The Elizabethan Era in literature was part of the larger movement known as the Renaissance that swept Europe from the 14th through 17th centuries. Elizabeth I was queen of England from 1558 to 1603, and her support of the arts is why this period in English literature period bears her name. Theatre and poetry were the dominant forms of literature during this time period.
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Shakespeare and the Theater
The most prolific and famous playwright of the Elizabethan stage was William Shakespeare. He wrote tragedies and comedies equally well. Shakespeare wrote mainly historical plays, with some of his plays including fantasy elements. The theatre was an important institution in Elizabethan England, with rich and poor alike enjoying afternoon shows. Oddly, the poorest spectators got to stand closest to the stage while the rich sat in elevated seats farther back. Shakespeare also wrote popular sonnets, one style of which bears his name today.
The English Language
During the Elizabethan Era, the English language become the preferred form for literary productions, replacing Latin and other Romance languages such as French and Italian. Before the Renaissance, the English language was not respected, even by the English. With the support and encouragement of Queen Elizabeth, native authors were proud to craft work in their own language. Translation also become popular as works from other nations were made available in the English language.
Battles between Catholics and Protestants raged during the Elizabethan Era. This had an influence on literature because some writers sided with Elizabeth, a Protestant, while others felt that her sister Mary was rightful heir to the throne. There was a lot of intrigue and secrecy in the court of Elizabeth. Famous writers who mingled in the court incorporated this communication style into their literary works. Double meaning and ambiguity are therefore common in Elizabethan literature.
There are numerous resources for learning more about Elizabethan Era literature. The Internet makes a fine starting point. The websites of university English departments often have informative websites on literary periods. History department websites may shed light on the daily life of Elizabethan England. Check your local library's literature section for reading material that seems topical. A large academic library is guaranteed to be stocked with scholarly journals and books that go into great detail on Elizabethan Era literature.
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