The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

RG

RG

IN CONTEXT

FOCUS

Jacobethan theatre

BEFORE

1592 Elements of Thomas Kyd’s Elizabethan-period The Spanish Tragedy – such as its theme of revenge and the play-within-a-play – are continued in subsequent Jacobean dramas.

1598–1600 William Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 reflect ongoing Jacobethan interests in raucous comedy, history, violence, and honour.

AFTER

1610 The first performance of The Alchemist by Ben Jonson, indulges the Jacobean thirst for harsh satire.

1614 John Webster’s five-act revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi is truly Jacobethan in its consideration of incest, torture, and madness.

The drama produced in England during the reigns of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and James I (1603–1625) – the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, respectively – often depicted a murky world of murder, politics, and revenge, coupled with humour and pastiche. The term “Jacobethan” is used to denote the continuity of English literature between these two periods. The Elizabethan era saw the rise of comedies and tragedies, then took on elements of psychology and the supernatural under James, whose court was a place of loose sexual morals.

A pact with the devil

Born in 1564, in the Elizabethan age, Christopher “Kit” Marlowe lived wildly and died aged 29, reportedly stabbed in a brawl. His work is a harbinger of Jacobean drama’s interest in darker themes.

Based on a German story of a legendary alchemist, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (originally entitled The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus) recounts the tale of an academic, highly respected as an intellect but nevertheless weary of the limits of conventional science. His thirst for knowledge is so great that he turns to magic and summons the devil Mephistopheles, who makes Faustus false promises about omnipotence and pleasure.

The two make a deadly pact: Faustus agrees to give up his soul to the devil in exchange for the devil’s service for 24 years. A good man driven by pride and corrupted by power, Faustus realizes too late that he has brought great evil upon himself.

"The reward of sin is death? That’s hard."


Doctor Faustus

See also: First Folio • The Faerie Queene