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The Development

of English Drama
Prisca Laurienne P. Wu

Introduction of Drama to
Drama was introduced to England from
Europe, and auditoriums were constructed
across the country for this purpose.

Liturgical Drama
ca. 10th to 13th century
During the Middle Ages learning was largely confined to

the clergy, kings and nobles being frequently unable to

read and write. Since the Church service was conducted
in Latin, it was unintelligible to the vast majority of
communicants. Consequently, as early as the fifth
century, perhaps earlier, the clergy conceived of
presenting tableaux to elucidate the service and to place
biblical stories before their ignorant congregations.

Liturgical Drama
The Church ritual was full of dramatic possibilities
and a vested choir and robed clergy were ready at
hand. There was the blending of symbolic action,
Scriptural narrative, outbursts of song. The biblical
stories lent themselves easily to presentation.

At first groups of clerics merely presentedtableaux

living picturesto depict to the eye what was
being expressed in an unknown tongue to the ear.
By the tenth century dialogue was chanted by the
choir.Action and gesture emphasized meaning.

Liturgical Drama
English drama, like the Greek, had its beginnings in
religion. It included simple movement, costuming, and appropriate gestures.
By 1200, liturgical drama grew in length and complexity.

The Church became too limited to accommodate the crowds that were
attracted by these plays. The space surrounding it was used next, but the
excited spectators accidentally despoiled graves while crowding around to
watch. Then street corners were appropriated, and the farther away the plays
got from the Church, the control of the priests lessened. Other people wanted
to become involved. In the secularization, considerable humor and levity crept
into the plays (e.g., poking fun at Herod, Pilate, Judas, Noah).

Medieval Period
By themedievalperiod, themummers' playshad
developed, a form of early street theatre associated
with theMorris dance, concentrating on themes such
asSaint Georgeand theDragonandRobin Hood.
These werefolk talesre-telling old stories, and
theactorstravelled from town to town performing
these for their audiences in return for money and

Mummers Play
Mummers Plays(also known asmummering) are seasonalfolk

playsperformed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers

(or by local names such asrhymers,paceeggers,soulers,tipteerers,galoshins,guysers, and so on),
originally from the British Isles.

They are sometimes performed in the street but more usually as

house-to-house visits and inpublic houses.

Although the termmummershas been used since medieval times, no

play scripts or performance details survive from that era, and the
term may have been used loosely to describe performers of several
different kinds.

Mummers Play
Mummers and "guisers" (performers in disguise) can be
traced back at least to the Middle Ages, though when
the term "mummer" appears in medieval manuscripts it
is rarely clear what sort of performance was involved. A
key element was visiting people in disguise at

In the royal courts, special allegorical plays were

written for the mummers each year.

I. Mystery and Miracle Plays

Sometimes distinguished as two different forms but sometime used

Mystery playsdramatized biblical text. (They were usually held during

summer festivals with both civic and religious value.)

Mystery plays focused on the representation ofBiblestories in

churchesastableauxwith accompanyingantiphonalsong.

Miracle playsdramatized the lives of the saints.

These biblical plays differ widely in content. Most contain episodes such as
theFall of Lucifer, theCreation and Fall of Man,Cain and Abel,Noah and the
Flood,Abraham and Isaac, theNativity, theRaising of Lazarus, thePassion,
and theResurrection.

II. Morality Plays

The morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical

The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th

These plays developed great flexibility in staging

The theme was always the same thefall and redemption of mankind.
In their own time, these plays were known as "interludes", a broader
term given to dramas with or without a moral theme.

II. Morality Plays

Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the

protagonist is met by personifications of various moral

attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life
over one of evil.

Since life is a continual strife between good and evil, the plays

came to depict that strife. They showed that man has choice. By
making plain the result of wrong choosing, moral lessons could be
brought more forcefully home than they could in normal sermons.
Thus,the morality concerns itself with Christian conduct.

II. Morality Plays

The Somonyng of Everyman (The Summoning of
Everyman), usually referred to simply as Everyman,
is a late 15th-century English morality play.

Everyman examines the question of Christian

salvation by use of allegorical characters, and what
Man must do to attain it. The premise is that the
good and evil deeds of one's life will be tallied by
God after death, as in a ledger book.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
The period known as the English Renaissance, approximately
15001660, saw a flowering of the drama and all the arts.

During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and then James I

(160325), in the late 16th and early 17th century, a Londoncentered culture, that was both courtly and popular, produced
great poetry and drama.

The English playwrights were intrigued by Italian model: a

conspicuous community of Italian actors had settled in London.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
The first permanent theatre in England was located in
Middlesex, just outside the walls of London.

The Theatre, as it was called, was created by James Burbage,

father of Richard Burbage, the famous actor. There is little
direct information about the appearance of The Theatre. It was
dismantled in 1598 and its timbers were carried to Bankside,
south of London across the Thames River. When it was
reassembled in 1599 it was calledThe Globe. What is known
about The Globe probably applies to The Theatre as well.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
The earliest Elizabethan plays includes Gorboduc (1561) by
Sackville and Norton and Thomas Kyd's (155894) revenge tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy (1592), that influenced Shakespeare's Hamlet.

William Shakespeare stands out in this period as a poet and

playwright as yet unsurpassed. Shakespeare was not a man of
letters by profession, and probably had only some grammar school
education. He was neither a lawyer, nor an aristocrat as the
"university wits" that had monopolized the English stage when he
started writing.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated
with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by
Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord
Chamberlain's Men, on land owned by Thomas Brend
and inherited by his son, Nicholas Brend and grandson
Sir Matthew Brend, and was destroyed by fire on 29
June 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the
same site by June 1614 and closed in 1642.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

The open-air theatres could accommodate audiences of 2000 to
3000 spectators. The indoor theatres were much smaller and could
accommodate 300 to 400 spectators.

The outdoor theatres relied onnatural light. They usedfew stage

propsand no stage sets in the modern sense of the-term. These
seeming limitations encouraged several of the most brilliant
features of Elizabethan drama. The lack of stage sets allowed the
dramatists to createrapid, extremely fluid actions. Scenes
succeeded each other without interruption, somewhat in the
manner of twentieth-century movies.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
The lack of stage sets forced the Elizabethan
dramatists to create what might be called atheatre
of imagination. Since the scenes were not
presented visually, they had to beevoked by poetic
language. When we speak today of Shakespeare's
magnificent poetry, we are referring to an element of
his dramas that resulted from this absence of

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
The Elizabethan stage was athrust stagesurrounded on three (perhaps
on all four) sides by the audience. There was continuous contact
between the actors and the spectators. Taking advantage of this,
Shakespeare and his contemporaries filled their plays
withasides,anachronisms,topical allusionsand other devices that
allowed the actor to speak directly to the audience. The most brilliant of
these devices is the Shakespeareansoliloquy, but a careful reader will
find innumerable other examples throughout the plays. The glories of
Shakespeare's drama are thus directly related to the characteristics on
which they were originally presented.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
But he was very gifted and incredibly versatile, and he surpassed

"professionals" as Robert Greene who mocked this "shake-scene"

of low origins. He was himself an actor and deeply involved in the
running of the theatre company that performed his plays.

Most playwrights at this time tended to specialize in, either

histories, or comedies, or tragedies. but Shakespeare is

remarkable in that he produced all three types. His 38 plays
include tragedies: Hamlet (1599-1601) and King Lear (1605);
comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream (159496) and Twelfth
Night (1602); history plays: Henry IV, parts 1 and 2.

Renaissance: Elizabethan and

Jacobean Periods
In addition, he wrote his so-called "problem plays", or "bitter

comedies", that includes, amongst others, Measure for

Measure, Troilus and Cressida, A Winter's Tale and All's Well
that Ends Well.[7] Though most of his plays met with success, it
was in his later years, that Shakespeare wrote what have been
considered his greatest plays: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear,
Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and the last play that he wrote
(without a collaborator) The Tempest (c.1611).

Other important playwrights of this period include Christopher

Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, John Fletcher Francis Beaumont,
Ben Jonson, and John Webster.

17th and 18th Century

During the Interregnum 16491660, English theatres were
kept closed by the Puritans for religious and ideological
reasons. When the London theatres opened again with the
Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, they flourished under the
personal interest and support of Charles II.

New genres of the Restoration were heroic drama, pathetic

drama, and Restoration comedy.

This period saw the first professional woman playwright, Aphra

Behn, author of many comedies including The Rover (1677).

17th and 18th Century

Restoration comedy is famous or notorious for its sexual
explicitness, a quality encouraged by Charles II (1660
1685) personally and by the rakish aristocratic ethos of
his court.

In the 18th century, the highbrow and provocative

Restoration comedy lost favour, to be replaced by
sentimental comedy, domestic tragedy such as George
Lillo's The London Merchant (1731), and by an
overwhelming interest in Italian opera.

17th and 18th Century

Popular entertainment became more dominant in this
period than ever before. Fair-booth burlesque and
musical entertainment, the ancestors of the English
music hall, flourished at the expense of legitimate
English drama.

By the early 19th century, few English dramas were

being written, except for closet drama, plays intended to
be presented privately rather than on stage.

Victorian Era
A change came in the Victorian era with a
profusion on the London stage of farces,
musical burlesques, extravaganzas and comic
operas that competed with Shakespeare
productions and serious drama by the likes of
James Planch and Thomas William Robertson.

Victorian Era
The length of runs in the theatre changed rapidly
during the Victorian period. As transportation
improved, poverty in London diminished, and street
lighting made for safer travel at night, the number of
potential patrons for the growing number of theatres
increased enormously. Plays could run longer and still
draw in the audiences, leading to better profits and
improved production values.

the end