have studied sonnet form in detailed in paper 2: Reading Poetry at SYBA last year.) In England Wyatt and Surrey began sonnet writing in imitation of the Italian sonnet. Wyatt introduced the Petrarchan model. He wrote 31 sonnets on the theme of love of rare beauty. Surrey gave a new turn to sonnet writing by introducing a new pattern which Shakespeare used later. His love sonnets were addressed to Lady Geraldine. They were marked by a note of melancholy and sadness. Wyatt and Surrey introduced the personal note in English sonnet. Thomas Watson was the earliest Elizabethan to make a reputation as a sonneteer. In 1582 he published one hundred ―passions‖ or ―poems of love‖ which were described as sonnets, though many of them were of eighteen lines long. However, Watson‘s second volume of poems entitled The Tears of Fancy or Love Disdained were strictly confined to fourteen lines. The publication of Sidney‘s Astrophel and Stella marks the real beginning of Elizabethan sonnet. His sonnets clearly show the influence of Petrarch, Ronsard and Watson. Petrarch wrote his sonnets for his beloved Laura. Sidney‘s sonnets express his ardent passion for his beloved Penelope, the Stella of his sonnets. His sonnets are effusions of personal passion. These sonnets are remarkable for their sincerity. He was the first English poet to indicate the lyric capacity of the sonnet. Sidney followed the Petrarchan scheme of sonnet. His example was followed by Daniel in Delia, Constable in Diana, Drayton in Idea and Spenser in Amoretti. Spenser‘s Amoretti, a collection of 88 sonnets is memorable contribution to the art of sonnet writing. They are addressed to Elizabeth Boyle, whom he married. So an intimate, personal or autobiographical note runs in all of them. Spenser‘s sonnets are unique for their purity. They tell a story of love without sin or remorse.
Shakespeare is the greatest writer of the sonnet form. His sonnets are the most precious pearls of Elizabethan lyricism, some of them unsurpassed by any lyricism. The form he chose was not the Italian or the Petrarchan form. He preferred the Spenserian pattern, consisting of three quatrains, each rhyming alternately, and rhyming couplet to conclude. Thomas Thorpe printed a collection of 154 sonnets of Shakespeare in 1609. It was dedicated to a ―Mr. W.H.‖ and to a Dark Lady. The poet loved both of them dearly. The poet makes every allowance for the man, his youth, his attraction, his inexperience. He feels more bitterly towards the woman. She, he feels had turned his friend from him in sheer wantonness of spirit. He prefers the companionship of his friend to the company of the mistress. Some of his sonnets are conventional literary exercises on conventional themes. His sonnets are noticeable for rare beauty of images and the flawless perfection of style and versification Henry Constable‘s sonnets are remarkable for melody, beauty and sensuousness. Daniel‘s collection of sonnets, known as Delia, is based on the conventional theme of love and has stock devices of contemporary sonnet writing. The language of his sonnets is pure and versification is correct. Drayton is a distinguished sonneteer of Elizabethan Age. His sonnet sequence, known as Idea represents Platonic idea of beauty. He wrote fifty two sonnets. He uses typical stock devices. Dryton for the first time imparted dramatic element to sonnet writing. His sonnets suffer from lack of sincerity and artificiality. The other sonnet writers are Lodge, Fletcher and Percy. The Age of Shakespeare was the golden age of sonnet. Each poet contributed something new to the art of sonnet writing. The average Elizabethan sonnet illustrates the temper of the age. It bears graphic witness to the Elizabethan tendency to borrow from foreign literary sources.
1.5 ELIZABETHAN PROSE
The Age of Elizabeth was also conspicuous for the remarkable development of prose, which was variously written with great stylistic and linguistic excellence. The following prose genres developed during this period.
1.5.1 Prose in Early Renaissance
The prose of early Renaissance consists largely of translations. The writers of this period were educationists and reformers rather than creative writers. The following major writers need to be considered in a nutshell:
Sir Thomas More
He was one of the early humanists and the first prose writer of great literary significance. His famous work Utopia was written in Latin, but it was translated into English in 1551 by Ralph Robinson. It is the ―true prologue of Renaissance.‖ It shows the influence of Plato. Utopia has been called ―the first monument of modern socialism.‖ Thomas More extols democratic communism – people‘s state, elected government, equal distribution of wealth and nine hours‘ work a day. In it we find for the first time the foundation of civilized society, the three great words – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. More advocates religious tolerance. In English literary history Thomas More is not remembered for his contribution to style but for the originality of his ideas.
He was a great educationist. His first work The School of Shooting was written in English. Commenting on the state of English language he writes: ―Everything has been done excellently well in Greek and Latin, but in the English tongue so meanly that no man can do worse.‖ But ―I have written this English matter, in the English tongue for Englishmen.‖ His second work, The School Master contains intellectual instructions for the young. Ascham‘s prose style is conspicuous for economy and precision. He was the first writer who wrote ―the English speech for the Englishmen.‖ He is ―the first English stylist.‖
Sir Thomas Elyot and Sir John Cheke
Elyot‘s the Governor is a treatise on moral philosophy and education. His prose does not concern the common man but it is restrained and classical. Cheke was a teacher of Greek art at Cambridge. He wrote The Heart of Sedition which shows the influence of classicism and antiquity. To him both form and matter were equally important. His prose is vigorous, argumentative, eloquent and humorous.
1.5.2 The Essay
The Essay, which Montaigne began in France, was a very popular prose form during this Age. It has been variously defined. An essay is a short composition more or less incomplete. It is like lyric in poetry. It may be written on any subject under the sun. The year 1597, when Bacon published his ten essays, marks the beginning of essay writing in English literature.
Sir Francis Bacon Bacon occupies a dominant place in English prose. He wrote varied type of prose. He is philosophical in The Advancement of Learning, historical in the History of Henry VII, and speculative in New Atlantis. Bacon occupies a permanent place in English prose due to his Essays, ten in number, which appeared in 1597. The second edition and the third edition raised the number to 38 and 58 respectively. They are on familiar subjects and they represent the meditations of trained and learned mind. They contain utilitarian wisdom and are written in lucid, clear and aphoristic style. Bacon began the vogue of essay writing in English. His essays introduced a new form of literature into English literature. He was the first English writer who employed a style that is conspicuous for lucidity, clarity, economy, precision, directness, masculinity and mathematical plainness. His images and figures of speech are simple and clearly illustrate the ideas that he wishes to communicate. Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson wrote aphoristic essays which are compiled in The Timber of Discoveries which was published posthumously about 1641. His essays are moral and critical. Jonson‘s style is noticeable for lucidity, terseness and strength. He treats a subject in a simple and plain manner.
John Selden‘s Table Talk abounds in sharp, acid-natured aphorisms, exhibiting tough common sense and little imagination. As a practitioner of aphoristic essay he stands next to Bacon and Ben Jonson. He also wrote The Titles of Honour and The History of Titles.
1.5.3 Character Writers
The seventeenth century witnessed the origin and development of another kind of essay, known as character writing. The character writers were influenced by Theophrastus, Seneca and dramatists. They are also highly indebted to Bacon who provided them with a pattern of style – concise, pointed and sententious. The following are the character writers:
I. Thomas Dekkar wrote the Bellman of London and A Strange Horse Race which are noticeable for the portrayal of vivid character sketches. In character sketch the sentences are unusually short.
II. Joseph Hall wrote the Good Magistrate and Virtues and Vices. He was endowed with the qualities required for character writing. Satire distinguishes his character sketches.
III. Thomas Overbury‘s Characters is a collection of numerous well – portrayed characters. He usually packs the characters to some trade or occupation. The character takes colour from the occupation from which it draws its virtues and vices. His style is artificial and he subordinates substance to form, matter to manner.
IV. Earle is superior to both Hall and Overbury as a character writer. His Microcosmography is his collection of well portrayed characters. It is written in a delightful and witty style. His style is easy, vigorous and fluent.
V. George Herbert differs from all other character writers of his time. His famous work A Priest in the Temple or A Country Parson is not a collection of unconnected sketches, but a short treatise in thirty seven chapters. Each of the characters delineates a phase of parson‘s life – his knowledge, his praying, his preaching, his comforting etc. He aims at imparting reality to his character. His aim is to recommend religion by the portrayal of a charming and saintly life.
VI. Thomas Fuller in his Holy War and Profane State does not follow the Theophrastian model. He belongs to a school of his own. What distinguishes Fuller is his boundless humanity which is visible in every page. He mixes his character sketches with interesting stories. He also imparts personal touch to his essays. His characters of virtues and vices are not merely fanciful exercises but they are real and concrete. His style is condensed and discursive.
1.5.4 Religious Prose During this period religious controversy was in vorgue. It gave rise to fine English prose and it also contributed to the evolution of English prose style. The religious prose writers are as under:
I. Sir John Tyndale is remembered for the Translation of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. This translation formed the basis for The Authorized Version of the Bible (1611). It is written in traditional prose, purged from, ornateness and triviality. Its style is remarkable for simplicity, clarity, lucidity and directness because Tyndale‘s aim was to make the Bible readable even to peasants.
II. Latimer‘s Sermon on the Ploughers and others were written in plain and straightforward English.
III. Richard Hooker wrote The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity which is an outstanding contribution in the field of theology and prose style. Hooker‘s style is highly Latinished but it is free from pedantry and vulgarity. It is logical and convincing, musical and cadenced, clear and vigorous.
1.5.5 Prose Romances The writing of prose romances is a remarkable development of this period. They anticipated novel which came into being during the eighteenth century. The prose romances of this period consisted of tales of adventure as well as of romance. They dealt with contemporary life and events of the past, with the life at the court and the life of the city. It was by turns humorous and didactic, realistic and fanciful. In short, it represented the first rough drafts of English novel. The prose romances of varied forms and shapes were written by many writers.
I. George Gascoigne wrote the Adventures of Master E.J. which depicts a lively sketch of English country – house life. It has well-portrayed characters.
II. John Lyly is the pioneer of the English novel, the first stylist in prose, and the most popular writer of the age. His famous work Euphues is incidentally ―the first novel‖ in English language. It deals with love and romance. It foretells the rise of the novel of manners. It moves away from the fanciful idealism of medieval romance of manners. It moves away from the fanciful idealism of medieval romance and suggests an interest in contemporary life. Euphues is especially remarkable for its style, which is based on alliteration, play upon words, and antithesis. Lyly aimed at precision and emphasis by carefully balancing his words and phrases.
III. Sir Philip Sidney wrote a prose romance arcadia (1590) which represents the restless spirit of adventure of the age of chivalry. It is a dream world compounded of sidney‘s knowledge of classicism and Christianity, medieval chivalry and Renaissance luxury. Its style is full of affectations and artificiality. It is highly poetical.
IV. As a writer of prose romances, Robert Greene is remembered for Pandosta, Mamitia and Menaphone. His romances are in moral tone and their style is imitative of Lyly. He has a sense of structural unity, restraint and verisimilitude. What distinguishes Greene is the skilful portraiture of women characters. Besides, these romances, Greene strikes a realistic note in Mourning of Garment and Never Too Late.
V. Lodge‘s Rosalynde (1590) is a pastoral romance, written in imitation of the ornate style of Eupheus. It is considered to be the source of Shakespeare‘s As You Like It.
VI. Thomas Nashe is the first great realist who graphically depicted contemporary London life and its manners. His descriptions of respectable roguery are tinged with satire. Nash‘s memorable work is The Unfortunate Traveler or The Life of Jack Wilton (1594) which has the rare distinction of being the first picaresque or rogue novel. It combines both comedy and tragedy. It may also be called the first historical novel. His prose style is clear, lucid, simple and forceful.
VII. Thomas Deloney was a realist, who in his works Thomas of Reading, Jack of Newbury and the Gentle Craft, realistically depict contemporary bourgeois life. His style is remarkable for simplicity, clarity, directness and spontaneity. His prose runs easily into spirited dialogue.
VIII. Robert Burton was a humanist whose The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) is a distinguished work of philosophical prose. His style changes with the subject. It is lucid, tense, precise and rhetorical.
1.6 ELIZABETHAN DRAMA
The period marks the real beginning of drama. It is the golden age of English drama. The renewed study of classical drama shaped English drama in its formative years. Seneca influenced the development of English tragedy, and Plantus and Terence directed the formation of comedy. The classical drama gave English drama its five acts, its set scenes and many other features. Regular English tragedy, comedy and historical play were successfully written during this period. Nichola Idal‘s Relph Roister Doister (1553) is the first English comedy of the classical school, which is divided into acts and scenes. Gamar Gurton‘s Needle (1575), written by an unknown writer is another comedy in the classical style. The first complete tragedy of the Senecan type is Gorbaduc (1562), which was written by Thomas Morton and Thomas Sackville. The example of Gorbaduc was followed by Thomas Hughes in The Misfortunes of Arthus (1588) and George Gascoigne‘s Jocasta (1566). All these tragedies were influenced by Seneca both in style and treatment of theme.
Another dramatic genre, which emerged during this period, is tragic-comedy, which mixes lamentable tragedy with pleasant mirth. Some memorable plays of this type are Whetstone‘s Right Excellent and Famous History, Preston‘s A Lamentable Tragedy, Richard Edward‘s Demons and Rithias and R.B.‘s Apius and Virginia. Historical plays too were written during this period. Famous among the early historical plays are – The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England (1590), Tragedy of Richard, the Third (1590 – 94), The Victories of Henry the Fifth (1588) and the Chroniete History of Lear (1594).
1.6.1 The University Wits
Lyly, Peele, Greene, Lodge, Nashe, Kyd and Marlowe are known as the university Wits because they came either from Cambridge or from Oxford. They were romantic by nature and they represented the spirit of Renaissance. The great merit of the University Wits was that they came with their passion and poetry, and their academic training. They paved the way for the successive writers like Shakespeare to express his genius. The contribution of the university Wits to the development of drama needs to be highlighted:
I. John Lyly: Lyly wrote eight comedies, of which the best are Campaspe, Endymion, Grallathia, Midas and Love‘s Metamorphosis. He wrote for the private theatres. His writing is replete with genuine romantic atmosphere, homour, fancy for romantic comedy, realism, classicism and romanticism. Lyly established prose as an expression of comedy. He deftly used prose to express light feelings of fun and laughter. He also used a suitable blank verse for the comedy. High comedy demands a nice sense of phrase, and Lyly is the first great phrase maker in English. He gave to English comedy a witty phraseology. He also made an important advance at successful comic portrayal. His characters are both types and individuals. Disguise as a devise was later popularized by Shakespeare in his plays especially in his comedies. The device of girl dressed as a boy is traced back to Lyly. The introduction of songs, symbolical of the mood owes its popularity to Lyly.
II. George Peele: His work consists of The Arraignment of Paris, The Battle of Alcazar, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe and The Old Wives‘ Tales. He has left behind a pastoral, a romantic tragedy, a chronicle history and a romantic satire. He juxtaposes romance and reality in his plays. As a humorist he influenced Shakespeare. In The Old Wives‘ Tales he for the first time introduced the note of satire in English drama.
III. Robert Greene: Greene wrote The Comical History of Alphonsus, King of Aragon and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Greene was the first master of the art of plot construction in English drama. In his plays Greene has three distinct words mingled together – the world of magic, the world of aristocratic life, and the world of the country. There is peculiar romantic humour and rare combination of realism and idealism in his plays. He is the first to draw romantic heroines. His heroines Margaret and Dorothea anticipate Shakespeare‘s Rosalind and Celia.
IV. Thomas Kyd: Kyd‘s The Spanish Tragedy, a Senecan tragedy, is an abiding contribution to the development of English tragedy. It is a well constructed play in which the dramatist has skillfully woven passion, pathos and fear until they reach a climax. Kyd succeeded in producing dialogue that is forceful and capable. He introduced the revenge motif into drama. He, thus, influenced Shakespeare‘s Hamlet and Webster‘s The Duchess of Malfi. The device of play within play, which Shakespeare employed in Hamlet, is used for the first time in The Spanish Tragedy. He also introduced the hesitating type of hero, suffering from bouts of madness, feigned or real, in the character of Hieronimo, who anticipates the character of Hamlet.
V. Christopher Marlowe: Marlowe‘s famous plays Tamburlaine, the Great, Dr. Faustus, Edward II and The few of Malta give him a place of preeminence among the University Wits. Swinburne calls him ―the first great poet, the father of English tragedy and the creator of blank verse.‖ He is, indeed, the protagonist of tragic drama in English and the forerunner of Shakespeare and his fellows. Marlow provided big heroic subjects that appealed to human imagination. He for the first time imparted individuality and dignity to the tragic hero. He also presented the tragic conflict between the good and evil forces in Dr. Faustus. He is the first tragic dramatist who used the device of Nemesis in an artistic and psychological manner. Marlowe for the first time made blank verse a powerful vehicle for the expression of varied human emotions. His blank verse, which Ben Jonson calls, ―Marlowe‘s Mighty Line‖ is noticeable for its splendour of diction, picturesqueness, vigour and energy, variety in pace and its responsiveness to the demands of varying emotions. Marlowe has been termed the father of English tragedy. He was in fact the first to feel that romantic drama was the sole form in harmony with the temperament of the nation. He created authentic romantic tragedy in English and paved the way for the full blossoming of Shakespeare‘s dramatic genius.
1.6.2 Dramatic Activity of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was not of an age but of all ages. He wrote 37 plays, which may be classified as tragedies, comedies, romances or tragic-comedies and historical plays. The period of Shakespeare‘s dramatic activity spans twenty four years (1588 – 1612) which is divided into the following four sub-periods: i) The First Period (1588 – 96): It is a period of early experimentation. During this period he wrote Titus Andronicus, First Part of Henry VI, Love‘s Labour Lost, The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night‘s Dream, Richard II and Richard III and King John. His early poems The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Andonis belong to this period. ii) The Second Period (1596 – 1600): Shakespeare wrote his great comedies and chronicled plays during this period. The works of this period are The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing As You Like It, The Twelfth Night, Henry IV, Part I & II, and Henry V. iii) The Third Period (1601 – 08): It is a period of great tragedies Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear Othello, Julius Caesar, and of somber and better comedies All‘s Well That Ends Well, Measure For Measure and Troilus and Cressida. iv) The Fourth Period (1608 – 1613) : Shakespeare‘s last period begins with Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Henry VII and Pericles. What distinguishes Shakespeare‘s last period is the reawakening of his first love romance in Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter‘s Tale.
Shakespeare brought perfection to the writing of romantic comedy. His comedies are classified into the following three categories.
i) The Early Comedies: They are The Comedy of Errors, Love‘s Labour Lost and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The plays show sings of immaturity. The plots are less original, the characters are less finished and the style is also vigorous. The homour lacks the wide human sympathy of his mature comedies.
ii) The Mature Comedies: Shakespeare‘s comic genius finds expression in Much Ado About Nothing. Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. These plays are full of love and romance, vigour and vitality, versatility of homour, humanity and well-portrayed characters.
iii) The Somber Comedies: All‘s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida belong to the period of great tragedies. These comedies have a serious and somber time.
Characteristics of Shakespearean Comedy
Shakespearean comedy is pre-eminently romantic. His predecessors – Lyly, Greene and Peele influenced his art of writing comedy. The main characteristics of Shakespearean comedy are given below:
i) Romance and Realism:Shakespearean comedy is romantic. The classical unities of time, place and action are not observed in it. The settings are all imaginative. The action takes place in some remote far off place, and not in familiar surroundings. According to Raleigh Shakespearean comedy is a ―rainbow world of love in idleness.‖ What distinguishes Shakespearean comedy is the fine and artistic blend of romance and realism. All his comedies are related to real life. There are contemporary figures and contemporary fashions in Love‘s Labour Lost. Bottom and his companions exist with fairies; Sir Toly Belch and Sir Andrew are companions of Viola and Olivia. Shakespeare‘s characters are real. His dramatic personages are ordinary human beings and incidents are such as occurring in every day life. The romantic main plot and the realistic sub plot are harmoniously put together in As You Like It, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night‘s Dream. Charlton writes: ―Shakespearean comedies are not satiric; they are poetic. They are not conservative, they are creative.‖
ii) Love: Shakespearean comedy is essentially a comedy of love, which ends with the ringing of the marriage bells. Wooing distinguishes it from classical comedy. The entire atmosphere is surcharged with love. Not only the hero and the heroine are in love but all are in love. The Shakespearean comedy ends not with the celebration of one marriage but with many marriages. Shakespeare has vividly exhibited carried manifestations of love in his comedies. In As You Like It he has described the love at first sight between Orlando and Rosalind, thoughtful love between Celia and Oliver, pastoral love between Phebo and Silvius. The men and women who love truly have become superb representations of human nature. True love is spiritual. It is a union of minds and hearts.
iii) Shakespeare’s Heroines: Heroines in Shakespearean comedy play leading roles and surpass their male counterparts. Ruskin‘s remark that ―Shakespeare has only heroines and no heroes‖ is certainly true to his comedies. Shakespeare‘s heroines Rosalind Portia, Viola, Beatrice etc. are endowed with wit, common sense, human feelings and noble qualities of head and heart. They are wise, winning and charming. They have beautiful feelings, thoughts and emotions. They radiate joy, peace and spirit of harmony. Male characters in Shakespearean comedy only play a second fiddle. His heroines know how to fulfill their desires and resolve crisis. All heroines in Shakespearean comedy are guided by infinitive insight. Disguise: The use of dramatic device of disguise is common to all the comedies of Shakespeare. In The Merchant of Venice Jessica disguises herself in ―the lovely garnish‖ of a boy, and Portia and Nerissa likewise donmasculine attire. This devise is also employed for instance, in I As You Like It Rosalina and Celia become Ganymede and Aliena, and in All‘s Well That Ends Well. Helena passes off in bed as Diana.
iv) Homour: Homour is the soul of Shakespearean comedy. It arouses thoughtful laughter. It is full of humane and genial laughter. Shakespeare‘s wit lacks malice and his mockery has no bite. Brilliant wit mingles with kindly mirth and genial humour. Shakespeare‘s humour is many sided. He can arouse laughter from the mumblings of a drunkard and the intelligent repartees of leading women. The alert wit and bright good sense of a Rosalind arouse exquisite pleasure. His all pervasive spirit of mirth gains much from the presence of the Fool. Bottom and his companions, Feste, Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, Touchstone, Dogberry, Verges and Falstaff are Shakespeare‘s memorable fools, who not only create humour and laughter, but they also interlink the main and the subplots, and provide a running commentary on character and action. Falstaff is a superb comic character of Shakespeare.
v) Admixture of Tragic and Comic Elements: Shakespearean comedy differs from the classical comedy in the sense that in it the comic and the tragic elements are commingled. However, the tragic note does not dominate and the play ends on a note of joy. For example, The Merchant of Venice is pervaded by the tragic element from the signing of the bond to the end of the trial scene. Ultimately the play ends happily, as Antonio, whose life has been threatened by Shylock, feels happy at heart as his life has been saved.
vi) Music and Song: Since music is the food of love. Shakespearean comedy is abundantly full of song and music. The Twelfth Night opens with a note of music which strikes the keynote of the play. Several romantic songs are scattered all over A Midsummer Night‘s Dream, Twelfth Night, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing.
vii) The Role of Fortune: ―The course of true love never runs smooth.‖ Lovers have to face the hostilities of parents, friends or relatives; and consequently, there are much tears and sighs, before the final union takes place. But all these difficulties and complications are unexpectedly removed by the benign power of Fortune. Shakespearean comedy radiates the spirit of humanity and a broad vision of life. It is large – hearted in the conception, sympathetic in its tone and humanitarian in its idealism. Shakespeare created his own hallmark on the comedies in English drama. Shakespearean Tragedy Shakespearean comedy is romantic and not classical. It observes the fundamental requirements of tragedy expounded by Aristotle in The Poetics.The main characteristics of Shakespearean tragedy are as follows: i) Tragic Hero: Shakespearean tragedy is pre-eminently the story of one person, the hero or the protagonist. It is, indeed, a tale of suffering and calamity resulting in the death of the hero. It is concerned always with persons of high degree, often with Kings or princes or with leaders in the state like Coriolanus, Brutus and Antony. Shakespeare‘s tragic heroes are not only great men, they also suffer greatly, their calamity and suffering are exceptional. The sufferings and calamities of an ordinary man are not worthy of note, as they affect his own life. The story of the prince like Hamlet, or the King like Lear, or the generals like Macbeth or Othello has a greatness and dignity of its own. His fate affects the fate of a whole nation or empire. When he falls from the height of earthly greatness to the dust, his fall produces a sense of contrast of the powerlessness of man. His fall creates cathartic effects on the audience.
Shakespeare‘s tragic hero is endowed with noble qualities of head and heart. He is built on a grand scale. For instance,
Macbeth has ―vaulting ambition‖, Hamlet noble inaction, Othello credulity and rashness in action, and Lear the folly and incapacity to judge human character. Owing to this ―fatal flaw‖ the hero falls from a state of prosperity and greatness into adversity and unhappiness, and ultimately dies.
ii) Tragic Waste: In Shakespearean tragedy we find the element of tragic waste. All exceptional qualities of the protagonist are wasted. At the end of the tragedy, the Evil does not triumph. It is expelled but at the cost of much that is good and admirable. The fall of Macbeth does not only mean the death of evil in him, but also the waste of much that is essentially good and noble. In Hamlet and King Lear the good is also destroyed along with the evil. There is no tragedy in the expulsion of evil, the tragedy is that it involves the waste of good.
iv) Fate and Character: The actions of the protagonist are of great importance as they lead to his death. What we do feel strongly as the tragedy advances to its close is that the calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably from the deeds of man, and that the main source of these deeds is character. But to call Shakespearean tragedy the story of human character is not the entire truth. Shakespeare‘s tragedies, as Nicoll points out are ―tragedies of character and destiny.‖ There is a tragic relationship between the hero and his environment. A. C. Bradley also points out that with Shakespeare ―character is destiny‖ is an exaggeration of a vital truth. Fate or destiny places the protagonist in just those circumstances and situations with which he is incapable of dealing. The flaw in the character of the protagonist proves fatal for him in the peculiar circumstances in which cruel Density has placed him. The essence of Shakespearean tragedy, therefore, is that Fate presents a problem which is difficult for the particular hero at a time when he is least fitted to tackle it. The tragic relationship between the hero and his surroundings is a significant factor in Shakespearean tragedy. So, both character and destiny are responsible for the hero‘s tragic end.
v) iv) Abnormal Psychology: Some abnormal conditions of mind as insanity, somnambulism and hallucinations affect human deeds. Lear and Ophelia become victims of insanity. Lady Macbeth suffers from somnambulism and her husband Macbeth from hallucinations.
v) The Supernatural Element: The supernatural agency plays a vital role in Shakespearean tragedy. It influences the thoughts and deeds of the hero. In the age of Shakespeare ghosts and witches were believed to be far more real than they are today. It is the supernatural agency that gives the sense of failure in 28
Brutus, to the half formed thoughts of guilt in Macbeth and to suspicion in Hamlet. Supernatural agency has no power to influence events unless by influencing persons
vi) Chance: In most of Shakespeare‘s tragedies chance or accident exerts an appreciable influence at some point in the action. For instance it may be called an accident the pirate ship attacked Hamlets ship, so that he was able to return forthwith to Denmark; Desdemona drops her handkerchief at the most fatal of moments; Edgar arrives in the prison just too late to save Cordelia‘s life.
vii) Conflict: Conflict is an important element in Shakespearean tragedy. According to Aristotle it is the soul of tragedy. This conflict may arise between two persons, e.g. the hero and the villain, or between two rival parties or groups in one of which the hero is the leading figure. This is called the external conflict. In Macbeth the hero and the heroine are opposed to King Duncan. There is also an ―inner conflict‖, an inward struggle, in the mind of the hero and, it is this inner conflict which is of far greater importance in the case of the Shakespearean tragedy. In it there is invariably such as inner conflict in the mind of one or more of the characters. In Macbeth, according to Bradley, we find that ―treasonous ambition in Macbeth collides with loyalty and patriotism in Macduff and Malcolm: here is the outward conflict. But these powers and principles equally collide in the soul of Macbeth of himself; here is the inner.‖
viii) Catharsis: Shakespearean tragedy is cathartic. It has the power of purging and thus easing us of some of the pain and suffering which is the lot of us all in the world. Compared to the exceptionally tragic life of the hero before our eyes, our own sufferings begin to appear to us little and insignificant. In a Shakespearean tragedy the spectacle of the hero‘s sufferings is terrible and it arouses the emotions of pity and terror. It is truly cathartic, as it purges the audience of the emotions of self-pity and terror.
ix) No Poetic Justice:
Shakespearean tragedy is true to life. So, it excludes ―poetic justice‖ which is in flagrant and obvious contradiction of the facts of life. Although villainy is never ultimately triumphant in Shakespearean tragedy, there is yet an idea that the fortunes of the persons should correspond to their deserts and dooms. We feel that Lear ought to suffer for his folly and for his unjust treatment of Cordelia, but his sufferings are out of all proportion to his misdeeds. In Shakespearean tragedy we find that the doer must suffer. We also find that villainy never remains victorious and prosperous at the end. 29
Nemesis overtakes Macbeth and all evil characters in Shakespearean tragedy.
x) Moral Vision: Shakespearean tragedy is not depressing. It elevates, exalts and ennobles us. Shakespeare shows in his tragedies that man‘s destiny is always determined to a great extent by his own character. He is an architect of his own fate. It always reveals the dignity of man and of human endeavour over the power of evil, which is ultimately defeated. Shakespearean tragedy ends with the restoration of the power of the good. Shakespeare’s Historical Plays The historical plays were immensely popular in Elizabethan England. They reflected the spirit of the age. The people were intensely patriotic and were very proud of the achievements of their ancestors or the foreign fields. The newly awakened spirit of patriotism and nationalism enables the people to take keen interest in the records of bygone struggle against foreign invasion and civil disunion. Shakespeare‘s historical plays span a period of 350 years of English history, from 1200 to 1550. His famous historical plays are Henry VI, Parts I, II & III, Richard II, Richard III, King John, Henry IV, Parts I & II and Henry V. He borrowed the raw material of his historical plays from the chronicles of Hall, Showe and Holinshed. Shakespeare‘s historical plays are suffused with the spirit of patriotism. They show his love for authority and discipline. He considers law and authority necessary for civilized life, he fears disorder for it leads to chaos.
Shakespeare’s Last Plays Shakespeare‘s last plays known as dramatic romances form a class apart. His last four plays – Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter‘s Tale and The Tempest are neither comedies nor tragedies. All of them end happily but all fetch happiness to shore out of shipwreck and suffering. These last plays have a lot in common. It is appropriate to call them ―dramatic romances‖ or tragicomedies.‖ They contain incidents which are undoubtedly tragic but they end happily. Shakespeare‘s last plays breathe a spirit of philosophic clam. They are stories of restoration, reconciliation, moral resurrection and regeneration. 30
1.6.3. Other Playwrights
I. Ben Jonson and the Comedy of Humours
Ben Jonson was a classicist in Elizabethan England, which was romantic both in character and temper. Jonson was the first great neo-classic. Like Donne, he revolted against the artistic principles of his contemporaries, and he sought a measure for the uncontrolled, romantic exuberance of Elizabethan literature in the classical literature. In all branches of his writings he is the conscious artist and reformer. To him the chief function of literature was to instruct and educate the audience and readers. All plays of Ben Jonson are neo-classic in spirit. They aim at reforming and instructing society and individuals. He is primarily a writer of the comedies of humour. His famous comedies are The Case is Altered, Every Man in His Homour, Every Man Out of His Humour, Epicone or The Silent Woman, The Alchemist, The Bartholomew Fair, The Devil is an Ass, The Light Heart, Homour Reconciled and A Tale of A Tub. Ben Jonson also wrote two tragedies Sejanus and Cataline. Jonson propounded the theory of the comedy of humours. To him the purpose of the comedy is corrective and cathartic. The corrective and moral tone necessitated the presence of satire in his comedies. The audience must laugh to some end and the play must deal with some folly and cure it by its ridiculous and comic presentation. To him a comedy was a ―comical satire.‖ He derived the idea of humours from medieval medical science. In the older physiology the four major humours corresponding with the four elements and possessing the qualities of moisture, dryness, heat and cold. These elements, in different combinations, formed in each body and declare his character Variations in the relative strength of these humours showed the individual differences. The disturbance of the natural balance is dangerous and it results in different ailments of body. In order to restore the natural balance of the body many purgings, bleedings and other painful reductions were affected in medieval times. Ben Jonson used this term to include vices as well as follies, cruelty as well as jealousy. It was also used in the sense of mere caprice or trick of manner or peculiarity of chess. It also included vanity and affectation. In Every Man Out of His Humour he lucidly explained the term ―homour‖ . As when someone peculiar quality Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw All his effects, his spirits and his powers, In his conflunctions, all to run are way.
This may be truly said to be a humour. Jonson regarded it as one of the main functions of the comedy to expose the excesses, vanities and human affectations, which disturbed the balance of human personality. Jonsonian comedy of humours is classical and intellectual. He is the forerunner of the Restoration comedy of manners.
II. John Webster and the Revenge Tragedy
Webster‘s two tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi have earned for him an outstanding place in British drama. In subtlety of thought and reality of tragic passion he is second to Shakespeare. Both his tragedies are based on the revenge motif. In them he emerges as a painstaking artist who had refined the material and motives of the earlier tragedies of blood and gloom. He had converted melodrama into tragedy. He imparted moral vision, psychological subtlety and emotional depth to the tragedy of revenge and horror.
III. Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher combined to produce a great number of plays. Their typical comedies are A King and No King, The Knight of Burning Pestle and The Scornful Lady. They wrote two tragedies – The Maid‘s Tragedy and Philaster.
IV. George Chapman
George Chapman was a classicist like Jonson. His two comedies All Fools‘ Day and Eastward Ho are remarkable for Jonsonian humour. His historical plays dealing with nearly contemporary history are The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, Charles, Duke of Byron and The Tragedy of Chabot.
V. Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was one of the most original dramatists of his time. His light farcical comedies like A Mad World My Masters and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside are remarkable for vivacity. His other memorable plays Women Beware Women, Changeling and The Witch. The Spanish Gypsy is a romantic comedy which reminds us of As You Like It.
1.7 LET’S SUM UP
In this unit we have studied the importance of English Renaissance which exercised a great impact on the development of English literature. We have taken an outline of the socio-political milieu of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age including the literary features of these ages. Further we studied the different kinds of poetry like love poetry, patriotic poetry, philosophic poetry and satirical poetry to name few. You have also been introduced with the important poets of the age. The unit continues with the peculiarities of the Elizabethan prose and its various forms: essay, character writing, religious writing and prose romances. This prose writing projected the novel writing in the later ages The final part of the unit focuses on the dramatic art developed by the Elizabethan playwrights. It includes the University wits and their contributions to drama, and as to how they pave the way for Shakespeare. The unit extensively studies the dramatic activities of William Shakespeare and characteristics of his different kinds of drama like comedy, tragedy and historical plays.