Skip to main content

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE : His life and works

The age of Shakespeare was a great time in English history. The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) saw England emerge as the leading naval and commercial power of the Western world. England consolidated its position with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Elizabeth firmly established the Church of England begun by her father, King Henry VIII (following Henry's dispute with the Pope over having his first marriage annulled).

Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world and became the most celebrated English sea captain of his generation. Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh sent colonists eastward in search of profit. European wars brought an influx of continental refugees into England, exposing the Englishman to new cultures. In trade, might, and art, England established an envious preeminence.

Elizabethan LondonAt this time, London was the heart of England, reflecting all the vibrant qualities of the Elizabethan Age. This atmosphere made London a leading center of culture as well as commerce. Its dramatists and poets were among the leading literary artists of the day. In this heady environment, Shakespeare lived and wrote.

London in the 16th century underwent a transformation. Its population grew 400% during the 1500s, swelling to nearly 200,000 people in the city proper and outlying region by the time an immigrant from Stratford came to town. A rising merchant middle class carved out a productive livelihood, and the economy boomed.

In the 1580s, the writings of the University Wits (Marlowe, Greene, Lyly, Kyd, and Peele) defined the London theatre. Though grounded in medieval and Jacobean roots, these men produced new dramas and comedies using Marlowe's styling of blank verse. Shakespeare outdid them all; he combined the best traits of Elizabethan drama with classical sources, enriching the admixture with his imagination and wit.

SOURCE: Elizabethan England, Shakespeare Resource Centre, URL: http://www.bardweb.net/england.html

Published on YouTube Oct 7, 2013 [Duration: 3:23 mins]

In this series of films Dr Tarnya Cooper, the National Portrait Gallery's Chief Curator and Curator of Sixteenth Century Portraits, introduces some of the themes and works in the exhibition 'Elizabeth I & Her People'.

Elizabethan England, Published on YouTube on Oct 21, 2014 [Duration 12:18 mins]