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Shakespearean & English Renaissance History. English Renaissance History. Dates: approximately 1500-1650 Renaissance literally means “rebirth.” This term was chosen because the Renaissance was a time when classic literature, art, music, and philosophy were being “reborn.”. Political History.

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Shakespearean & English Renaissance History

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english renaissance history
English Renaissance History
  • Dates: approximately 1500-1650
  • Renaissance literally means “rebirth.” This term was chosen because the Renaissance was a time when classic literature, art, music, and philosophy were being “reborn.”
political history

Political History

Political History
  • The Tudor dynasty ended only a generation before Shakespeare’s birth
  • Elizabeth I, or “The Virgin Queen” reigned from 1558-1603
  • James I, or James VI of Scotland, reigned from 1603-1625
history of the printing press
History of the Printing Press
  • During the 15th century, books were relatively scarce and had to be copied by hand
  • Between 1440-1450, Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press
  • Within 20 years, the printing press had revolutionized information dissemination, fueling the start of the English Renaissance
  • As a result of growing intellectual curiosity, humans began to question the rules and tenets of the Catholic Church
  • On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church, sparking the Protestant Reformation
  • Soon after, the Catholic Church launched a Counter-Reformation, filled with heavy propaganda
  • Elizabeth I promoted tolerance to all religions, although the Anglican Church was the official Church of England
  • The central tenet of humanism was that learning would make humans more just
  • Humanism emphasized the power of the individual to influence both himself and those around him
  • Famous humanists: Sir Thomas More, Erasmus
music art and literature
Music, Art, and Literature
  • Music during this time period consisted mostly of religious masses (William Byrd) and folk music (street cries, ballads, and love songs)
  • Painters were experimenting with new techniques, particularly perspective (da Vinci, Michelangelo)
  • Poetry, drama, and religious, political, and philosophical treatises dominated the literary scene (Bacon, Sidney, Donne)
renaissance drama
Renaissance Drama
  • Based on Greek and Roman drama
  • Incorporated the tragic and comedic elements of both cultures
  • Focused on Aristotle, an ancient Greek’s, unities of time and space
  • Included a Chorus
  • Public theaters were wildly popular during the Renaissance and catered to a wide variety of audiences
  • Most theaters were “open-air” amphitheaters
  • Famous theaters: the Swan, the Globe
  • New production almost every night
  • Very few props were used
  • Costumes were elaborate and historically accurate
  • All parts were played by men
  • Plays could be shut down because of political/religious dissidence
shakespeare s contemporaries
Shakespeare’s Contemporaries
  • Christopher Marlowe: Dr. Faustus, Edward II
  • Ben Jonson: Every Man in His Humour
shakespeare s biography
Shakespeare’s Biography
  • Birth: 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon
  • April 26, 1564: baptismal records reflect the baptism of “William, third child of John and Mary Shakespeare”
  • January 25, 1616: Shakespeare’s will is drawn up
  • Death: April 23, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon
family life
Family Life
  • Shakespeare’s father, John, was a wealthy business owner and civil servant. His mother, Mary, was the daughter of a lesser aristocratic father.
  • Shakespeare had 7 brothers and sisters
  • November 27, 1582: Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer
  • The two had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith


  • Shakespeare most likely began schooling at a “petty school” when he was 4 or 5, where he would have learned to read, write, and complete basic arithmetic problems
  • At about 7, Shakespeare would have advanced to a grammar school, where he would have learned Latin grammar. He probably quit at 13.
  • There are no records of Shakespeare attending university
career beginnings
Career Beginnings
  • News of Shakespeare’s career first appears in London in 1592, but it almost certainly began before this
  • Shakespeare began as an actor, a role he continued to play for the duration of his life
  • Although it is hard to date his plays, the earliest were probably Titus Andronicus, A Comedy of Errors, Richard III, Henry VI, The Taming of the Shrew, and Two Gentlemen of Verona
shakespeare s works
Shakespeare’s Works
  • At least 37 plays - comedies, tragedies, and dramas - although some plays are not so easily classified (Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well)
  • 154 sonnets
  • At least 6 longer poems: “The Rape of Lucrece,” “Venus and Adonis,” “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” “The Passionate Pilgrim” “Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music,” and “A Lover’s Complaint”
shakespeare s sonnets
Shakespeare’s Sonnets
  • 154, labeled Sonnets 1-154
  • First 17 are written to a young man, urging him to marry (procreation sonnets)
  • Sonnets 18-126 are written to a young man, expressing the poet’s love for him
  • Sonnets 127-152 are written to the poet’s mistress, expressing his love
  • Last 2 sonnets are allegories of other issues
sonnets 7 and 130

Lo! in the orient when the gracious light

Lifts up his burning head, each under eye

Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,

Serving with looks his sacred majesty;

And having climb'd the steep-up heavenly hill,

Resembling strong youth in his middle age,

Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,

Attending on his golden pilgrimage;

But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,

Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,

The eyes, 'fore duteous, now converted are

From his low tract and look another way:

So thou, thyself out-going in thy noon,

Unlook'd on diest, unless thou get a son.


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the


And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

Sonnets 7 and 130


  • 17 comedies
  • Main plot points/themes: struggle of young lovers to overcome difficulty, separation and reunification, mistaken identities, frequent punning
  • Famous comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant of Venice

Ha! Ha!



  • 10 tragedies
  • Main plot/themes: protagonist is admirable but flawed, he undergoes a reversal of fortune, plot hinges on chance, elements of the supernatural are often introduced
  • Famous tragedies: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello


  • 10 histories
  • Main plot points/themes: tied very closely to what actually happened in history, end with the death of a king and a the ascent of another, combine the elements of both tragedy and comedy
  • Famous histories: Henry VIII, Richard III
shakespearean vocabulary
Shakespearean Vocabulary

Here are some common words used

during Shakespeare’s time that have

fallen out of use:

Alack, Anon, Cuckold, Ere, Fain, Fie,

Forsooth, Gramercy, Methinks, Morrow,

Nonce, Prithee, Sooth, Verily, Whence,


much ado about nothing
Much Ado About Nothing
  • Much Ado About Nothing tabloid