Renaissance Theatre

first, a quick note...

Renaissance Theatre (1562-?)- ("new life", rebirth) refers to theatre movement that swept Eastern European countries and England-France, Italy, Spain, England

Elizabethan Theatre (1562-1603)- refers specifically to the theatre during the time of Queen Elizabeth's rule

Origins of English Renaissance theatre

  • populations centralized in cities- demand for entertainment; acting became a full-time profession
  • centered just outside of London (banned in city), though later were allowed back into the city by Queen Elizabeth
  • defined by the establishment of permanent, large, profitable theatres, though this did not happen until 1567 (Red Lion); previously performed in courtyards and inns
  • all social classes allowed, though troupes were sometimes rented out for nobility
  • set fees for viewership, dependent on seating
  • organized theatre troupes, no women
  • plays and parts were written specifically for a troupe/actor, acting guilds often had personal playwrights and theatres
  • began to stray from morality plays; theatre became more about entertainment

Important vocabulary

Raked stage- a stage built on a slope; "downstage", "upstage"

Proscenium stage- arch encloses main part of stage

Commedia dell'arte- Italian comedies in which actors improvised dialogue; the inspiration of modern Improvisational theater

Groundlings- patrons of the Elizabethan theater who stood or sat in the open area of the theater; those who sat in the "cheap" seats for a penny

major playwrights

John Lyly
  • (born 1554?, Kent, Eng.—died November 1606, London)
  • first notable English prose stylist
  • prose in english comedy

Works Include:

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578)

Euphues and His England (1580)


Sapho and Phao

The Woman in the Moon


Thomas Kyd
  • (baptized Nov. 6, 1558, London, Eng.—died c. December 1594, London)
  • initiated "revenge tragedy" (Hamlet)

Works Include

The Spanish Tragedy

Cornelia (1594)

Arden of Feversham (?)

Robert Greene
  • (born July 1558?, Norwich, Eng.—died Sept. 3, 1592, London)
  • one of the most popular English prose writers
  • blank verse romantic comedy

Works Include:

The Honorable Historie of frier Bacon, and frier Bongay (written c. 1591, published 1594)

The Scottish Historie of James the fourth, slaine at Flodden (written c. 1590, published 1598)

A Notable Discovery of Coosnage (1591)

William Shakespeare
  • (baptized April 26, 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England—died April 23, 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon)
  • greatest dramatist of all time
  • actor

Works Include:

Titus Andronicus (c. 1589–92)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (c. 1590–94)

The Merchant of Venice

As You Like It

Twelfth Night

The Comedy of Errors

Love’s Labour’s Lost (c. 1588–97)

The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1590–94)

Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V

Richard III

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595–96)

The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596–97)

Much Ado About Nothing (c. 1598–99)

Romeo and Juliet (c. 1594–96)



King Lear



societal response to Renaissance theatre

  • public viewed theatre as a form of quality entertainment
  • Church advocated for the removal of all plays and theatres; believed it was sin because it pushed moral boundaries
  • after the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, all power went back to king, plays began to push political boundaries, leading to the banning of theatre and shutdown of all performances

How does renaissance theatre connect to other periods

  • prose
  • physical theatres
  • acting as a profession
  • stages



Created with images by marybettiniblank - "globe london theatre"

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