Shakespeare’s Contemporaries: Other Plays on the English Renaissance Stage

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Everyone, it seems, has read Shakespeare–or knows enough about him to pretend they have.  But Shakespeare wasn’t the only one exploring the possibilities of the Renaissance stage.  Other playwrights whom we tend to overlook were creating works just as inventive and daring.  Below is a selection of some of the works that may have influenced or been influenced by Shakespeare.

The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd

Kyd’s play, believed to have influenced Hamlet,  brought the revenge play to the English Renaissance stage.  Its bloody plot shows the results of the death of Don Andrea in battle.  Don Andrea, guided by Revenge, watches as his friend is murdered to spur the events that will (hopefully) lead to the fall of the man who now woos his former lover.

Arden of Faversham by Anonymous

This anonymous play breaks tradition by presenting a character of lower birth as the protagonist of a tragedy.  Thomas Arden’s wife Alice  hires a series of murderers to dispose of her husband so she can be united with her lover–but somehow Thomas keeps escaping.

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Hoping to gain power and knowledge, Faustus sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for the services of a demon.  When his time on earth runs out, however, Faustus begins to wonder if the bargain was worth the price.

Edward II by Christopher Marlowe

Upon his rise to the throne, Edward II recalls his friend Gaveston from exile and heaps wealth and honor upon him.  The nobles, however, worry the king’s excess and favoritism will cause the country to fall into ruin.  But can the deposition of a king ever be justified?

Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II by Christopher Marlowe

Part I traces the rise of Tamburlaine, Scythian shepherd, to military and political prominence.  In Part II, Tamburlaine raises his sons to be new conquerors, but his pride may finally have tempted Fortune long enough.

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4 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Contemporaries: Other Plays on the English Renaissance Stage

  1. majoringinliterature says:

    Great list! Some of the very interesting playwrights of the Renaissance stage definitely tend to get overlooked because there’s so much focus on Shakespeare. Marlowe is a fascinating figure, and aside from Faustus, his play The Jew of Malta actually greatly influenced The Merchant of Venice. Thomas Middleton and Cyril Tourneur also wrote some very disturbing revenge tragedies, and Ben Jonson was also a very important playwright of the time, perhaps even more popular and well-respected than Shakespeare.


  2. shannonlburton10 says:

    Love this! I know that I myself in particular can sometimes get blinded by the fame of Shakespeare and ignore his contemporaries, so I really should check out some other English Renaissance playwrights. I’m really intrigued by Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy” as Hamlet is one of my favorite plays of all time. 🙂


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