The innyards were used for the public presentation of plays before the erection of theaters in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The theaters were a great educational force in Shakespeare’s time. They not only furnished amusement, but they also took the place of periodicals, lectures, and books. The actors, coming into close contact with their audience and unable to rely on elaborate scenery as an offset to poor acting, were equal to the task of so presenting Shakespeare’s great plays as to make them popular.
Shakespeare’s plays, the greatest ever written, reveal wonderful sympathy, universality, humor, delineation of character, high moral ideals, mastery of expression, and strength, beauty, and variety of poetic form.
Great as is Ben Jonson, he hampered himself by observing the classical unities and by stressing accidental qualities. He lacks Shakespeare’s universality, broad sympathy, and emotional appeal.
Other minor dramatists, like Beaumont and Fletcher show further decline, because they constructed their plays more from the outside, showed less development of character in strict accordance with moral law, and relied more for effect on sensational scenes. The drama has never since taken up the wand that dropped from Shakespeare’s hands.
In addition to the chapters on the time in the histories of Gardiner, Green, Lingard, Walker, and Traill, see Stephenson’s The Elizabethan People, Creighton’s Queen Elizabeth, Wilson’s Life in Shakespeare’s England, Stephenson’s Shakespeare’s London, Warner’s English History in Shakespeare’s plays.
General and Non-Dramatic
The Cambridge History of English Literature, Vols. IV., V., and VI.
Courthope’s A History of English Poetry, Vol. II.
Schelling’s English Literature during the Lifetime of Shakespeare.
Seecombe and Allen’s The Age of Shakespeare, 2 vols.
Saintsbury’s A History of Elizabethan Literature.
Dictionary of National Biography for lives of Lyly, Sidney, Hooker.
Bacon, Spenser, and the minor dramatists.
Walton’s Life of Hooker.
Church’s Life of Bacon. (E.M.L.)
Church’s Life of Spenser. (E.M.L.)
Mackail’s The Springs of Helicon (Spenser).
Dowden’s Transcripts and Studies (Spenser).
Lowell’s Among My Books (Spenser).
Erskine’s The Elizabethan Lyric.
Schelling’s Elizabethan Drama, 1558-1642, 2 vols. Ward’s A History of English Dramatic Literature, 3 vols.
Brooke’s The Tudor Drama.