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The chief glory of the English stage in the Elizabethan age certainly lay with Shakespeare and his great predecessors - Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe. Nevertheless, the English drama was not exhausted with them. As a matter of fact, Shakespeare and his predecessors had laid a solid foundation and raised a magnificent edifice which Shakespeare's contemporaries and successors preserved admirably well in the Jacobean age. After Shakespeare, several great names of the English stage are Ben Jonson, George Chapman, Beaumont, Fletcher, Webster, Middleton, Heywood, Tourneur, Ford, Shirley, and many others. They are found to have continued the great heritage of the English drama of the Elizabethan age and Shakespeare, though they never could attain their great master's level.

Ben Jonson

Of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Ben Jonson was certainly the most towering figure. Jonson, a classical scholar, was not in tune with the romantic method of his predecessors. He tried to infuse stark social realism in the realm of the drama. He wrote both comedies and tragedies, with immense potency, but his genius was more particularly felt in his realistic social comedies, popularly known as the Comedies of Humour. 

Of Jonson's comedies, "Every Man in His Humour" and "Every Man Out of His Humour" introduced a new note of the comic spirit into the English stage. Jonson founded his play on the social state of his time, sketched social manners and touched the element of humour in individual follies and eccentricities in social behaviour. Jonson carried on, to some extent, the satirical tradition of Lyly in his next two plays Cynthia's Revels and The Poetaster and filled the stage with immense wit and laughter. 

It was, however, in his next three play -- Volpone or The Foxe Epicoene or The Silent Woman and The Alchemist that Jonson's full genius, as a dramatist, was revealed. Those plays brought to the English audience an appropriate pleasure, constituted of humour, fun and social reality, after Shakespeare's romantic comedies of love and fancy.  Of the other comedies of Jonson, Bartholomew Fayre, A Tale of Tub and The Magnetick Lady won the commendation of the public. Jonson had two historical tragedies Sejanus, His Fall and Catiline, His Conspiracy. Both of them were written on the classical model of Greece and proved too laboured and mechanical to be reckoned as great tragedies, and they certainly fell far behind Shakespeare's mighty plays. Jonson wrote also certain masques, rich in humour, grace and ingenuity. The best of these masques included The Masque of Beauty, The Masque of Queen and The Satyr, The Masque of Blackness, and so on.
Geroge Chapman

Geroge Chapman, like Ben Jonson, was a classical scholar, and wrote both tragical and comical plays. Among his tragedies, Bussy  D' Ambois, The Revenge of Busy  D' Ambois, The Conspiracie and Tragedie of Charles, Duke of Byron with The Tragedie of Chabot, Admirall of France were particularly impressive. Chapman founded his tragedy mostly on contemporary history, with some fragments of romantic imagination.

Chapman achieved appreciation particularly for his comedies Al Fooles and Eastward Hoe. The latter one was written in collaboration with Ben Jonson and Marston. Rich in humour and the comic sense, that play, along with his plays The Widdowes Teares, May Day, The Blinde Begger of Alexandria, The Gentleman Usher, revealed his comic sense.
Beaumont and Fletcher
Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, who were the twin dramatists of much repute. They produced a great many plays, supposed to be fifty two in all together. Their separate works have yet to be accurately determined. But they are usually associated together. 

Beaumont and Fletcher were the worthy successors of Shakespeare, and they were even supposed to co-operate with him in some of his later plays. Their tragedies included two important works, The Maid's Tragedy and A King and No King. Among their comedies, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cupid's Revenge, The Cox-comb, The Scornful Lady and Captain were highly appreciated. Their tragi-comedy Philaster however, proved to be most successful.


A collaborator with George Chapman in his comedy Eastward Hoe was Marston. Marston was mainly a tragedian, like most of the Elizabethan dramatists. He followed the pattern of the Senecan School. He revelled in violent and melodramatic tragedies, the typical of which were Antonio and Mellida and Antonio's Revenge. His two other important plays were The Dark Courtezan and The Malcontent.

Marston certainly stood far behind his great predecessors. Nevertheless, theatrical quality of his play could not be ignored and was much appreciated in his time. 

Thomas Dekker was a dramatist of a different sort. In him there was much of simplicity as opposed to artificiality in Marston. He had two very great plays The Shoemaker's Holiday and The Honest Whore. The former one contained much of his ingenuity and sense of humour. The latter displayed his wonderful insight into characters. Dekker had a lyrical affluence for which he could well claim a position next to Shakespeare among his contemporaries. The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus and Satiro-mastix were his two other successful plays.


John Webster is usually considered the greatest post- Shakespearean dramatist, who was gifted with both dramatic craftsmanship and poetical excellence. His most remembered plays are two domestic tragedies, The White Devil and The Tragedie of the Dutchesse of Malfy. Both of them are found founded on the ideal of the romantic tragedy. He is often regarded as the most successful dramatist to catch the Shakespearean notes.


In the voluminous works of Thomas Heywood, whom Charles Lamb has called Prose-Shakespeare, are noted the sharp knowledge of the stage and the right command over the plot. His best play is supposed to be A Woman Kilde  With Kindnesse. His other remarkable plays include The Faire Maid of the West and The English Traveller.


Thomas Middleton is also a voluminous author. Some of his plays bear the spark of his dramatic genius, whereas a good many fell flat upon the audience. He remains noted for his A Chaste Mayd in Cheape side A Faire Quarrel, The Changeling, supposed to be written in collaboration with Rowley, The Mayor of Quinborough, The Witch, and The Spanish Gipsie. His highly flavoured comedies on the disreputable side of london life include-- Michaelmas Terme, A Trick to catch the old one, A Mad world, My Masters, Your Five Gallants, and so on.


Cyril Tourneur is mainly the author of two horror tragedies The Atheist's Tragedie and The Revenger's Tragedie which are packed with the excesses of the romantic tragedy. 

The drama drew to its end after Cyril Tourneur. There were at best three other playwrights who could claim prominence before the theatre was closed by an ordinance by the Puritans. Those three dramatists were Philip Massinger, John Ford and James Shirley.


Massinger had the sense of the tragedy as well as the comedy. His tragedies were kept free from the excess of horror, just as his comedies were imbued with Jonsonian humour. His remarkable tragedies included The Unnatural Combat, The Duke of Milan and The Roman Actor. A New Way to pay Old Debts and The City Madam however, actually brought him to a great fame as a comedy writer.

John Ford had a close resemblance with Massinger, and was noted for his plays like Tis Pity She's a Whore The Broken Heart The Fairy Knight, The Lovers' Melancholy and Love's Sacrifice.


The last great figure was James Shirley, who was well characterised by Lamb as "the last of a great race". Shirley was another prolific author, but some of his plays won true distinction. He had two great tragedies " The Traytor" and "The Cardinall" and a number of comedies such as "Love Tricks" "Hide Park" "The Wedding" and so on.

Of course, there were some other dramatists, after Shirley, but the closure of the theatre came rather abruptly with the beginning of the authority of the Puritans. A glorious phase of the English stage came to an end with the passing of the ordinance in 1642 for the closure of the theatre. It was only after the restoration of monarchy in 1660, that the theatre was opened again, but that was a different story.


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