The ability to place Shakespeare, the man, into his historical context can enrich our reading and understanding of his plays. While dealing with universal themes that will resonate with modern audiences, there are portions that will yield richer rewards if we are able to place the plays in their context.
Shakespeare was born during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, or the Elizabethan Age. For an actor and a playwright, this was a boon. Before this time actors were at the bottom rungs of society. Most of the population assumed actors were cheats and scoundrels, and public theaters rarely lasted long.
However, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the theater and great advances in the Arts were made during her reign. She was the last ruler of the Tudor dynasty and she was a force to be reckoned with. She had beaten the Spanish Armada and emerged as a dominant power in Europe and the New World.
Within England she was a patron of the arts, and culture wwas thriving. The Renaissance had arrived in England and with it incredible advances in art, science, scholarship and literature. For the first time actors and playwrights were financially thriving and gaining respect and status.
The Reformation had also arrived in England, bring with it religious upheaval as groups broke with Catholicism and the Pope. In England this movement provided Henry VIII the excuse he needed to declare himself the head of the church, uniting political and spiritual power with the crown. This power play achieved his primary goal, allowing him to legally divorce his first wife and marry his mistress, Anne Boelyn, Queen Elizabeth’s mother. The consequences of this move would lead to a great deal of unrest and violence after his death. When Elizabeth finally secured the crown, her reign was largely a period of peace for England.
Continue Reading »