Generally Elizabethan Period is considered as 1558-1603. The most famous play writers of this era were Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, and William Shakespeare. After the religious convulsions of half a century time was required for the development of the internal quiet and confidence from which a great literature could spring. At length, however, the hour grew ripe and there came the greatest outburst of creative energy in the whole history of English literature. Under Elizabeth’s wise guidance the prosperity and enthusiasm of the nation had raised to the highest pitch and London in particular was overflowing with vigorous life.
Several general characteristics of Elizabethan literature are as follows:
Firstly, the period has the great variety of almost unlimited creative force; it includes works of many kinds in both verse and prose, and ranges in spirit from the loftiest Platonic idealism or the most delightful romance to the level of very repulsive realism.
Secondly, it was mainly dominated, however, by the spirit of romance.
Thirdly, it was full also of the spirit of dramatic action, as befitted an age whose restless enterprise was eagerly extending itself to every quarter of the globe.
Fourthly, in style it often exhibits romantic luxuriance, which sometimes takes the form of elaborate affectations of which the favorite ‘conceit’ is only the most apparent.
Fifthly, it was in part a period of experimentation, when the proper material and limits of literary forms were being determined, oftentimes by means of false starts and grandiose failures. In particular, many efforts were made to give prolonged poetical treatment to many subjects essentially prosaic, for example to systems of theological or scientific thought, or to the geography of all England.
Sixthly, it continued to be largely influenced by the literature of Italy, and to a less degree by those of France and Spain.
Seventhly, the literary spirit was all-pervasive, and the authors were men (not yet women) of almost every class, from distinguished courtiers, like Raleigh and Sidney, to the company of hack writers, who starve in garrets and hung about the outskirts of the bustling taverns.
Eighthly, Elizabethan tragedy dealt with heroic themes, usually centering on a great personality who is destroyed by his own passion and ambition. The comedies often satirized the fops and gallants of society.
Ninthly, Elizabethan tragedies have Asides; Asides are brief comments spoken privately to another character or directly to the audience. They are not heard or noticed by the rest of the characters onstage.
Closely connected with the historical plays was the early development of Tragedy. But in the search for themes, the dramatists soon broke away from fact, and the whole range of imaginative narrative also was searched for tragic subjects. While the work of Seneca accounts to some extent for the prevalence of such features as ghosts and the motive of revenge, the form of Tragedy that Shakespeare developed from the experiments of men like Marlowe and Kyd was really a new and distinct type. Such classical restrictions as the unities of place and time, and the complete separation of comedy and tragedy, were discarded, and there resulted a series of plays which, while often marked by lack of restraint, of regular form, of unity of tone, yet gave a picture of human life as affected by sin and suffering which in its richness, its variety, and its imaginative exuberance has never been equaled.
In the field of comedy, Shakespeare’s supremacy is hardly less assured. From the nature of this kind of drama, we do not expect in it the depth of penetration into human motive or the call upon our profounder sympathies that we find in Tragedy; and the conventional happy ending of Comedy makes difficult the degree of truth to life that one expects in serious plays.