|Upon the successful completion of the unit, the learner will be able to:
|You might have heard about Queen Elizabeth 1 of England and the memorable contribution she made to England. Queen Elizabeth I of the Tudor Dynasty was called Virgin Queen as she was unmarried. Because of the unprecedented development during her reign, that period was regarded as the ‘Golden Age’.
When Shakespeare, the classic English writer, began his writing career, Queen Elizabeth I ruled over England. She was a popular monarch, and her long reign helped establish England as a major European commercial and political power. Elizabeth also supported the arts, which enabled poetry, music, and theatre to flourish throughout the second half of the sixteenth century. Let us know more about the socio- political atmosphere of Britain during the Elizabethan Period.
“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,-
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.
– Richard II, William Shakespeare
4.3.1 Elizabeth I – the Tudor Queen
Queen Elizabeth I was born on 7th
September 1533, in Greenwich. She died on March 24, 1603, in Richmond, Surrey after 45 years as queen. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. In 1536, Henry had Anne beheaded. It was believed that the real reason for Anne’s death was that she failed to give birth to a male child. During her childhood, unlike most girls during her time, Elizabeth received a formal education under the guidance of very efficient tutors. By the time she became the queen of England, she was able to handle multiple languages including Greek, French, Italian, and Latin. At the time when her sister Mary became the queen, Elizabeth was taken into prison at the Tower of London. Mary suspected that Elizabeth supported various plots to remove her from power and she identified Elizabeth as a threat to her throne. Elizabeth became queen on November 17, 1558, after her sister Queen Mary’s death. She was crowned two months later on January 15, 1559, in a coronation ceremony.
During her reign, England won a famous victory over the Spanish Armada. Because the Spanish navy was thought to be better than the British navy, the victory over the Spanish Armada raised the status of England in Europe. Apart from her achievements as the ruler of England, the period of her reign is regarded as the Golden Age of England, the Renaissance period, the Shakespearean Age and the first great age of Drama and the second great age of Poetry.
Fig 4.3.1 Elizabeth I
4.3.2 Elizabethan Society
The social life of England during the reign of Elizabeth I is characterised by its well- defined social stratification based on social position, wealth and occupation. The Monarch was the top first position in the Elizabethan social hierarchy. It was believed that God had chosen the monarch to rule. The monarch could declare war, dismiss parliament or reject its laws. Queen Elizabeth I, the sixth and last ruler of the Tudor dynasty was evaluated by many as England’s best monarch. She was a wise and just Queen who chose the right advisers and was not dominated by them.
The Tudor period was an age of individuality. Nobility was at the top of the social ladder below the monarch. These men were rich and powerful, and they had large households. Within the nobility, there was a distinction between old families and new ones. Most of the old families were Catholic while the new families were Protestant. A person becomes a member of nobility by birth, or by a grant from the Crown. Noble titles were hereditary, passing from generation to generation. Such titles included the duke and the earl in England. Most of the members of Queen Elizabeth’s council and chief officers in the counties came from noble families. They were expected to serve in an office at their own expense.
The Gentry class that was just below the nobility included knights, squires, gentlemen, and gentlewomen who did not work with their hands for a living. Their numbers grew during Queen Elizabeth’s reign and became the most important social class in England. Wealth was the key to becoming a part of the gentry class. This class was made up of people who were not born of noble birth but became wealthy landowners. The rise of the gentry was the dominant feature of Elizabethan society. Two of the queen’s chief ministers,Burghley and Walsingham were products of the gentry. Francis Bacon, the great essayer and philosopher also came from this class. The gentry was the backbone of Elizabethan England. They went to Parliament and served as justices of the Peace.
The Tudor era saw the rise of modern commerce with cloth and weaving leading the way. The prosperous merchant class emerged from the ashes of the Wars of the Roses. The prosperity of the wool trade led to a surge in building and the importance cannot be overstated. Shipping products from England to various ports in Europe and to the New World also became a profitable business for the merchants. The yeomanry of the time who held a small piece of land included farmers, tradesmen and craft workers. They took their religion very seriously and could read and write. The Yeomans were content to live more simply, using their wealth to improve their land and expand it.
The last class of Elizabethan England was the labourers, poor husbandmen, and some retailers who did not own their own land. Artisans, shoemakers, carpenters, brick masons and all those who worked with their hands belonged to this class of society. Under Queen Elizabeth I, the government undertook the job of assisting the labourers class and the result was the famous Elizabethan Poor Laws which resulted in one of the world’s first government-sponsored welfare programs.
Elizabeth I brilliantly framed and followed the policy of balance and moderation both inside and outside the country. A working compromise was reached with Scotland. The rebellious northern barons were kept in check. She, therefore, could successfully establish peace in traditionally disturbed border areas. Under her able administration, English national life rapidly and steadily progressed. The rapid rise of industrial towns gave employment to thousands. Increasing trade and commerce enriched England. It was a practice that the wealthy were taxed to support the poor.
It was an era of comparative religious tolerance of peace. Upon her accession she found the whole nation divided against itself. The north was largely Catholic, and the South was strongly Protestant. Scotland followed the Reformation intensely. Ireland followed its old traditional religion. It was Elizabeth who made the Anglican Church a reality. Anglicanism was a kind of compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism. Queen Elizabeth loved England ardently and she made her court one of the most brilliant courts in Europe. The splendour of her court dazzled the eyes of the people. Her moderate policies did much to increase her popularity and prestige. Worship of the Virgin Queen became the order of the day. It was an age of patriotism especially inspired by the naval victory over Spain.
This was a remarkable epoch for the expansion of both mental and geographical horizons. The great voyagers like Hawkins, Frobisher, Raleigh and Drake brought home both material and intellectual treasures from the East and the West. The spirit of adventure and exploration fired the imagination of writers. The spirit of action and adventure paved the way for the illustrious development of dramatic literature. Drama progresses in an era of action and not of speculation. It has rightly been called the age of the discovery of the new world and of man. Italy, the home of the Renaissance, fascinated the Elizabethans. All liked to visit Italy and stay there for some time. People were not only fond of Italian books and literature, but also of Italian manners and morals.
It was an age of great diversity and contradictions. It was an age of light and darkness, of reason and of unreason, of wisdom and of foolishness, of hope and of despair. The barbarity and backwardness, ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages still persisted. Disorder, violence, bloodshed and tavern brawls still prevailed. Highway robberies, as mentioned in Henry IV, Part I, were very common. The barbarity of the age is seen in such brutal sports as bear baiting, cock and bull fighting, to which numerous references are found in the plays of Shakespeare. Despite the advancement of science and learning people still believed in superstitions, ghosts, witches, fairies, charms and omens of all sorts.
4.3.3 Elizabethan Literature
“Such were some of the conditions which combined to create the spirit of Shakespeare’s age – an age in which men lived intensely, thought intensely and wrote intensely”(W.H Hudson).
Elizabethan Literature was a term denoted to the body of literary works during the reign of Elizabeth I of England (1558 –1603). This age was probably the most splendid age in the history of English literature, during which such writers as Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare were active. Let’s discuss the literary tendencies of the age.
By the 1570s, English poetry and prose burst into sudden glory. Though the poetical production was not quite equal to the dramatic, poetry enjoyed its heyday during the Elizabethan age. It was nevertheless of great and original beauty. A large number of lyrics and sonnets were produced. England became the nest of singing birds. A decisive shift of taste toward fluent artistry displaying its own grace and sophistication was announced in the works of Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney.
It was also regarded as an era of sonnets as it was very popular. It was introduced into English by Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey early in the 16th century. They introduced the Petrarchan sonnet. Shakespeare made changes to the Italian model and introduced his own style, now known as the English sonnet or the Shakespearean sonnet.
Fig 4.3.2 Edmund Spenser
Fig 4.3.3 Philip Sidney
English prose already had a significant tradition from the Anglo-Saxon period which was continued during the second half of the Middle English period. Elizabethan prose continued the journey. A further stimulus for the growth of prose was the religious upheaval that took place in the middle of the century. The desire of reformers to address as comprehensive an audience as possible—the bishop and the boy who follows the plough, as William Tyndale put it—produced the first true classics of English prose. Most significant of these prose works include the reformed Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1549,1552,1559); John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563), which celebrates the martyrs, great and small, of English Protestantism; and the various English versions of the Bible, from Tyndale’s New Testament (1525), Miles Coverdale’s Bible (1535), and the Geneva Bible (1560) to the Authorised Version (or as it is commonly called King James’s Version, 1611).
Fig 4.3.4 William Shakespeare
In the Elizabethan age, the two potent forces of the Renaissance and the Reformation. blended and co-operated with each other.
These two movements produced a great uplifting of the spirit. The word “renaissance” originated from the Latin word “nasci” which means “Be Born”. Renaissance was a time of great improvement in art, literature, and learning in Europe. It inspired the aesthetic and intellect potential whereas the Reformation aroused the spiritual nature. Though the passion for classical learning was a rich and worthy enthusiasm, it became a danger to the language. In all branches of literature, Greek and Latin usages began to force themselves upon English, which was not totally beneficial. The English language gave away its native sturdiness and allowed itself to be tempered and polished by the new influences.
In the Elizabethan age, the two potent forces of the Renaissance and the Reformation. blended and co-operated with each other. These two movements produced a great uplifting of the spirit. The word “renaissance” originated from the Latin word “nasci” which means “Be Born”. Renaissance was a time of great improvement in art, literature, and learning in Europe. It inspired the aesthetic and intellect potential whereas the Reformation aroused the spiritual nature. Though the passion for classical learning was a rich and worthy enthusiasm, it became a danger to the language. In all branches of literature, Greek and Latin usages began to force themselves upon English, which was not totally beneficial. The English language gave away its native sturdiness and allowed itself to be tempered and polished by the new influences.
Drama, during the Elizabethan age, made a rapid & glorious leap into maturity. The Era is perhaps most famous for its theatre and the works of William Shakespeare. English Renaissance theatre began with the opening of “The Red Lion” theatre in 1567. Many more permanent theatres opened in London over the next several years including the Curtain Theatre in 1577 and the famous Globe Theatre in 1599. The period produced some of the world’s great playwrights including Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Even though the writers borrowed literature from abroad, this age depicted an unbound spirit of independence and creativity. Shakespeare openly borrowed from other literary and historical works, but with his splendid creative imagination, he transformed everything into gold. Spenser, a very original and creative writer was the leading poet of his time. The stanzaic structure introduced by him has been called the ‘Spenserian Stanza’.
Fig 4.3.5 Globe Theatre
Objective Type Questions
1. Which Tudor monarch preceded Elizabeth on the throne of England?
2. By what term is the Elizabethan era often described in English history?
3. Mention the period of the Elizabethan era.
4. What was the nickname of Queen Elizabeth I?
5. Who was Queen Elizabeth’s mother?
6. Who introduced the sonnet into English poetry?
7. What are the two kinds of sonnets known in English poetry?
8. What is the stanzaic structure named after Edmund Spenser?
9. Why did Catholics reject Elizabeth?
10. Whom did Queen Mary keep as a prisoner for some time?
11. Which Act placed Queen Elizabeth as the head of the English church?
Answers to Objective Type Questions
1. Queen Mary I
2. Golden age
4. Virgin Queen
5. Anne Boleyn
6. Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, generally referred to to- gether as Wyatt and Surrey
7. Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnet
8. Spenserian Stanza
9. Because she was a protestant
11. The Act of Settlement
1. Write an assignment on the topic ‘Elizabethan Literature.’
2. The Elizabethan Era is regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of England. Do you agree?
1. Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I, Ballantine, 1998.
2. Gortner, C.W. The Tudor Secret: A Novel, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.
3. Berry, Ciara. “Elizabeth I (R.1558-1603).” The Royal Family, 11 Mar. 2016, www.royal.uk/elizabeth-i-r1558-1603.
4. Potter, D.L. “Mid-Tudor foreign policy and diplomacy.” Tudor England and its Neighbours, edited by S. Doran and G. Richardson, Basingstoke, 2005.
5. History, Hourly. Queen Elizabeth I: A Life from The Beginning To End, Inde- pendently Published, 2017.
6. Jones, W.R.D. The Mid-Tudor Crisis, 1539-63, Macmillan, 1973.