Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century

Cambridge University Press, 1999

English drama at the beginning of the sixteenth century was allegorical, didactic and moralistic; but by the end of the century theatre was censured as emotional and even immoral. How could such a change occur? Cartwright suggests that some theories of early Renaissance theatre - particularly the theory that Elizabethan plays are best seen in the tradition of morality drama - need to be reconsidered. He proposes instead that humanist drama of the sixteenth century is theatrically exciting - rather than literary, elitist and dull as it has often been seen - and socially significant, and he attempts to integrate popular and humanist values rather than setting them against each other. Taking as examples the plays of Marlowe, Heywood, Lyly and Greene, as well as many by lesser-known dramatists, the book demonstrates the contribution of humanist drama to the theatrical vitality of the sixteenth century.