Renaissance Theatre

Uploaded by cgcclive on 30.12.2008

With the advent of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries the unity
and coherence of the
Christian Middle Ages began to unravel.
The Renaissance started in Italy
in the 15th century and reached
full blossom in the 16th.
It included the Elizabethan
period in England,
The Golden Age in Spain,
and continued to spread
on the continent through
the 17th century when it
was embraced by the newly
established French Academy
in the Neoclassical Period.
A remarkable time in
western history,
this explosion of thought
and creativity was
no spontaneous event,
but a complex period that
developed due to a
variety of factors.
First, the fall of Byzantine Empire
and a rediscovery of ancient texts
sparked a renewed interest
in classical thought.
The breakdown of the feudal system
coupled with the rise of towns
significantly influenced
an emerging sense
of personal responsibility
and freedom in the merchant classes.
And finally, Guttenberg’s invention
of the printing press
allowed for the quick duplication
of both the Bible and classical texts,
and made education
and the exchange of ideas
possible on a grand scale.
The second consequence
of these developments
was the traumatic dissolution
of Christian unity in the Reformation.
At the end of the fifteenth century
and the beginning of the sixteenth,
Christian humanists sought
to apply the new style
of scholarship to the study
of scriptures in their
original languages and
to return to the first principles
of their religion.
In the interests of spreading
religious understanding,
they began to translate
the Bible into the vernacular languages.
The Renaissance belief
in the "perfectibility of man"
made people less content with things
as they were, and more interested
in improving them in the here and now.
No one could argue that the church
was not corrupt: holding vast wealth,
exercising enormous political power
and waging war, it was administered
by holders of patronage positions
that often had more interest in lining
their pockets than in promoting
the welfare of their "flocks".
The reforms introduced by
Martin Luther ultimately erupted
into wars of religion in much of Europe.
Differences of climate, temperament,
and language, coupled with
deep divisions in religious belief,
promoted an expanding awareness
of nationhood, which was often expressed
forcefully in the theatre.
Foreign clothes, speech and manners
became frequent subjects of ridicule
in comedy; villainy becomes
a characteristic in tragedy
that playwrights can ascribe
quite convincingly to foreigners.
Nationalism was fueled, too,
by a shift toward absolutism
in government.
The Prince, or the head of state,
was transformed into god-like being
and replaced the church as
the primary power exerting influence
over the lives of the populace.
The simultaneous development
of the Renaissance and
the Reformation in Western Europe
led to differences in the way
the theatre developed
in Italy, England, Spain and France,
and can best be understood
when studied country by country.
In he next three weeks we’ll study
how Renaissance ideals,
coupled with the religious upheaval
sparked by the Reformation,
influenced the development of
theatre architecture, playwriting,
and performance styles in
Italy, England, Spain and France.