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Outlines of English and American Literature
Shakespeare's Predecessors
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 produced.

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