skip to main | skip to sidebar
Home » » Jacobean Period in English literature

Like Shakespeare, other English dramatists continued to thrive when James I ascended the throne. In addition to Shakespeare, James I, and his wife Anne of Denmark patroned various playwrights of the age including John Webster, Thomas Middleton, John Ford, and Ben Jonson. After Shakespeare's death, playwright John Fletcher took over the role of head playwright for the King's Men. Fletcher often collaborated with fellow playwright Francis Beaumont. 

Of course, Ben Johnson was probably the most notable poet of this age following Shakespeare. Before becoming a playwright himself, Johnson had performed in Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and began publishing his own work by 1598. He belonged to the Admiral's Men, a rival theater troupe of Shakespeare, who performed at the Rose Theatre. Under James I, he authored royal masques and some believe he was the true first poet laureate of the country. Jonson's most notable work remains 1598's Everyman in His Humour, though his other works include Volpone, or the Foxe, The Alchemist. and Bartholomew Fayre: A Comedy. 

Religious works were again coming to the forefront of English literature, most notably in the form of the King James Bible. First published in 1611, the Bible was actually the third version of biblical texts approved by the new Anglican church but was written under the authority of James I to respond to criticisms Puritans had with previous versions. Despite being the official Bible of the king, previous versions were still widely used until around 1661. While the book is in the public domain elsewhere, it can still only be published under Royal prerogative in England. 

In addition to the new Bible. a new group known as the Metaphysical poets were becoming popular in this period. These poems focused primarily on love and religion and included the likes of John Donne, George Herbert. Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell and Emilia Lanier. Donne is probably the most famous of the group. a priest and lawyer who worked for the Church of England. He wrote everything from sonnets to sermons published during his lifetime and afterward. 

Welsh-born George Herbert was also a churchman while his fellow Welshman Henry Vaughan was a doctor. Marvell sat in the House of Commons and later became friends with John Milton. Of course, Emilia Lanier was the highest ranked of these poets. Born Aemilia Bassano, she was allegedly the mistress of the same Henry Carey who patroned Shakespeare's play troupe but was married to court musician Alfonso Lanier. Lanier wrote poetry on religious themes including one titled 'Eve's Apology’. 

The precursors to the Cavalier poets were also emerging in this period from a group known as the Castalian Band. This group of royal court poets began their tenure under James I and continued it under the reign of his son Charles I until the interregnum. They included the king himself, Alexander Montgomerie, Patrick Hume of Polwarth, Alexander Hume, William Fowler, John Stewart of Baldyenneis, Thomas Hudson, and Robert Hudson. Robert Aytoun and William Alexander, the Earl of Stirling, also participated in the group. 

Jacobean and Caroline Drama 

After Shakespeare the drama in England suffered and a decline during the reigns of James | and Charles I. The heights reached by Shakespeare could not be kept by later dramatists, and drama in the hands of Beaumont and Fletcher and others became, what may be Called, ‘decadent’. In other words, the real spirit of the Elizabethan drama disappeared, and only the outward show and trappings remained, 

For example, sentiment took the place of character; eloquent and moving speeches, instead of being subservient to the revelation of the fine shades of character, became important in themselves; dreadful deeds were described not with a view to throwing light on the working ot the human heart as was done by Shakespeare, but to produce rhetorical effect on the audience. Moreover, instead of fortitude and courage. and sterner qualities, which were held in high esteem by the Elizabethan dramatists, resignation to fate expressed in the form of broken accents of pathos and woe, became the main characteristics of the hero. Whereas Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists took delight in action and the emotions associated with it, the Jacobean and Caroline dramatists gave expression to passive suffering and lack of mental and physical vigour. Moreover, whereas the Elizabethan dramatists were sometimes, coarse and showed bad taste, these later dramatists were positively and deliberately indecent. Instead of devoting all their capacity to fully illuminating the subject in hand, they made it as an instrument of exercising their own power of rhetoric and pedantry. Thus in the hands of these dramatists of the inferior type the romantic drama which had achieved great heights during the Elizabethan period, suffered a terrible decline, and when the Puritans closed the theatres in 1642, it died a natural death. 

The greatest dramatist of the' Jacobean Period was Ben Jonson who has already been dealt with in the Renaissance Period, as much of his work belongs to it. The other dramatists of the Jacobean and Caroline Periods are John Marston (1575-1634); Thomas Dekker (1570-1632); Thomas Heywood (1575-1650); Thomas Middleton (1580-1627); Cyril Tourneur (1575-1626); John Webster (1575-16257); John Fletcher (1579-1625); Francis Beaumont (1584-1616); Philip Massinger (15831640); John Ford (1586-1639); and James Shirley (1596-1666). 

John Marston wrote in a violent and extravagant style. His melodramas Antonia and Mellida and Antonia’'s Revenge are full of forceful and impressive passages. In The Malcontent, The Dutch Courtezan, and Parasitaster, or Fawne, Marstoncriticised the society in an ironic and lyrical manner. His best play is Eastward Hoe, an admirable comedy of manners, which portrays realistically the life of a tradesman, the inner life of a middle class household, the simple honesty of some and the vanity of others. 

Thomas Dekker, unlike Marston, was gentle and free from coarseness and cynicism. Some of his plays possess grace and freshness which are not to be found even in the plays of Ben Jonson. He is more of a popular dramatist than any of his contemporaries, and he is at his best when portraying scenes from life, and describing living people with an irresistible touch of romanticism. The gayest of his comedies is The Shoemaker's Holiday,in which the hero, Simon Eyre, a jovial London shoemaker, and his shrewish wife are vividly described. In Old Fortunates Dekker's poetical powers are seen at their best. The scene, in which the goddess fortune appears with her train of crowned beggars and kings in chains, is full of grandeur. His best-known work. however, is the Honest Whore, in which the character of an honest courtesan is beautifully portrayed. The most original character in the play is her old father, Orlando Friscoboldo, a rough diamond. This play is characterised by liveliness, pure sentiments and poetry. 

Thomas Heywood resembles very much Dekker in his gentleness and good temper. He wrote a large number of plays—two hundred and twenty—of which only twenty-four are extant. Most of his plays deal with the life of the cities. In The Foure Prentices of London, with the Conquest of Jerusalem, he flatters the citizens of London. The same note appears in his Edward VI, The Troubles of Queene Elizabeth and The Fair Maid of the Exchange.In The Fair Maid of the West, which is written in a patriotic vein, sea adventures and the life of an English port are described in a lively fashion. His best known play is A Woman Kilde with Kindness, a domestic tragedy written in a simple form, in which he gives-us a gentle picture of a happy home destroyed by the wife's treachery, the husband's suffering and his banishment of his wife, her remorse and agony, and death at the moment when the husband has forgiven her. Instead of the spirit of vengeance as generally prevails in such domestic plays, it is free from any harshness and vindictiveness. In The English Traveller we find the same generosity and kindliness. On account of his instinctive goodness and wide piety, Heywood was called by Lamb as a "sort of prose Shakespeare." 

Thomas Middleton, like Dekker and Heywood, wrote about the city of London. But instead flattering the citizens, he criticised and ridiculed their follies like Ben Jonson. He is mainly the writer of comedies dealing the seamy side of London life, and the best-known of them are: Michaelmas Terms; A Trick to Catch the Old One, A Mad World, My Masters, Your Five Gallants, A Chaste Mayd in Cheapside. They are full of swindlers and dupes. The dramatist shows a keen observation of real life and admirable dexterity in presenting it. In his later years Middleton turned to tragedy. Women beware women deals with the Scandalous crimes of the Italian courtesan Bianca Capello. Some tragedies or romantic dramas as A Faire Quarrel, The Changeling and The Spanish Gipsy, were written by Middleton in collaboration with the actor William Rowley. 

Cyril Tourneur wrote mostly melodramas full of crimes and torture. His two gloomy dramas are: The Revenge Tragedies, and The Atheist's Tragedie, which, written in a clear and rapid style, have intense dramatic effects. 

John Webster wrote a number of plays, some in collaboration with others. His best-known plays are The White Devil or Vittoria Corombona and the Duchess of Malfi which are full of physical horrors. In the former play the crimes of the Italian beauty Cittoria Accorambona are described in a most fascinating manner. The Duchess of Maifi is the tragedy of the young widowed duchess who is driven to madness and death by her two brothers because she has married her steward Antonio. The play is full of pathos and touches of fine poetry. Though a melodrama full of horror and unbearable suffering. it has been raised to a lofty plane by the truly poetic gift of the dramatist who has a knack of coining unforgettable phrases. 

John Fletcher wrote a few plays which made him famous. He then exploited his reputation to the fullest extent by organising a kind of workshop in which he wrote plays more rapidly in collaboration with other dramatists in order to meet the growing demand. The plays which he wrote in collaboration with Francis Beaumont are the comedies such as The Scornful Ladie and The Knight of the Burning Pestle; tragicomedies like Philaster; pure tragedies such As The Maides Tragedy and A King and no King. The Knight of the Burning Pestle is the gayest and liveliest comedy of that time and it has such freshness that it seems to have been written only yesterday. Philaster and The Maides Tragedy are written in Shakespearean style, but they have more outward charm than real merit. Fletcher alone wrote a number of plays of which the best known are The Tragedies of Vanentinian, The Tragedie of Bonduca, The Loyal Subject, The Humorous Lieutenant. His Monsieur Thomas and The Wild Goose Chase are fine comedies. 

Philip Massinger wrote tragedies as Thierry and Theodoret and The False One: comedies as The Little French Lawyer, The Spanish Curate and The Beggar's Bush, in collaboration with Fletcher. Massinger combined his intellectualism with Fletcher's lively ease. It was Massinger who dominated the stage after Fletcher. He wrote thirty seven plays of which eighteen are extant. In his comedies we find the exaggerations or eccentricities which are the characteristics of Ben Jonson. In his tragedies we notice the romanticism of Fletcher, But the most individual quality of Massinger's plays is that they are plays of ideas, and he loves to stage oratorical debates and long pleadings before tribunals. His best comedies are A New Way to Pay Old Debts, The Cit’ Madam and The Guardian; his important serious plays are The Fatal 

Dowry, The Duke of Millaine, The Unnatural Combat. The Main of Honour, The Bond-Man, The Renegado, The Roman Actor, and The Picture. Of all these 4 New Wav to Pav Old Debts is his most successful play. in which the chief character, the usurer, Sir Charles Overreach reminds us of Ben Jonson's F’olpone. All the plays of Massinger show careful workmanship, though a great deterioration had crept in the art of drama at the time when he was writing. When not inspired he becomes monotonous, but he is always a conscientious writer. 

John Ford, who was the contemporary of Massinger, collaborated with various dramatists. He was a true poet, but a fatalist, melancholy and gloomy person. Besides the historical play, Perkin Warbeck, he wrote Zhe Lover's Melancholy, ‘Tis Pity Shee’s a Whore, The Broken Heart and Love's Sacrifice, all of which show a skilful handling of emotions and grace of style. His decadent attitude is seen in the delight he takes in depicting suffering, but he occupies a high place as an artist. 

James Shirley, who as Lamb called him, ‘the last of a great race’, though a prolific writer, shows no originality. His best comedies are The Traytor, The Cardinall, The Wedding, Changes, Hyde Park, The Gamester and The Lady of Pleasure, which realistically represent the contemporary manners, modes and literary styles. He also wrote tragi-comedies or romantic comedies, such as Young Admirall, The Opportunity, and The Imposture. In all these Shirley continued the tradition formed by Fletcher, Tourneur and Webster, but he broke no new ground, 

Besides these there were a number of minor dramatists, but the drama suffered a serious setback when the theatres were closed in 1642 by the order of the Parliament controlled by the Puritans. They were opened only after eighteen years later at the Restoration. 

Jacobean and Caroline Prose: 

This period was rich in prose. The great prose writers were Bacon, Burton, Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Tayler. and Clarendon. English prose which had been formed into a harmonious and pliable instrument by the Elizabethans, began to be used in various ways. as narrative as well as a vehicle for philosophical speculation and scientific knowledge. For the first time the great scholars began to write in English rather than Latin. The greatest single influence which enriched the English prose was the Authorised Version of the Bible (English translation of the Bible), which was the result of the efforts of scholars who wrote in a forceful, simple and pure Anglo-Saxon tongue avoiding all that was rough, foreign and affected. So the Bible became the supreme example of earlier English prose-style—simple, plain. and natural. As it was read by the people in general, its influence was ali-pervasive. 

Francis Bacon (1561-1628) Bacon belongs both to the Elizabethan and Jacobean Periods. He was a lawyer possessing great intellectual gifts. Ben Jonson wrote of him, “No man ever coughed or turned aside fram him without a loss.“ As a prose-writer he is the master of the aphoristic style. He has the knack of compressing his wisdom in epigrams which contain the quintessence of his rich experience of life in a Most concentrated form. Fis style is clear, lucid but terse and that is why one has to make an effort to understand his meaning. It lacks spaciousness, ease and rhythm. The reader has always to be alert because each sentence is packed with meaning. 

Bacon is best-known for his Essays, in which he has given his views about the art of managing men and getting on successfully in life. They may be considered as a kind of manual for statesmen and princes. The tone of the essay is that of a worldly man who wants to secure material success and prosperity. That is why their moral standard is not high. 

Besides the Essays, Bacon wrote Henry VIII the first Piece of scientific history in the English language; and The Advancement of Learning which is a brilliant popular exposition of the cause of scientific investigation. Though Bacon himself did not make any great scientific discovery, he popularised science through his writings. On account of his being the intellectual giant of his time, he is credited with the authorship of the plays of Shakespeare. 

Robert Burton (1577-1640) is known for his The Anatomy of Melancholy, which is a book of its own type in the English language. In it he has analysed human melancholy, described its effect and prescribed its cure. But more than that the book deals with all the ills that flesh is heir to, and the author draws his material from writers, ancient as well as modern. It is written in a straightforward, simple and vigorous style, which at times is marked with rhythm and beauty. 

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) belonged entirely to a different category. With him the manner of writing is more important than the substance. He is, therefore, the first deliberate stylist in the English language, the forerunner of Charles Lamb and Stevenson. Being a physician with a flair for writing, he wrote Religio Medici in which he set down his beliefs and thoughts, the religion of the medical man. In this book, which is written in an amusing, personal style, the conflict between the author's intellect and his religious beliefs, gives it a peculiar charm. Every sentence has the stamp of Browne's individuality. His other important prose work is Hydriotaphia or The Urn Burial,in which meditating on time and antiquity Browne reaches the heights of rhetorical splendour. He is greater as an artist than a thinker, and his prose is highly complex in its structure and almost poetic in richness of language. 

Other writers of his period, who were, like Browne, the masters of rhetorical prose, were Milton, Jeremy Taylor, and Clarendon. Most of Milton's prose writings are concerned with the questions at issue between the Parliament and the King. Being the champion of freedom in every form, he wrote a forceful tract On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in which he strongly advocated the right to divorce. His most famous prose work is Areopagitica which was occasioned by a parliamentary order for submitting the press to censorship, Here Milton vehemently criticised the bureaucratic control over genius. Though as a pamphleteer Milton at times indulges in downright abuse, and he lacks humour and lightness of touch, yet there is that inherent sublimity in his prose writings, which we associate with him as a poet and man. When he touches a noble thought, the wings of his imagination lift him to majestic heights. , 

Opposed to Milton, the greatest writer in the parliamentary struggle was the Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), His prose is stately, and he always writes with a bias which is rather offensive, as we find in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, 

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), a bishop, made himself famous by his literary sermons, On account of the gentle charm of his language, the richness of his images, and his profoundly human imagination, Taylor is considered as one of the masters of English eloquence. His best prose famous book of devotion among English men and women. 

Thus during this period we find English prose developing into a grandiloquent and rich instrument capable of expressing all types of ideas~—scientific, religious, philosophic, poetic, and personal.

Jacobean Period


Post a Comment

Back To Top