Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 1. Main features of the English Renascence at its height

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period

§ 1. Main features of the English Renascence at its height

THE PRESENT survey of English dramatic literature before the civil war has now been carried to a midway point where it may be permissible to pause in order to glance rapidly at some political and social aspects of a period which, in the history of English drama, may be said to have reached its height with the completion of Shakespeare’s creative career. The later years of Elizabeth’s reign, and the earlier part of her successor’s, beyond which it is not proposed, except in some occasional remarks, to extend the range of this chapter, constituted an age of singularly marked characteristics in English political and social life. It was a period of high aspirations, of much turbulence and unrest, of deeds mighty in themselves and mightier in their results, and of numberless minor changes in the conditions of things, which, as it were, break the light in which the great achievements of the time display themselves to posterity. It was an age, too, of strong individualities, of men and women moved by their passions and their interests to think, speak and act without veiling their thoughts, words and deeds; enjoying life to the full and not afraid of death; ardent, revengeful, remorseless—it was, in a word, the height of the English phase of the renascence. Some of these phenomena are mirrored with more or less distinctness in the great stream of dramatic production of which the present volume and its successor seek to describe the course; of others, though but dimly or intermittently reflected on the same surface, the presence is not to be ignored. What little can be said of any of them in this place may, at all events, serve to suggest closer and deeper research in fields of enquiry inexhaustible alike in their variety and in their special interest for students of the English drama.