Ben Jonson once wrote that Shakespeare was the "soul of the age." A few lines later, in the same poem, he wrote, "He was not of an age, but for all time." When we think of Shakespeare, we tend to think in terms of the second statement — Shakespeare as the creator of timeless works of universal appeal.
But Jonson's first statement is no less true. Shakespeare was the soul of his age. His works channel all the concerns and conflicts of his time, the English Renaissance, and Shakespeare was at the heart of the explosively growing Elizabethan theatre industry. But he wasn't the only one. The concentration of acting companies and theatres in London and the rapid growth of London's population during Shakespeare's time created a massive demand for new plays, and the writers of the time responded.
We in the Ithaca Shakespeare Company believe that this period produced some of the most exciting, entertaining, innovative, and enduring dramatic works ever written. Shakespeare's works stand alone, of course, but there are many, many other plays from this period that also offer supremely satisfying theatrical experiences. And we're just the group to bring them to you! So while Shakespeare will always remain at the heart of what we do, we also consider it part of our mission to re-introduce some of the other plays and playwrights of the time to a wider audience. Our upcoming production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle is the first of what we hope will be many more productions of lesser-known English Renaissance plays.
With that in mind, we offer the following very brief introduction to some of the other major playwrights of Shakespeare's time:
Francis Beaumont. Author of The Knight of the Burning Pestle and an equally crazy comedy, The Woman Hater. He later teamed up with John Fletcher to write some of the most wildly popular plays of the English Renaissance. Their collaborative plays were so popular that any play written by either one of them was likely to be published under both of their names (as in the cover of an early edition of Knight, below).
John Fletcher. He collaborated with Shakespeare on several late plays, and also wrote a sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, called The Woman's Prize, Or, The Tamer Tamed. With Beaumont, he wrote some of the most popular and trend-setting plays of the early 1600s.
Ben Jonson. Shakespeare's "frenemy," Jonson considered himself the champion of classical ideals in poetry and drama. But he also wrote some of the funniest satirical comedies of the time, including Volpone, The Alchemist, The Silent Woman (which could be said to have created the comedy of manners), and the amazing Bartholomew Fair.
Christopher Marlowe. Poet and spy, best known for his early death in a tavern brawl — or was it an assassination and cover-up? — and his masterpiece Doctor Faustus. Marlowe's most important work, however, may have been Tamburlaine, a play that set the standards for all the epic historical plays to come. His work was undoubtedly the single biggest influence on Shakespeare.
Thomas Kyd. His play The Spanish Tragedy was arguably the single most popular play of the entire period. It defined the conventions of the Elizabethan revenge play, and, together with Marlowe's Tamburlaine, largely created the Renaissance theatre as we know it.
Check back soon for information on John Webster, Thomas Middleton, and more!