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A Short History of English Renaissance Drama

A Short History of English Renaissance Drama
Helen Hackett

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Shakespeare is a towering presence in English and indeed global culture. Yet considered alongside his contemporaries he was not an isolated phenomenon, but the product of a period of astonishing creative fertility. This was an age when new media - popular drama and print - were seized upon avidly and inventively by a generation of exceptionally talented writers. In her sparkling new book, Helen Hackett explores the historical contexts of English Renaissance drama by situating it in the wider history of ideas. She traces the origins of Renaissance theatre in communal religious drama, civic pageantry and court entertainment and vividly describes the playing conditions of Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses. Examining Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson in turn, the author assesses the distinctive contribution made by each playwright to the creation of English drama. She then turns to revenge tragedy, with its gothic poetry of sex and death; city comedy, domestic tragedy and tragicomedy; and gender and drama, with female roles played by boy actors in commercial playhouses while women participated in drama at court and elsewhere.

The book places Renaissance drama in the exciting and vibrant cosmopolitanism of sixteenth-century London.

Author Info

Helen Hackett is Professor of English at University College London. Her books include Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths (2009) and Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance (2000).


‘Helen Hackett surprises us time and again with fresh insights. She deftly traces the roots of English Renaissance drama to the indigenous traditions of Miracle Plays and Moralities, while giving due weight to its classical forebears, particularly Plautus and Terence. She ranges right across the golden age of English drama, from its tentative origins to its flowering in Lyly, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Webster. She finds room to discuss Elizabeth Cary and Mary Sidney and is very good on gender issues in a theatre where the roles of women had to be acted by young men. She does justice, brilliantly, to the role of material culture in underpinning the extraordinary drama that became the jewel in the Elizabethan literary crown while seamlessly weaving accomplished close readings of the texts into a broad sweep tapestry. The result is a richly rewarding and immensely readable book by a leading Renaissance scholar at the top of her game. Hackett carries her learning lightly: there are no clichés here, and not a single pedestrian sentence. Her limpid style is the perfect vehicle for an original treatment that illuminates at every turn.’
René Weis, Professor of English, University College London

‘Helen Hackett’s short history of English Renaissance drama is in fact remarkably wide-ranging, inclusive and original. An exceptionally sharp eye and a clear, cool head enable her to deal beautifully with many thorny issues and challenging texts. These range from “the cultural impact of the Reformation” to the dense, learned, conflicted writing of Ben Jonson; the extreme savagery of English Revenge Tragedy; and slippery issues of gender raised both by Shakespeare’s comedies – with female roles performed by young boys - and by less public 'household' plays performed, and sometimes written, by women. Finally, the author traces continuities from Shakespeare’s own age to the present day, in which, as she rightly observes, 'Renaissance drama continues to thrive, enthrall and provoke'. The book is underpinned by wide-ranging footnotes and a substantial Bibliography. It is a pleasure to read throughout. Students for whom this will be a first introduction to Renaissance drama are fortunate indeed.’
Katherine Duncan-Jones, FRSL, Senior Research Fellow in English, Somerville College, Oxford


Helen Hackett discusses which individuals, events and forces are especially important when thinking about English Renaissance Drama. Read.

Helen Hackett discusses Christopher Marlowe's dramatic entrance on to the London stage in 1587. Read.

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd

ISBN: 9781848856868
Publication Date: 30 Oct 2012
Number of Pages: 272
Height: 216
Width: 134
Illustrations: 30 integrated bw illustrations

ISBN: 9781848856851
Publication Date: 30 Oct 2012
Number of Pages: 272
Height: 216
Width: 134
Illustrations: 30 integrated bw illustrations

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