A Game at Chesse

By Thomas Middleton; R. C. Bald | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

I

A MAN who was born in the same year as Shakespeare and was alive at the accession of Charles I must have lived to see many changes. His adult life would have covered the whole of the period of that great outburst of literary and dramatic activity which is generally grouped together under the designation "Elizabethan," although it extended, roughly, from the publication of The Shepheardes Calender in 1579 to the death of James I. But the average man was, then as now, doubtless more deeply stirred by events that were political and national rather than literary, and the patriotism which found its expression in Shakespeare's historical plays, no less than in The Faerie Queene or Raleigh's account of the last fight of the Revenge, reached its apexes in three great outbursts of national rejoicing. These were the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, and the return of Prince Charles from Madrid in 1624 without a Spanish bride. The third event aroused the last manifestation of the intense spirit that had animated Elizabethan England; thenceforward the eyes of the nation were turned inwards upon itself, and with the growth of the power of Parliament domestic affairs consumed all those energies that had previously found a wider expression.

The fears which the defeat of the Armada in 1588 dispelled for Protestantism in England returned with greater strength in the reign of James I. The counter-Reformation had won great successes abroad, and the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War seemed to many to threaten the complete overthrow of the Protestant cause. The King's

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