The Renaissance: Literary Background • Writers no longer believed in fixed ideas of truth and morality (imposed by the Church) but wanted to enquire about the role of man in the cosmos and asked themselves questions about the meaning of human existence. • On one hand society was based on an idea of order and stability (derived from the Middle Ages), on the other hand literature expressed the intellectual uncertainty of the age (typical of an age of transition). Renaissance Prose • In the Renaissance there was no separation between different fields of knowledge (religion, philosophy, science, maths) • Prose was mainly used for philosophical, scientific or religious essays and sermons. • The two main works of the period were about an ideal society: • Utopia by Thomas More: written in Latin, it describes a society ruled by harmony and justice, without private property, with free education for everybody. • The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon: a study on an imaginary culture dominated by philosophers. • 1611: the first English version of the Bible (King James Bible) influenced the English language, literature and the development of religion in England. Renaissance Drama • Renaissance drama (differently from medieval drama) began to explore the human condition and the many sides of human nature • The greatest dramatists of the age were: • Christopher Marlowe, whose most famous play is Doctor Faustus: the protagonist is a symbol of the humanist revolution, of man’s will to reach absolute knowledge and to go beyond the limits set by God. Faustus sells his soul to the devil in order to acquire unlimited power and knowledge. William Shakespeare • According to many critics Shakespeare wasn’t only the main playwright of the Renaissance but of all times. • Why? • First, because his plays explore every aspect of human life. • Furthermore, he was the first to consider the problems of existence without following fixed models of thought. • Finally, his works formulate universal, unanswerable questions for men and intellectuals of all times (about the self, love, evil, sanity and madness etc…) Elisabethan theatre • In the Middle Ages actors toured around, and performances were staged on movable platforms. • In the Renaissance plays were performed first at court and then in proper theatres. All social classes enjoyed drama. • The first permanent theatre was called “the theatre”, built by James Burbage just outside London in 1576. • The most famous theatre of the time was the Globe (used by Shakespeare’s company), built in 1599 on the South bank of the river Thames. In 1613 it burned (the fire originated during a performance of Henry VIII). It was then rebuilt and closed down by the Puritans in 1642. The structure of the theatres • Theatres were circular or polygonal • There were galleries around the theatre walls, where richer people sat. The seats cost 2 pennies. • Lower classes usually stood in the arena which surrounded the stage on three sides. They paid one penny. • The theatre was open air , no artificial light, so performances took place in the afternoon. • The stage projected out into the audience close contact between actors and audience (different from today). • The stage was half covered by a roof, often called “heavens”, sometimes used to lower down heavy props. There was also a trap door on the stage floor, from which actors could suddenly appear. The Globe Theatre The production of plays • No use of scenery importance of costume (more symbolic than realistic) • There were no women actors (young boys played female roles) • Use of formal speech and gesture; rhetoric (=the art of speech) and metaphors were often used (especially in monologues and soliloquies). • Mixture of tragedy and comedy, of cultivated language and indecent behaviour, to entertain people from different social classes.