Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period > Literary significance of the later years of Elizabeth’s reign
  Contrast between the beginning and the end of the age Strength of the Tudor Monarchy and Popular Sentiment  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

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

§ 3. Literary significance of the later years of Elizabeth’s reign.


In the history of English dramatic literature, the last decade but one of the sixteenth century covers the literary beginnings of nearly all the poets of high original power whose activity as playwrights began before Shakespeare’s, and, possibly, some tentative dramatic efforts in which Shakespeare himself had a hand. In the last decade of the century, several of those whom, by an inaccurate use of the term, it was long customary to describe as “Shakespeare’s predecessors,” had passed away; when the new century opened, he was at the height of his creative energy, and the number of plays by him that had been acted amounted to more than half of the total afterwards included in the Shakespearean canon. Within the same ten years, some of the comic masterpieces of Jonson, and several other plays of relatively high importance, had been produced. Thus, the epoch extending from 1589 to the years on which falls the shadow of Elizabeth’s approaching end is marked out with signal splendour in the history of English dramatic literature, as, indeed, it is, though not throughout in the same degree, in that of English literature as a whole. 1  Without, therefore, excluding from the scope of these remarks the period of the first two Stewart reigns, during which the drama, though still bringing “fruit to birth,” was already, in accordance with the law of mortality proclaimed by Dante, 2  showing signs of decline and decay, we shall be justified in giving our chief attention to some of the characteristic aspects of political and social life in what may properly be designated as the Elizabethan age.   4

Note 1. The penultimate decade of the sixteenth century opened in the year after that of the publication of Spenser’s Shepheards Calender, and of Lyly’s Euphues, and was ushered in by the year in which Sidney wrote his Arcadia. The beginning of the last decade of the century was marked by the dedication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene to Elizabeth in 1590. Drayton began his career as an original writer in 1591; Daniel his in the following year. Bacon’s Essays, in their earliest form, appeared in 1597. The earliest of Ralegh’s prose publications dates from 1591, and of his contributions in verse from 1593; Hooker’s great prose work appeared in 1594. Donne and Hall in verse, and North and Hakluyt in prose, entered upon authorship in the course of the same period. [ back ]
Note 2Paradiso, canto XXII. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Contrast between the beginning and the end of the age Strength of the Tudor Monarchy and Popular Sentiment  
 
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