Jacobean Drama


Hello everyone. Let me welcome you all to yet another session
of the NPTEL course History of English Language and Literature. In today’s session we continue to look at
Jacobean drama and we begin to see how this was different from the Elizabethan drama and
what were the major characteristics and major traits that made Jacobean drama quite different
from its predecessors. So we all know that Jacobean drama gets its
name after King James the First who was the ruler of Scotland and England during that
time. The term Jacobean comes from the Latin name
of James, Jacobus, so one first thing perhaps that comes to our mind when we talk about
Jacobean drama is about what had happened to William Shakespeare, the Elizabethan man
at the beginning of Jacobean era. So we begin to note that Shakespeare’s company
itself underwent a change and things are quite successful and things are quite, things continued
to be quite successful and positive for William Shakespeare even during the Jacobean times. We begin to see that King James the First,
he granted Shakespeare’s company a new appointment. Andd King, the Chamberlain’s Men, the company
that Shakespeare was associated with earlier era, they get re-appointed as King’s servants
and grooms of the Chamber and that’s the company that we now know as the King’s Men. And also we note that in the beginning of
Jacobean era which was also the latter phase of Shakespeare’s works and his later plays
especially known as the Dark Plays, they were staged during the time and he also continued
to enjoy the period of royal recognition and public success. And moving on let us take a look at the general
features of Jacobean drama which were quite different from that of the Elizabethan drama. We noted in one of the first sessions about
Jacobean drama that Jacaobean period was not radically different from the Elizabethan period. It was the continuation of the English Renaissance
which had got inaugurated from the Elizabethan age onwards. But at the same time but when it comes to
drama we see that there are significant changes that takes place and also those changes were
in certain ways positive but also it led to a gradual decline which we begin to see at
a later point in the Caroline age with the closure of theaters, with the English Revolution
that comes into being. Coming back on the topic on the general features
of the Jacobean drama, we notice that the appetite of the audience had begun to drastically
change. It was keeping in tune with the contemporary
situation of that period and they also expected realistic representations of the society that
they were part of. So they did not want to see imagined stories
on stage but they wanted to see a replica of what they were seeing
all round the society and what the kind of life they were undergoing during that time. In that sense, Jacobean drama was predominantly about city life and it focused
on political themes. It also critiqued and also showcased the current
society of the times. And the Decadent spirit dominated compared
to that of the Elizabethan times. And we also see a transition from the comic
drama of Elizabethan stage led by Shakespeare towards a harsh kind of satire led by Ben
Jonson. So in that sense we begin to change in treatment,
in theme, in subject matter and in the overall quality of drama and the overall reception of particular kinds of drama as well. And we also find in terms of language a new
conversation tone emerging during this time and this is in stark contrast to the Elizabeth
period where on stage they mostly used stylized rhetoric. And the common themes of this period continued
to be quite different from that of the Elizabethan times. It included lust, adultery, corruption, death,
sickness, exploitation, cruelty, eccentricities, hypocrisy, dishonesty and family crisis. So when we look at the themes we will begin
to see how dark and cynical things were compared to the romantic Elizabethan times. And there was also an increased frankness
about sexuality and sexual relations. Many things continued to be taboo in terms of literary and dramatic expression
but nevertheless we do find that, in spite of the moralizing tendencies of the Puritan
period, that was about to follow, we find a secret fascination in the English people
for the wicked and the corrupt things to be seen on
stage. So we find in that sense a very decadent spirit
dominating most of the performances and also the literary activities of the times. And we also find an increased sense of sensationalism
and excessive emotional moments getting displayed on stage and this led to the term melodramatic
to be associated with Jacobean drama. And there was also a set of playwrights who
were nostalgic about the old world’s decencies and the decorous behavior of the Elizabethan
times; we find them getting staged and getting displayed on the stage as well. And in that sense nevertheless we cannot say
that there was a drastic change from the Elizabethan times. There were also a few playwrights who continued
to be influenced by Marlowe and Shakespeare and continued to look at Shakespeare’s and
Marlowe’s plays as perfect models. Dekker was one such playwright who continued
to be influenced by the Elizabethan writers. So let us take a look at the prominent playwrights
of the Jacobean period. We have listed them in no particular order,
Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, George Chapman, John Marston, Cyril Tourneur,
John Day, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Heywood, John Webster, John Ford, Philip
Massinger and James Shirley. So what were these playwrights doing differently
on stage? So on stage most of them used exaggerated
human situations and we find that many of the otherwise commendable Renaissance emotions
were seen as, were portrayed as quite ambitious and quite extravagant. And we do also find the staging of extreme
violence on stage. And some of the examples in the dramatic scene
would be The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi; these plays in fact portray highly
intelligent characters committing crimes and violence in pursuit of their ambition. So ambition we begin to see that in the Jacobean period, it was not
always portrayed as a positive thing, it was also seen as a kind of a trait which accompanied
violent behavior and also excessive selfishness. And Iago in Othello as we all know, he is
the most notorious . villain ever perhaps in the English drama. And Shakespeare’s plays which explored the
dark side of humans, it also was product of this time. And there were certain very violent and gory
scenes which were depicted on stage such as the King Lear’s daughter tearing the old Gloucester’s
eyes out and with this very gleeful “cry out vile jelly”. So this was seen as quite violent during those
times but interestingly the people also, they were quite fascinated in watching these kind
of scenes. And there is also this particular scene in
the play The Changeling where the murderer had cut off the finger of the victim because
the ring he wanted to steal was not easily coming off. So this, the stage was predominantly consisting
of such kind of violent and gory scenes. There was also an obsession with moral corruption
and violent stories of revenge were quite enjoyed by the audience. We see a display of cynical and pessimistic
outlook on life and we also find that unlike the Elizabethan times, there is a domination
of masques. And what masques are and what its characteristics
are, we will be seeing shortly. There were four major types of drama that
dominated this period – revenge tragedy, city comedy, tragi-comedies and masques. Let us quickly take a look at what each of
these means. Revenge tragedy was in the line of the Senecan
tradition as we have noted as well. So it was bloody and violent and it also included
a lot of revenge plots on stage. And Shakespeare’s Hamlet belongs to this particular
type and we also find that the following plays were
considered as significant revenge tragedies of the time. There is this play called The Revenge Tragedy
which the author remains rather contested. One does not know whether it was authored
by Middleton or by Tourneur. And Middleton’s revenge tragedy Women Beware
Women, Webster’s The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, Middleton and Rowley together
had produced The Changeling and John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. We will be taking a look at these particular
playwrights in detail at a later point but however it is important to give these examples at the outset in order
to differentiate these different types. The second type was city comedy which featured
the lower class London life. It also comprised the themes of adultery,
unhappy marriages, deaths and cuckoldry. And Beaumont and Jonson were two of the famous
playwrights who dealt with the theme of city comedy. And we find that Beaumont’s The Knight of
the Burning Pestle and Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, they were quite popular during those
times and Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and A Mad World, they gave a very different
kind of appeal to the genre of city comedy. Tragi-comedy was another interesting type
which was also explored intensively by William Shakespeare himself. This combined the elements of both tragedy
and comedy and in that sense quite different from the classical tradition. It was also a contribution of the Elizabethan
Romantic times because that was the time when the playwrights dared enough to combine the
elements of tragedy and comedy. And most of Shakespeare’s romances, they fall
into this particular category and during the Jacobean times, Fletcher’s The Faithful Shepherdess
and the collaborative work by Beaumont and Fletcher together Phylaster which had an alternative
title Love Lies a-Bleeding; it was also considered quite popular. Masques were performed mostly within the courts
and the artists were amateurs and they were also mostly courtiers. So we begin to see that the plays continues
to be performed not just in the public playhouses but also within the court and it is also useful
to remember that James the First also continued to be uh quite appreciative
of these various kinds of performances within the court. And the masques were semi-dramatic in nature. They were also staged as part of festivities. And this included a more elaborate setting
with songs, dances etc which could be part of any kind of celebration during the Jacobean
times. And if you remember, maybe we can identify
an earlier form of the masques in the pageants which used to be staged right from the early
and later medieval times onwards. Ben Jonson was perhaps the stalwart of this
kind of masque during his lifetime and if we begin to ask who were the ones who wrote masques earlier or after that, may it was
John Lyly who came out with masques in the early Elizabethan times. And also at a later point we find John Milton
also writing masques though they were not very popularly performed during that time. Let us now continue to take a look at these
playwrights in detail – so that we get a sense of the kind of drama and the signs, the kind
of drama and the kind of techniques that they were using which made them radically different
from that of the Elizabethan times. Ben Jonson lived from 1573 to 1637. He is perhaps the most important playwright
of the Elizabethan times. We also saw in the previous session that he
was a poet as well and it was very difficult to classify him into any kind of tradition
or any kind of genre. So his versatility continued to be his major claim to fame throughout his lifetime. And we find that he was a friend and a younger
contemporary of Shakespeare but their styles were very different and some even feel that
they could have been rivals since they were both writing and performing during the same
time in the Elizabethan period and even the early Jacobean period. And spelling Jonson without an h, that was
considered quite interesting earlier and as well as in the contemporary and it is generally
said that it was perhaps his own invention to drop the h from the name Johnson perhaps
to look a little different. He was also a product of one of the Grammar
schools of the times – just like Shakespeare – he, there is no evidence that he went to
a university but however he later acquires a working knowledge of various languages such
as French, Latin, Hebrew and Italian. He even undertakes translations at a later
point and he is also heavily influenced by the tenets of Classicism unlike Shakespeare. He was a favorite of King James the First
and that did grant him a lot of royal favors. In that sense he is considered a England’s
first poet laureate. He was appointed with this position in 1616. However in case of England we do not find
his post becoming an established royal office until 1668 when Charles the Second appointed
John Dryden as the Poet Laureate. And we also note that, because of this position
that Jonson enjoyed in James the First court, for a long time he
was granted a generous annual pension from the court. But at a later point we do find a decline
of fortunes in Jonson’s life. He falls into poverty and ill-health and many
reasons have been cited to this effect. And one major incident was the burning down
of his personal library in 1623. And at a later point, at a later point he
even falls out of favor with the court. He also ceases to be a recipient of the royal
pension from the court. And another significant thing that many find
that could have contributed to his ill-health and also to his declining fortunes is that
he may have been ridiculed heavily for trying to edit a folio of his
own works. And this in fact this Folio is considered
to been served as a model for Shakespeare’s posthumous
First Folio. And why was he ridiculed for such a, why was
he ridiculed for an act which would simple and commonsensical from the contemporary point of view. During the Jacobean times and even the later
Elizabethan times, plays were not elevated alongside poems. It was not considered, plays were not considered
as, plays were not considered as significant or as great as that of poems. And for the same reason they were also considered
as ‘vulgar productions’. So for a writer to try and compile his own
works and publish them as a Folio, that was considered as quite a ridiculous thing during
those times. He was heavily made fun of in London circles
for trying to do that. If you remember Shakespeare’s compilations
and Shakespeare’s Folio comes out only posthumously many years later when some of his fellow actors
had put a folio together. So this kind of an activity was unheard of
then. So we also see that he was perhaps quite ahead
of his times and, but his contemporaries failed to understand that. We find that he outlives Shakespeare by about 19 years. He dies in 1637. And it is generally assumed that many of his
children also died quite early and there are some poems credited to have been written at
the occasion of their deaths. And we know very little about his family life, but
it is not considered as a very happy life that he had led in terms of his family. He staged plays both for the court and for
the public stage. He wrote all kinds of works such as drama,
translations and poetry. He also staged court masques, historical tragedies
and comedies. His songs and lyrics were quite famous and
popular during those times. One example which is oft-quoted as the song
which begins with: “Drink to me only with thine eyes”. So it was impossible to talk about his drama
without the songs. He is also said to have been in possession
of a short temper. In 1598 he almost killed a fellow actor Gabriel
Spenser in a duel and he narrowly escaped from the gallows. And this was quite strange as this had happened
after the first, just the few days after the performance of his one of his best known and
successful plays Every Man in His Humour. And this actually proved to be quite life-changing
an event for him. During his jail, during his stint in the jail
he is also said to have converted to Catholicism. And true to the kind of life that he dared,
and true to that kind of life that he led in his epitaph we find this inscription “O
rare Ben Johnson”, in his original, Johnson spelt in his original spelling. He is also buried in Poet’s corner at Westminster
Abbey. And a quick look at Jonson’s works- all of
them put together. His first play is The Case is Altered in 1597
where he began as an actor and a playwright, Every Man in His Humour in 1598 and Every
Man out of His Humour in 1599, these two are the best known of his works and his much of
his claim to fame rests on these two works. And in this he also proposed this Theory of
Humours arguing that a person’s character is determined by the four predominant humours
that a person possesses. And Shakespeare is also said to have acted
in these plays but there is not much of evidence to prove that. His major comedies included Volpone in 1605, The Alchemist in 1610, and Epicoene and Bartholomew
Fair that followed and all these four were written in the first eight years and he enjoyed
huge success and popularity due to these plays during the Jacobean time. He is considered as second only to Shakespeare
and many contemporaries in fact even preferred Jonson over Shakespeare. He also translated Horace’s Art of Poetry
which also gave him a more scholarly kind of reputation. And his work The Poetaster which was a satire,
that was quite enjoyed during the times because he ridiculed other contemporary writers
such as Marston and Dekker who were also his rivals in terms of drama. He is also said to have associated with Nashe,
The Isle of Dogs, Nashe being one of the University Wits. This was in 1597 during the latter phase of
the Elizabethan period. It had dealt with many controversial and vicious
themes and it even led to Jonson’s imprisonment along with Nashe and the theaters were also
closed down for a brief time in between. So we do find that, along with the University
Wits he did live a quite a reckless life to a certain extent but he was
more fortunate to have been, he was most fortunate to restore his fortunes and restore his literary reputation at a later point of time. The chief characteristics of his plays include:
that he was quite insightful in portraying London life and manners and in that sense
his works could also be considered with more historical interest. And characterization was of a different kind
in his works. We have already talked about the predominance
of humors and also about the master passion that he argued that each person possesses. But however the flip side was that he could
not create complex individual. It was mostly types and that was the way he
preferred. And in that sense we also find a continuation
of the morality plays of the medieval times getting replicated in Jonson’s plays. He is in that sense considered as the real
founder of comedy of manners. He could satirize very effectively the manners
and affectations of the, of particular social classes in England during that time. He was also Realist, he was never for the
world of Romance and also we find in him a true Classicist because he repudiated the
lawlessness of the Romantic drama and he never wanted to combine tragedy and comedy together. And he also believed in the didactic functions
of literature, in that sense we could see him as a continuation of the medieval tenets
and the medieval belief systems. He is also considered as the first great Neoclassicist
in that sense and he also found that Classics, he offered the uncontrolled Romantic exuberance
of Elizabethan literature. So we do find him revolting against many of
the dominant Elizabethan tenets and keeping in tune with the Jacobean times we find him
gaining more popularity and acceptance as well. Jonson’s work was not without limitations. We find that there was a predomination of
intellect in his works. This is what made him quite different from
that of Shakespeare and also his popularity at a later point began to fade away because
of this predominance of intellect over originality and genius. And his work, now many critics feel that it
was a product of learning, skill and effort and thereby it lacked the true genius of creative
power, charm and spontaneity – and those were the hallmarks of William Shakespeare in comparison with Ben Jonson. And we also find him consciously trying to
work his craft into particular principles and also he was more rigid in that sense about
his performances and about his writings as well. And because of this labored and mechanical
writing, we find that at later point, his works did not enjoy that kind of superiority
in terms of merit because the labored and mechanical writing and also the predominance
of intellect overshadowed all the other merits that he, that he possessed during the Jacobean time. And it becomes very important for us to discuss
in detail all of these things about Ben Jonson because he was considered as almost at an
equal stature with William Shakespeare during his lifetime. And how and how the fortunes turned and how
at a later point he began to be considered to be a lesser kind of an artist is of supreme
importance for us to understand as literary historians. Moving on to some of the major important writers. George Chapman – he is considered as a first
major writer of Jacobean drama. His translation of Homer was the most famous
of his works. It was also bloody, violent and gory in nature
keeping in tune with the Jacobean times. His first play The Blind Beggar of Alexandria,
it had this particular character Cleanthes who was often compared to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. Both were shepherds who rose into great power
and great acceptance. They, he also engaged with contemporary events
with a lot of insight and we find that most of the Jacobean dramatists continued to do
that. And Chapman, Jonson and Marston, they together
came out with this particular production known as Eastward Ho and it was in this response
to Westward Ho, another compilation of Dekker and Webster. And this particular play Eastward Ho, it was
also quite controversial because it angered King James. It had many anti-Scottish elements built into
it. May be it was around this same time that Jonson
also fell out of the court’s favour. Other two important writers who are always
mentioned together, they are Beaumont and Fletcher. Francis Beaumont went to, Francis Beaumont
was educated in Cambridge and John Fletcher was associated with the Oxford University. Beaumont was considered as the wittiest of
all the Jacobean playwrights. And he is also said to have collaborated with
Philip Massinger. And Beaumont and Fletcher, they did a lot
of collaborative work. About 52 plays are credited to their fame. And the flip side was that though they tried to portray London life and its manners
and its various social classes, their comedies were considered as mostly superficial. And they also wrote many tragicomedies but
we continue to note that apart from the kind of prolific productions that they made during
the Jacobean times we find that their works did not live into posterity with fame or acceptance. Thomas Heywood was major writer of the times. He is said to have written or collaborated in the writing of 220 plays and
that is quite a rare feat. And though he did not entirely write most
of the plays, generally it is said about him that “he had a hand or at least a main finger”
in most of these 220 plays. He also portrayed London life and its manners. Some of his major works include A Woman Killed
with Kindness which talks about an adulterous woman who leaves her husband and has an affair
with another man and also makes a comeback to her husband. And the other work was The Four Prentices
of London which was also hugely appreciated during those times. A significant work which made him more important
at a later point was The Apology for Actors and in this work he suggested that Thomas
Kyd is the author of The Spanish Tragedy. In that sense he also becomes relevant to
our understanding of Elizabethan drama. Thomas Dekker was considered as the Dickens
of the Elizabethan age. His work was mostly based on comedies and
he also had chaotic plots and that was seen as a flaw even during those times. And his blank verse also was not well-formed
– tt was quite weak. And some of his major works include Old Fortunatus
in which Fortune figures as a major character. This is about a protagonist who chooses an
inexhaustible purse and many were quite enthralled with this idea. And another important work of his was, it
was titled in quite a similar way, Satiromastix. He also had to his credit three tragedies
Lust’s Dominion, The Witch of Edmonton and The Virgin Martyr. And the couple of his other works were quite
popular during those times, The Honest Whore and The Roaring Girl – and both had female
protagonists. In The Honest Whore we find this particular,
a story about the prostitute named Bellafront and The Roaring Girl features the story of
a pickpocket girl named Mary Frith. So we find a range of things coming into the
Jacobean drama and it is in that sense perhaps more varied than that of the Elizabethan drama
of the previous times. Another significant work was A Shoemaker’s
Holiday. Many feel that this was borrowed from one
of Thomas Deloney’s works and this is the story, this drama was about an eccentric shoemaker
who became the Lord Mayor of London. We find many of similar kinds of themes getting
built into Jacobean drama because social mobility was also becoming increasingly popular. And The Shoemaker’s Holiday was produced in
stage at a, on a very eventful year and this also belonged to the Elizabethan times. It was in 1599 when The Globe Theatre was
erected. Also it was the year of Spenser’s death which
technically marked the end of the Golden Period of Elizabeth as well. Also Dekker and Webster collaborated in direction
of two plays Westward Ho and Northward Ho and we also saw the significance of that when other writers responded to it. John Marston was a part of the Senecan school
of revenge tradition and most of his works were violent and melodramatic
in nature. And he was also rated along with Ben Jonson
but we do find that only one of his plays is worthy of mentioning which is named as
Historiomastix. Thomas Middleton was another playwright who
was a close observer and critic of contemporary London life. He was quite praised by Charles Lamb. Though he was not hugely, though he was not hugely rated by critics
at later point of time, we do find that Charles Lamb had lot of nice things to say about him. And his A Game at Chess is considered as one of his most important works and this
is also anti-Spanish in nature. In that sense it did excite the emotions and
fancies of the English people during that times – given that the hostility with Spain
was an ongoing thing during the Elizabethan times. And we do find that the hostility had come
to an end with James the First signing the treaty but nevertheless since the English
nationalist ambitions were riding high, the anti-Spanish sentiments could still, could
still be worked out among the English people. Now we come towards the end of this session
and we take a look at this particular writer James Shirley. Though we note at a later point that he does
not excite the fancies of critics or he was not hugely popular during the time either. So let us try and conclude with this remark
by Charles Lamb. “James Shirley claims a place among the
worthies of this period, not so much for any transcendent genius in himself, as that he
was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had a set
of moral feelings and notions in common.” This in certain ways sums up Jacobean drama
for us. In today’s discussion we also noted that though Ben Jonson dominates the scene and the others
are more or less like satellites – and Charles Lamb’s observation in this regard is more
important because understanding Jacobean drama as a singular collective thing is perhaps
more important than paying individual attention to each and every author. And this remark of, remark about James Shirley
also brings us to a conclusion of today’s session and leaving us with this note that
though Jacobean drama taken singularly, perhaps it was not as worthy as its predecessor the
Elizabethan drama, we do find that it had set the stage for many things that were to
follow in terms of drama and in terms of theatre in England. So with this we try to wind up today’s lecture and also let’s give a foreshadow of what lies
ahead. In the latter phase of the Jacobean period
we notice that it was only dominated by complete immorality and we also find a steady decline
in dramatic genius and also in the performances and we also notice that it is the beginning
of decline and decay. And shortly we will begin to see how the theatres
were forced to be, forced to close down and it also inaugurates a different kind of ethos
and different kind of sentiment in terms of performances and drama in England. So with this, we wind up today’s session on
Jacobean drama. We look forward to see you in the next session
and thank you for listening.

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