While the Elizabethan era is all about, well, Queen Elizabeth I, we can certainly say that William Shakespeare is nearly synonymous with the time period as well. The prolific playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon showed up on the London theatre radar in the 1590s, and acted in his own plays quite often. Ironically, while we quote the man endlessly and praise him for such masterpieces as “Othello,” “Macbeth,” “The Merchant of Venice, ” and “Romeo and Juliet,” he basically plagarized the majority of his plots and ideas from others.
Shakespeare was a not-so-subtle part of the Tudor propaganda machine (and for good reason, because to insult the queen and her gang would have meant curtains for Will). In his productions, monarchs were chosen by God, Catholics were portrayed negatively, and Liz I’s ancestors were a force to be reckoned with and respected. After the queen’s death, Will kept the beat alive with “Henry VIII.” Unfortunately, it was during a 1613 performance of this play that a special effect lit fire to the Globe Theatre and burned the whole thing down.
We often envision Richard III as an evil hunchback because the Bard painted him as such. But there is no proof he was deformed in any way. And remember that Liz’s grandpa, Henry VII, saved the day by killing the king and taking the crown for his own, something Will wove into Elizabethan theatre as well. Nothing like your enemy reduced to pathetically bleating “my kingdom for a horse!” to make your own dynasty shine like a new penny.
By the late 1500s, England was in its glory at last. Shakespeare kept the country on its newly-mounted pedestal by buttering up the queen, having fun with the language, and making fun of foreigners. England’s Golden Age and all its hoopla certainly starred the Virgin Queen above all, but was in a way brought to you by William Shakespeare.