Lecture 12: King James I, Drama, & the Puritans

King James I (Jacobean plays)
– At the court of King James I, there was a fashion for entertainments, called “Masques”.
– Masques were moral fables with very expensive settings and costumes and were presented only once.
– Unlike Shakespeare’s plays, the Masques were for a small audience, at court.
– The actors were often members of the noble families.
– Ben Jonson wrote “The Masque of the Queens” (1609) and “Pleasure Reconciled” (1618).
– The titles show the two aspects of nobility, and moral themes common in the masques.

Thomas Kyd wrote “The Spanish Tragedy” (1592)
– It was one of the most famous plays which gave rise to the revenge tragedies, the greatest if which was “Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.
– Unlike “Hamlet”, “The Spanish Tragedy” is about a father avenging his son’s death.
Tragedy of Blood
– Tragedy of blood was influenced by Latin writer of poetic tragedies, Seneca.
– They are called so because they ended in the violent death of most of the main characters.
– They became popular because they were full of action, violence, passion, emotion and often madness.
– Revenge was a major theme because it was a code of honour of the age.
– Jacobean plays became more violent, more complex, and more passionate than the plays of the Elizabethan Era.
– They go more deeply into problems of corruption and human weakness.
– The masterpieces of the Jacobean period include plays by John Webster: “The White Devil” and “The Duchess of Malfi” (both written around 1612).
– The plays contain two of the most heroines in English Drama.
– Vittoria Corombana and the Duchess of Malfi are victims of male violence.
– Their sufferings show many of the problems that the Jacobean society was experiencing.
– In 1620s, the taste for violence, corruption, and complex sexual feelings began to bother the Puritans.
– The Puritans are extreme Protestants.
– The Golden Age of Elizabeth was followed by new social, religious, and political problems.
– The Puritans saw the theatre as a symbol of the bad features of the past, rather than a major literary form
– This was the beginning of the time of criticizing the theatre and its morals.
– The Puritans eventually closed the theatre in 1642.
– The theatre was never again so popular as a medium of entertainment, nor so effective in questioning and analyzing the concerns of the Age.
– The Golden Age of English Drama ended in criticism, censorship, and decline.