The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

By Karl J. Holzknecht | Go to book overview

4
ELIZABETHAN THEATRICAL COMPANIES

England affords those glorious vagabonds,
That carried erst their fardels on their backs,
Coursers to ride on through the gazing streets,
Sooping it in their glaring satin suits,
And pages to attend their masterships.
-- The Return from Parnassus, Part II, V, i.

For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men. -- Hamlet, II, ii, 420.

ONE OF THE MOST PUZZLING CIRCUMSTANCES TO THE NEW student of the Elizabethan drama is the curious inconsistency in attitude which the age adopted toward the drama and the stage. Accustomed to hearing the Elizabethan period lauded as the golden age of English drama and its people, royal and common alike, praised for their whole-hearted patronage of the theatre, the student is a little bewildered, not only by severe criticism of the drama as a legitimate form of art and entertainment, but more especially by a social stigma placed upon the actor. In book after book, players and playwrights are referred to as "priests of Belial," "caterpillars of the commonwealth," or at best as "a very superfluous sort of men who should be wholly stayed and forbidden." In the statutes "common players" are coupled with "rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars." Acting, it is apparent, did not always occupy the respectable position it now holds both as an art and as a profession. In Shakespeare's time, the theatre was only beginning to grow in dignity and repute. A brief review of the rise of professional playing will serve to make the Elizabethan attitude clearer.

-92-

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The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vii
  • 1 - Shakespeare's Life in Fact and Tradition 1
  • Suggested References 32
  • 2 - Shakespeare's England 33
  • Suggested References 61
  • 3 - The Drama Before Shakespeare 63
  • Suggested References 89
  • 4 - Elizabethan Theatrical Companies 92
  • Suggested References 114
  • 5 - The Elizabethan Public Playhouse 115
  • Suggested References 144
  • 6 - The Influence of Theatrical Conditions on Shakespeare 146
  • Suggested References 166
  • 7 - Shakespeare's Audience 167
  • Suggested References 185
  • 8 - Shakespeare's English 186
  • Suggested References 219
  • 9 - The Sources of Shakespeare's Play 220
  • Suggested References 245
  • 10 - Some General Aspects Of Shakespeare's Dramatic Art 247
  • Suggested References 265
  • 11 - Shakespearean Comedy 268
  • Suggested References 291
  • 12 - Shakespeare's History Plays 293
  • Suggested References 320
  • 13 - Shakespearean Tragedy 322
  • Suggested References 341
  • 14 - Shakespeare in Print 343
  • Suggested References 371
  • 15 - Shakespeare's Reputation 374
  • Suggested References 404
  • 16 - Shakespeare on the Stage 407
  • Suggested References 437
  • 17 - Shakespearean Scenes and Characters 439
  • Index 471
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