The Elizabethan Renaissance and Shakespeare. The Renaissance.
The Elizabethan Renaissance and Shakespeare
However, in spite of the changes in England, many social conventions persisted.
While a large part of William Shakespeare’s life would mirror many middle-class Englishmen in the late 1500s, Shakespeare’s life as an actor, director, and writer in the theater districts of London makes him one of literary history’s most famous men. Shakespeare is responsible for 37 plays and hundreds of poems in his short 20-year writing career.
When Shakespeare wrote his more than thirty plays in London during the second half of the sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I was the ruling monarch, and England experienced a time of great prosperity and wealth. Theater was an integral part of life at Court. Shakespeare’s theater company frequently performed at court, and it is very likely that many of Shakespeare’s plays were attended by the monarch and other members of the royal family.
In 1599, Shakespeare designed and became the co-founder of the Globe Theatre, an impressive and innovative amphitheater located on the South Bank of the Thames River. The Globe Theatre was an octagonal structure, allowing for superior acoustic quality during stage performances. It seated up to 3,000 spectators. The Globe Theatre was a unique space, as it allowed people from different social classes to attend plays and socialize. Ticket prices ranged from very cheap to expensive, allowing the poor and rich people alike to enjoy the play. In the 1990s, a faithful reconstruction, of the Globe Theatre, which had burned down in 1613, was completed close to the site of Shakespeare’s original. The reconstructed Globe serves as a place of entertainment, art, and education.
Shakespeare’s plays are generally categorized in one of the three areas: tragedies, comedies, and histories. While his plays follow a five-act format, the dramatic structure of each type of play differs slightly. Because Othello is a tragedy, we will focus on the dramatic structure of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
If a person were to read Shakespeare’s works in their entirety, he or she would notice that they all revolve around one common theme: disorder. In each of Shakespeare’s plays, one must consider how disorder is represented in that play, how order is restored over the course of the events, and what the effect of this new order is. As is typical in a five-act play, the action moves from the exposition (usually used to establish that at one point in the play’s events there was a social order), through rising action, conflict, and the climax of the play, through the falling action and resolution. However, the resolution of Shakespeare’s tragedies is different from the celebratory atmosphere that signals the end of his comedies. In a tragedy, the play ends with the death of the main character, who has spent the entire play trying to gain control of the conflict that he himself has created. The character who delivers the last line in a Shakespearean tragedy is the person who will restore the shattered order.
Shakespeare’s essential pattern in his plays is BLANK VERSE (unrhymed iambic pentameter).
Therefore, whenever a reader notices a change in this pattern (a change in rhythm from iambic to trochaic, a shift in meter from pentameter to tetrameter, or a shift from poetry to prose) there is a reason for the change.
With the change, Shakespeare is creating a mood, establishing character…something.
Be aware of shifts in language like this. For example:
1. Othello’s terse lines as jealousy consumes him (specifically in Act Three)
2. Iago’s use of varied rhyme and rhythm in his soliloquies (Act II, scene I, 295-321);
3. Desdemona’s song as she realizes she is going to die (Act IV, scene iii).