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Shakespeare's Style

Shakespeare's works have been a major influence on subsequent theatre. Not only did Shakespeare create some of the most admired plays in Western literature, he also transformed English theatre by expanding expectations about what could be accomplished through characterisation, plot, action, language, and genre. His poetic artistry helped raise the status of popular theatre, permitting it to be admired by intellectuals as well as by those seeking pure entertainment.

Theatre was changing when Shakespeare first arrived in London in the late 1580s or early 1590s. Previously, the most common forms of popular English theatre were the Tudor morality plays. These plays, which blend piety with farce and slapstick, were allegories in which the characters are personified moral attributes who validate the virtues of Godly life by prompting the protagonist to choose such a life over evil. The characters and plot situations are symbolic rather than realistic. As a child, Shakespeare would likely have been exposed to this type of play (along with mystery plays and miracle plays). Meanwhile, at the universities, academic plays were being staged based on Roman closet dramas. These plays, often performed in Latin, used a more exact and academically respectable poetic style than the morality plays, but they were also more static, valuing lengthy speeches over physical action.

By the late 16th century, the popularity of morality and academic plays waned as the English Renaissance took hold, and playwrights like Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe began to revolutionise theatre. Their plays blended the old morality drama with academic theatre to produce a new secular form. The new drama had the poetic grandeur and philosophical depth of the academic play and the bawdy populism of the moralities. However, it was more ambiguous and complex in its meanings, and less concerned with simple moral allegories. Inspired by this new style, Shakespeare took these changes to a new level, creating plays that not only resonated on an emotional level with audiences but also explored and debated the basic elements of what it means to be human.

 

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