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Outlines of English and American Literature|
by Long, William J.
|In a general way, all unknown men who for three
centuries had been producing miracle plays, moralities, interludes, masques
and pageants were Shakespeare's predecessors; but we refer here to a small
group of playwrights who rapidly developed what is now called the
Elizabethan drama. The time was the last quarter of the sixteenth century.
By that time England was as excited over the stage as a modern community
over the "movies." Plays were given on every important occasion by choir
boys, by noblemen's servants, by court players governed by the Master of
Revels, by grammar schools and universities, by trade guilds in every shire
of England. Actors were everywhere in training, and audiences gathered as
to a bull-baiting whenever a new spectacle was presented. Then came the
awakening of the national consciousness, the sense of English pride and
power after the defeat of the Armada, and this new national spirit found
expression in hundreds of chronicle plays representing the past glories of
Britain. [Footnote: Over two hundred chronicle plays, representing almost
every important character in English history, appeared within a few years.
Shakespeare wrote thirteen plays founded on English history, and three on
the history of other countries.]
It was at this "psychological moment," when English patriotism was aroused
and London was as the heart of England, that a group of young
actors--Greene, Lyly, Peele, Dekker, Nash, Kyd, Marlowe, and others of less
degree--seized upon the crude popular drama, enlarged it to meet the needs
of the time, and within a single generation made it such a brilliant
reflection of national thought and feeling as no other age has thus far