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The Renaissance
Elizabethan Theatre
The Early Renaissance
The arts became an essential part of learning
and literary culture.
For the first time, it seemed possible not merely
to imitate the works of the classical world, but to
surpass them.
Theatre: The Early Renaissance
The early Renaissance was almost exclusively a
time of visual art and architecture.
 Niccolo Machiavelli used the newly developed
science of visual perspective to achieve
amazing scenic accomplishments.
 Machiavelli
– Known for writing The Prince
Renaissance began in Italy (rebirth)
Theater moved indoors; better methods for lighting
stage, 3-D scenery
Commedia dell’arte – wandering troupes of
actors/actresses who improvised lines as they
traveled the countryside
Troupes used the same characters called stock
characters in each play
Harlequin- a clever servant known for his costume
which looked like a patchwork quilt
Pantalone- foolish old man who wore baggy
Commedia Dell’arte
This theatrical form developed in Italy and featured the
actor rather than the script.
Commedia dell’arte could be identified by four specific
– Improvisation: plots and sub-plots; dialogue was
completely improvised.
– Stock Characters: young lovers, old fathers, braggart
soldiers, and comic servants.
– Use of Mime and Pantomime: all characters except
the lovers and the maid wore masks; attitudes were
communicated through gestures.
– Traveled in Companies: each member played the
same role over and over.
Commedia Dell’arte
A few works were serious, and some pastoral,
but most were comic.
The acting appears to have been natural though
the actors needed good entrance and exit lines
as well as repartee.
Actors required great skill, physical dexterity,
and timing, since much of humor was visual.
Actors in commedia also had to dance, sing, and
do acrobatics.
Commedia dell’arte introduced women into the
theatre as equals.
Drama: The High Renaissance
Italian playwrights chose mostly to write tender,
sentimental, pastoral comedies, in a graceful,
witty, and polished style.
Dramas were produced with elaborate set
decoration and usually at court for the nobility.
No permanent theatre buildings existed at this
time; the surviving Roman theatre buildings
were unstable.
Renaissance gradually spread to other countries
Came to England during the Elizabethan Age (reign
of Queen Elizabeth I)
Fame was overshadowed by greatest English
playwright of all time, William Shakespeare
Elizabethan Theatre
Against common aristocrats’ view –
Elizabeth I loved theatre
 Outside London:
– 1st public playhouse
 The Theatre (1576)
 The Fortune
 The Globe
– Theatres were like wooden O’s – round or
3 Big Playwrights
Christopher Marlow (1564-1593)
– Dr. Faustus
– Protagonists sells his soul to the devil
Ben Johnson (1573-1637)
– Followed Aristotelian Unities
– Humorous satire
– Valpone
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
– Considered the greatest English dramatist
– Wrote histories, comedies, tragedies, poems
Greatness of Shakespeare
– Skill with plot balance
– Universality
– Use of language
– Memorable characters
Political unrest after Charles I
Civil War
Puritan Oliver Cromwell gained control
Theatres = “Dens if inequity” – closed in 1642
Theatre dies in England until 1660