A History of English Literature

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of a twice-disrupted dynasty onto a round number. (The first century regularly to
call itself a century was the 19th century.) Literary history also needs less tidy
period-names: the English Renaissance extends from More’s Utopia in 1517 to
Milton’s last works in 1671.
The execution of Charles I changed England. After Charles and Cromwell, any
regime, monarchical or republican, which believed itself to be divinely ordained was
not trusted. Regicide had made it clear that ‘the ancient rights ... do hold or break,
/ As men are strong or weak’ (Marvell: ‘Horatian Ode’). After 1660, Christianity is
less explicit in polite writing. Charles II concealed his Catholicism. When his brother
James II tried to restore an absolute monarchy, it was his Catholic appointments that
were unacceptable.

Drama to 1642

Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson are the giants of English Renaissance drama. The
chiefJacobeanplays are listed below. Public theatres also flourished under Charles
I, until Parliament closed them in 1642. Plays were not always printed, and authors
are sometimes unknown. Some were prolific: Thomas Heywood (?1570–1632)
claimed to have written two hundred plays and Philip Massinger (1583–1649) fifty-
five. Thomas Dekker, Sir Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher and John Ford also wrote


The comedy of this period continued into the comedy of manners of the 18th
century.The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) is Shakespeare’s one ‘citizen comedy’,
a genre whose archetype is Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599).This cele-
br ates a jolly shoemaker mayor of London, without satire and with some senti-
ment. Rude jokes disarm serious expectations; Dekker’s hero tells his wife that one
ofher maids ‘hath a pri vy fault: she farteth in her sleep’. Such jests are found in
Dekker’s source, stories by Thomas Deloney in The Gentle Craft (1597).This ‘citi-
zen’ tradition feeds not only the popular comedy of the 18th century, but also
Dicke ns and modern situation comedy; it relies on stock characters and laughable
situations.A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1611,re vived in the rebuilt Globe in 1997),
by Thomas Middleton(1580–1627),is more satiric, with Yellowhammer, a gold-
smith, and Sir Walter Whorehound, a gentleman rake. Beaumont’s highly theatri-
cal Knight of the Burning Pestle makes fun of the simplicity of well-to-do grocers at
the theatre,who send their apprentice up onto the stage to be as good a knight as
any they see there.
Jonson scorned the artless comedy of the town, and grew disenchanted with the
Court masque. High and low had attended the Globe, but the popularity of drama
allowed theatre audiences to separate into different constituencies. Masque had
elegant verse, music, gods and goddesses (played by the royal family, though they did
not speak) and an allegory which upheld hierarchy. These shows, which announced
royal policy, were a regular feature of court life. They paid well; the one performance
of Thomas Carew’s Coelum Britannicum (1634) cost £12,000. But the money went
on the arts of design: sets, costumes, spectacle; Jonson took offence on behalf of
Poetry. The designer was Inigo Jones (1573–1652), the first British imitator of the
Italian architect Palladio. It was Jones who built the Banqueting House in Whitehall,
from which Charles I stepped to his execution. Jonson’s masques had crystalline


Jacobean Of the reign of
James I (Lat. Jacobus),
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