THE Elizabethan era lifted itself above political struggles and religious wars. It took on amplitude and attained unprecedented vitality; it became a Golden Age of art and adventure because of its healthy passion for experiment, its lust for exploration, and its inherent flexibility. England adapted itself to rapid cultural changes; the country grew equally upon the strength of the southern Renaissance and the northern Reformation.
The English spirit was thus liberated for new concepts in literature and science as well as for a revival in statecraft and religion. Freedom and spontaneity were the characteristics of a period which, within a quarter century, produced such immortals as Drake, Raleigh, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Campion, Jonson, and Donne. Shakespeare was the central sun, but the Elizabethan heavens were crowded with brilliant lesser luminaries. John Addington Symonds wrote in his introduction to THE MERMAID SERIES:
In order to comprehend the English Renaissance, we must not be satisfied with studying only Shakespeare. We must learn to know his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors; that multitude of men inferior to him in stature, but of the same lineage; each of whom in greater or less degree was inspired with the like genius; each of whom possessed a clairvoyance into human nature and a power of presenting it vividly to the imagination which can be claimed by no similar group of fellow workers in the history of any literature known to us. What made the playwrights of that epoch so great as to deserve the phrase which Dryden found for them -- "Theirs was the giant race before the flood" --