Introduction: Jacobean Professional Theatre and Shakespeare
The twenty-five years of Jacobean professional theatre were the most brilliant and dynamic the world has seen. The twenty-five years were not literally all Jacobean: James I came to the throne in 1603 and died in 1625 and although he must take some small credit for the chief glory of his reign, the date that matters for theatre history takes us back to 1599 with the re-opening of the ‘private’ theatre of Paul’s boys, followed in the following year by the opening of the revamped Blackfriars theatre. Both were small halls (Paul’s nothing much more than a large room) but their opening brought forth an avalanche of play-writing that established a new generation of writers for the stage, the most important of whom, Jonson, Chapman, Marston, Middleton challenged the dominance of the one major figure surviving from the earlier decade: William Shakespeare. The rivalry, the competing for markets, the clash of attitudes towards theatre that meet in response and counter-response well illustrate the Chapmanesque contention that ‘all things by strife engender’. In the centre of this vital turmoil, the boisterous Jonson, stirring up antagonisms, setting new artistic standards as well as a new awareness of the power and responsibility of the dramatist, forced an essentially commercial theatre to become fully conscious of its public function as a platform for ideas and of the play as a literary form.
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- 9.E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (1950), p. 91.Google Scholar