Drama 577, Winter 2013
The Fervent Yeares: the making of Elizabethan theatre
In 1576, when James Burbage leased ground and built the first permanent theatre in England, it was both the beginning and the end of an era. It was the year of the last recorded English Cycle Play (at Wakefield), the close of that two hundred and fifty year religious festival and the deeply civic tradition of performance behind it. The same year saw the opening of the first professional theatre in London, and a host of public theatres quickly followed. With the new building came also the first generation of professional writers, emerging from a post-Reformation University system that provided the Humanist education of a gentleman without the livelihood. Turning to the open market, this generation of writers soon filled the stages with a flowering of work the field will not likely cease to survey, critique, consider, and re-produce. These new professional writers came into a social culture in which acting companies, for the first time, could be reputable social a! cquisitions for Aristocratic patrons, and into an open commercial print market for promising writers. This seminar considers the critical two decades prior to that flowering, 1558-1576, the decades that allowed it, imagined it, created it, the fervent mid-century years that transformed theatre from a religious and guild-based occasional amateur exhibition into a serious London profession, and playwriting an attractive market for educated young men, like Marlowe, Kyd and Shakespeare.