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The Elizabethan era is the period in English history
marked by the reign of Monarch Queen Elizabeth I
Historians often depict it as the golden age in English
The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572, and
thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan age as a
renaissance that inspired national pride through
classical ideals, international expansion, and naval
triumph over the Spanish — at the time, a rival
kingdom much hated by the people of the land.
Historian John Guy (1988)- argues that England was
economically healthier, more expansive, and more
optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a
This "golden age" represented the top of the English
Renaissance and saw the flowering of poetry, music
The era is most famous for theatre,
William Shakespeare and many others composed plays
that broke free of England's past style of theatre.
It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad,
while back at home, the Protestant Reformation
became more acceptable to the people, most
certainly after the Spanish Armada was repulsed. It
was also the end of the period when England was a
separate realm before its royal union with Scotland.
may be viewed especially highly when considered in
light of the failings of the periods preceding
Elizabeth's reign and those which followed.
it was a brief period of internal peace between the
English Reformation and the religious battles
between Protestants and Catholics and then the
political battles between parliament and the
monarchy that engulfed the remainder of the
The Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a
time, by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, and
parliament was not yet 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 Spanish domination of the
peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious
battles due to significant Spanish intervention, 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 by Spain's tercios, 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
clashed both in Europe and the Americas in
skirmishes that exploded into the Anglo-Spanish
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 an unsuccessful
expedition to Portugal and the Azores, the Drake-Norris
Expedition of 1589.
Thereafter, Spain provided some support for Irish
Catholics in a debilitating rebellion against English rule, and
Spanish naval and land forces inflicted a series of reversals
against English offensives. This drained both the English
Exchequer and economy that had been so carefully restored
under Elizabeth's prudent guidance.
English commercial and territorial expansion would be
limited until the signing of the Treaty of London the year
following Elizabeth's death.
England during this period had a centralised, well-
organised, and effective government, largely a result of
the reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII, as well as
Elizabeth's harsh punishments for any dissenters.
Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from
the new era of trans-Atlantic trade, persistent theft of
Spanish treasure, and the African slave trade.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth lasted from 1558 until her
death in 1603, during which time the arts in England
thrived. Fine arts received support and encouragement
from the Queen that was unparalleled by any other English
monarch; and as a result, the authors and works of this
time period came to be known as Elizabethan. She was an
avid reader and often held theatre performances in her
court, particularly from her own company of actors, known
as The Queen's Players. Literature, in particular, flourished
under the reign of Elizabeth, with many influential authors
developing their personal styles during this time.
Some of the key writers of this era include
• Christopher Marlowe,
• Sir Philip Sidney,
• Edmund Spenser,
• William Shakespeare.
Poetry — and sonnets particularly — became a popular form of
writing, with Shakespeare and Spenser's extraordinary works at
the forefront of the genre. Both authors heavily influenced the way
sonnets would be written in the years to come. The style of writing
sonnets in three quatrains and a couplet later became known as
"Shakespearian" in recognition of the Bard's frequent use of this
Spenser's writing also sparked the adoption of a literary
term: the "Spenserian stanza," which describes a nine-line
stanza based on Spenser's work, most notably the epic The
Faerie Queene. As a young man and writer, Spenser looked up
to another excellent poet, Sir Philip Sidney, whose diverse
career in politics, diplomatic positions, writing, and the military
made him a "Renaissance man" of the time. Sidney'sAstrophil
and Stella is a prime example of Elizabethan poetry due to its
wit and imaginative creativity. One of the most excellent
pieces of Elizabethan literary criticism is An Apology for
Poetry, Sidney's eloquent response to a minor writer's attack
o widely-popular Shakespeare, was one of the most well-
known playwrights of the Elizabethan era. A
contemporary of Shakespeare's to the year (both
writers were born in 1564), Marlowe is credited with
writing one of the first English plays in blank
verse, Tamburlaine. Marlowe's The Tragical History of
Doctor Faustus, a tale of fatal bargains with the devil
published around 1592, is his greatest work.
o was relatively unknown among the greater circle of
English playwrights until he published Every Man in His
Humour in 1598. A few years after its publication,
Jonson was imprisoned for his satirical description of
King James I's arrival in England. After he was
released, he publishedVolpone in 1606, the work for
which he is best known.
Although Marlowe and Jonson were reputable writers,
Shakespeare —with his successful combination wit, blank
verse, and classical writing — is generally considered to
be the most successful of all Elizabethan writers.
MAJOR WRITERS OF THE
Important writers and their works of the Elizabethan period of English literature.
The Myrroure for Magistrates Gorboduc (Collaborated
with with Thomas Norton)
Poet Gorboduc (Collaborated with Thomas Sackville)
Poet Steel Glass Supposes Jocasta
The Faerie Queene The Shepherdess Calendar
Amoretti Epithalamion Prothalamion
Mother Hubberd’s Tale
The Ruins of the Rime
The Tears of the Muses
}Introduced Sonnet into English
Henry Howard, Earl of
Sir Philip Sydney
ArcadiaAstrophel and StellaAn Apoogie for
The Battle of Agincourt England’s Heroic
Epistles The Baron’s Wars Polyolbion
Every Man in His Humour Every Man
Out of His Humour Volpone or the
Fox Cynthia’s Revels The Alchemist
Bartholomew Fayre Epicaene or the
Sajanus His Fall
Catline His Conspiracy
Teh Devil as an Ass
an English playwright, poet, and actor
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
is generally acknowledged to be the greatest of English writers
and one of the most extraordinary creators in human history.
The most crucial fact about William Shakespeare's career is that
he was a popular dramatist. Born 6 years after Queen Elizabeth I
had ascended the throne, contemporary with the high period of
the English Renaissance, Shakespeare had the good luck to find in
the theater of London a medium just coming into its own and an
audience, drawn from a wide range of social classes, eager to
reward talents of the sort he possessed.
His entire life was committed to the public theatre, and
he seems to have written nondramatic poetry only when
enforced closings of the theatre made writing plays
impractical. It is equally remarkable that his days in the
theatre were almost exactly contemporary with the
theatre's other outstanding achievements—the work, for
example, of Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and John
Shakespeare was born on or just before April 23, 1564,
in the small but then important Warwickshire town of
His mother, born Mary Arden, was the daughter of a
landowner from a neighboring village. His father, John,
son of a farmer, was a glove maker and trader in farm
produce; he had achieved a position of some eminence in
the prosperous market town by the time of his son's
birth, holding a number of responsible positions in
Stratford's government and serving as mayor in 1569.
By 1576, however, John Shakespeare had begun to
encounter the financial difficulties which were to plague
him until his death in 1601.
Though no personal documents survive from
Shakespeare's school years, his literary work shows the
mark of the excellent if gruelling education offered at
the Stratford grammar school (some reminiscences of
Stratford school days may have lent amusing touches to
scenes in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Like other
Elizabethan schoolboys, Shakespeare studied Latin
grammar during the early years, then progressed to the
study of logic, rhetoric, composition, oration,
versification, and the monuments of Roman literature.
The work was conducted in Latin and relied heavily on
rote memorization and the master's rod. A plausible
tradition holds that William had to discontinue his
education when about 13 in order to help his father. At
18 he married Ann Hathaway, a Stratford girl. They had
three children (Susanna, 1583-1649; Hamnet, 1585-1596;
and his twin, Judith, 1585-1662) and who was to survive
him by 7 years. Shakespeare remained actively involved
in Stratford affairs throughout his life, even when living
in London, and retired there at the end of his career.