Jacobean Era: Theatre & Literature

Instructor: Margaret Moran
The Jacobean Era was characterized by distinctive art, literature, and theatre. This lesson will examine in detail the theatre and literature of this time period.

What Was the Jacobean Era?

The rule of King James I of England was a unique time in English History. James, also known as James VI of Scotland, was the first ruler to unite England and Scotland. This time period from 1567-1625, known as The Jacobean Era was a time relatively free of the conflict and strife that was omnipresent during the rule of his aunt, Queen Elizabeth I. This peace made it possible for the British empire to not only discover and develop lands in the new world, but also to excel and succeed in the artistic world of theatre and literature.

Jacobean Theatre

The period of history associated with English Renaissance Theatre spanned from the Elizabethan era to the Caroline era, approximately 1562 to 1642. During this time in history, plays were not commonly performed outside of the courtyard of inns; in fact, plays were banned from being performed in London! This era would give birth to the first large and successful public forums for plays. During the Jacobean era, two famous playhouses, the Rose and The Globe, were built. It's not a coincidence that these houses were linked strongly with the playwright and author William Shakespeare as these houses were specifically built with an upper level, highly suitable for the balcony scenes of Romeo and Juliet or the crowd scenes of Julius Caesar.

The reconstructed Globe Theatre
The reconstructed Globe Theatre

The creation of these playhouses brought with it the advent of theatre fervor among the English people. Performances, especially on summer days were often sold out, with up to 5000 people in attendance.

The Jacobean era was a time of fame for several notable playwrights, including Shakespeare and Marlowe. Their plays were so iconic, they have withstood the test of time, many still being performed onstage today!

Jacobean Literature

While examining the famous literature of the Jacobean era, William Shakespeare is again prominently displayed. He is known to have written King Lear and Macbeth during this time period, both becoming popular plays. King James and his wife Queen Anne were both generous patrons of the arts, allowing for a time of free and profitable literary expression.

Other famous works of literature from this era include works from John Webster, Thomas Middleton and the famous translation of the Iliad and Odyssey by George Chapman.

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