The Age of Shakespeare
Hello and welcome back to another article. In this article, we are going to enter what we broadly call the Shakespearean Age.
This age includes the whole period extending from the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 to the death of James I in 1625. These 67 years are divided into three sections: the first 21 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the 24 years between the publication of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender and her death, and the 22 years of James I’s rule. The first part is known as the time of preparation, or springtide in Elizabethan literature; the second as the time of full fruition, or summer; and the third as the time of decline, or autumn. Of course, the name Elizabethan should only be applied to the first two divisions, whereas Jacobean is the right title for the third. However, from the standpoint of literary growth, there are compelling reasons why the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods should also be included in the broad term “the Age of Shakespeare.”
This period is known as the “Golden Age of Literature.” It was a time of peace, economic success, stability, liberty, and tremendous discoveries. It was a time of both reflection and action. It was a period notable for the remarkable development of art, literature, and drama. John Milton calls England, during this age, as “a noble and puissant nation, rousing herself, like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks.”
Let’s see the main characteristics of this age.
The Main Characteristics of This Age
1. Political Peace and Stability
Elizabeth successfully framed and implemented a strategy of balance and moderation both inside and beyond the country. With Scotland, a working compromise was reached. The rebelling northern barons were restrained. As a result, she may be able to successfully restore peace in typically troubled border areas. The English national life advanced fast and steadily under her capable rule.
2. Social Development
It was an era of high social satisfaction. Thousands of people were employed as industrial towns grew rapidly. The expansion of trade and commerce benefitted England. The wealthy were taxed in order to help the needy. This produced a conducive environment for literary endeavours.
3. Religious Tolerance
It was a time of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Upon her succession, she discovered a nation split against itself. The north was predominantly Catholic, while the south was predominantly Protestant. Scotland was a fervent supporter of the Reformation. Ireland adhered to its traditional religion. Elizabeth was the one who made the Anglican Church a reality. Anglicanism was a sort of middle ground between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Church was acknowledged by both Protestants and Catholics. The Queen’s policy of religious tolerance impacted all Englishmen, uniting them in a great national passion. Man’s mind, now free of religious concerns and persecutions, turned to new sorts of endeavour with a huge creative urge. An all-pervading religious serenity provided a strong impetus for the literary endeavour.
4. Sense and Feeling of Patriotism
It was a patriotic era. Queen Elizabeth adored England and made her court one of the most magnificent in Europe. The splendour of her court dazzled the people’s eyes. Her moderate policies contributed much to her popularity and stature. Worship of the Virgin Queen soon became the norm.She was Spenser’s Gloriana, Raleigh’s Cynthia, and Shakespeare’s “fair vestal throned by the West.” Even outsiders observed in her “a keen calculating intellect that baffled the ablest statesmen in Europe.”
Elizabeth inspired all her people with the boundless patriotism that Shakespeare extols and the personal devotion that the Faery Queen expresses. Under her rule, the English national life advanced at a faster rate, rather than through a slow historical and evolutionary process. During her reign, English literature attained its pinnacle of development.
5 Discovery, Exploration and Expansion
This is the most outstanding age for broadening one’s mental and geographical perspectives. It was a time of great thought and great action. It is an age that appeals to the eye, the imagination, and the mind. New information was streaming in from every direction. Great explorers like Hawkins, Frobisher, Raleigh, and Drake brought back both material and intellectual treasures from the East and West. The spirit of adventure and travel fueled writers’ imaginations. The spirit of action and adventure prepared the path for the illustrious growth of dramatic writing. Drama advances in an era of action, not contemplation. It is aptly dubbed the period of discovery of the new world and of man.
6. Influence of Foreign Fashions
The Elizabethans were enthralled with Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Everyone wanted to go to Italy and spend some time there. People were discovered not just with Italian texts and literature, but also with Italian manners and values. As a result, mimicking Italian masterpieces greatly benefited English literature.
7. Contradictions and Set of Oppositions
It was a time of remarkable differences and diversity. It was a time of light and darkness, reason and irrationality, wisdom and folly, hope and despair. The barbarism and backwardness of the Middle Ages, as well as ignorance and superstition, survived. Disorder, violence, bloodshed, and bar brawls persisted. Highway robberies were prevalent, as recounted in Henry IV, Part I. The age’s barbarism can be witnessed in such terrible activities as bear-baiting, cockfighting, and bullfighting, all of which are mentioned multiple times in Shakespeare’s plays. Despite advances in science and learning, people continued to believe in superstitions, ghosts, witches, fairies, charms, and omens of many kinds.
Despite enormous refinement and learning, this was a morally lenient era. People were unconcerned about moral and judicial principles. Bribery and foreign delays injustice were also widespread ills. Material advancement was the primary goal of men in high offices, whether via fair or immoral means. Few prominent men of this era had a completely open heart, and even fewer had entirely clean hands.
Despite ignorance and superstition, violence and brutality, easy morality and slack standards, the Elizabethan period was one in which men lived intensely, thought deeply, and wrote powerfully.
The Characteristics of Shakespeare’s Works
Shakespeare’s works have the following characteristics.
Taken together, Shakespeare’s plays are the finest single body of work that any author has ever produced. Perhaps their most remarkable characteristic is their incredible variety. Other men have surpassed him on occasion, but no one has ever come close to matching his range and flexibility of abilities. He was equally at ease in tragedy and comedy, and his genius encompassed innumerable facets of both; he was supreme not only as a dramatist, but also as a poet, to whom the worlds of high imagination and delicate fancy were equally open; and, while he was not a particularly profound or original thinker, he possessed in superlative measure the faculty of digesting thought into phraseology so memorable and conclusive that, as we all know, he is the most He was nearly completely devoid of all dogmatism, and his tolerance was as broad as his view. He is unrivalled in the life of his characterisation; no one else has produced such a large number of men and women whom we accept and regard as real people, not as figments of a poet’s mind. It is also worth noting his singular grasp of the language’s resources; his vocabulary is estimated to be around 15,000 words, compared to Milton’s which is only half that size.
Shakespeare’s magnificence has a tendency to blind critics to his limitations and flaws, yet these must be acknowledged in any assessment of him or we will lose sight of him. As broad as he was, he was fundamentally a man of his time, and while his plays are remarkable for their overall accuracy about what is permanent in human nature, his understanding of human nature reflects an era that was, in many ways, quite unlike our own. He wrote in haste, and evidence of hurried and ill-considered production are frequently visible. By writing plays particularly for the theatre and keen to ensure their success, he occasionally sacrifices character consistency and the finer standards of art in order to generate a powerful theatrical effect. He reflects the low taste of the groundlings’ to whom he had to appeal with his occasional coarseness. At times, his psychology is utterly unsophisticated and unpersuasive; his style is cruel; his humour is forced and inadequate; and his tragic language is pompous. These and other shortcomings will immediately become apparent to anyone who reads him critically. However, these are minor problems in compared to the defining characteristics that have elevated him to the top tier of world dramatists.