Development of Jacobean Drama and Dramatists


Jacobean drama (i.e. the drama of the age of James-I <1603-1625>) was a dark form of the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

The Elizabethan age was the golden age of English drama. But with the turn of the century, the drama in English also took a turn. It does not mean that there were no dramatists left. There were certainly a large number of them, but none of them could come near Shakespeare.

“It was inevitable that the drama should decline after Shakespeare for the simple reason that there was no other great enough to fill his space.” (Long).

Decline of Jacobean Drama

After the turn of 16th century and the passing away of Elizabeth, the theatre continued to command popularity, although the Puritan opposition was stiffening.

But taste was changing: the audiences for stronger fare. The playwrights attempted to fulfil the desire of audience, but it lacked organic unity which a supreme art must possess.

In the Jacobean period, there was steep decline of drama. Following are the main reasons behind the decline of drama in this age:

Change of Patrons

In the Elizabethan period, the drama was patronised by the feudal lords, but from the time of the accession of James-I, dramatists depended on the king, the queen and the royal domination.

The dramatists wholly depended on the royal favour. In this way, the theatre was cut off from common life and no longer remained a national institution as it was in the time of Shakespeare.

The dramatists cared less for men in the street and women in the kitchen. They delighted the court.

While Beaumont and Fletcher were writing, the theatre was gradually losing its hold on the middle and lower classes. It marked the decline of drama.

Lack of Genius

After Shakespeare, there was no other dramatist who could fill his space which naturally marked the decline of Drama

Poor Characterisation

Lack of creative power in the art of characterisation was also one of the major causes. The dramatists repeated such characters as the cheats, bullies, gamblers etc.

In the place of Shakespeare’s immortal characters like heroes, heroines, villains & clowns (jokers).

Lack of Dramatic Technique

The decline could also be seen in dramatic technique. The dramatists could not maintain the ‘mighty line’ of Marlowe & their blank verse became weak & rapid.

Art of Plot Construction

In the art of plot-construction, with the exception of Ben Jonson’s “Volpone” and “The Alchemist” and “The White Devil” of Webster, we find the signs of decline.

Too often, plot-construction shows careless in detail and want of coherence. There are effective episodes but no structural growth.

Imbalance in Drama

The Shakespearian balance between romance and realism is poorly replaced either by narrow social activities or by romantic excess.

Opposition by Puritans

The Puritan opposition to drama is also responsible for the decline of drama during this age. Ever since the drama became popular in England, the Puritans waged a war against it.

They regarded drama and all forms of entertainment as the devil’s work, to be avoided by men and women.

Thus after the death of Shakespeare, the drama became to show signs of decline in morals, plot construction, characterisation and technique.

The spirit had passed in 1616 ; the corpse remained to be burnt and it was burnt 1642.


Although much of the dramatic work was composed during Shakespeare’s life-time, the most typical of the plays appeared after his death.

There were several great names, after Shakespeare, of English stage-Ben Jonson, Chapman Webster, Beaumont and Fletcher, Dekker, Middleton and many others. This gave to the English theatre, a glory of its own

Ben Jonson

He was the most prominent figure in the English drama after Shakespeare. He is known as the “First Great English Neo-Classic“. In the field of drama, he wrote both tragedies and comedies.

But his genius was felt in realistic social comedies, known as “Comedy of Manners“.

Best known comedies of Ben Jonson are “Everyman in his humour”, “Everyman out of his humour”, “The Silent Woman”, “The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair”. His tragedies: “Sejanus his Fall”, “Caliline: his Conspiracy”.

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Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher

The two dramatists met under leadership of Ben Jonson and soon became inseparable friends. They produced 52 plays. Their most important plays are “The Knight of the Burning Pestle”, “Philaster“, “The Maid’s tragedy”, “A King and No King”.

George Chapman

He was made famous by Keat’s Sonnet as the translator of Homer. He was rather a poet than a dramatist, but his dramatist qualities are no less significant. His best known works are:- “The Blind Beggar of Alexandria”, “The Admiral of France”, “All Fools”, “The gentleman Usher” etc.

Thomas Dekker

He was a loveable personality and possessed real qualities of a dramatist. He is called as “The Dickens of Elizabethan stage“. His best plays are “Old Fortunatus”, “The shoemaker’s Holiday”, “The Honest Whore” etc.

Thomas Heywood

He wrote maximum plays in his age. He worked in a variety of dramatic genres-historical, romantic, comedy of manners etc. But in case of domestic drama, he is unique.

He wrote about 228 plays. Lamb called him, “the prose Shakespeare”. His best plays are:- A Woman killed with Kindness“, “The English Traveler”, “Fair and of West” etc.

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John Webster

He wrote highly sensational tragedies. His important plays are:- “The White Devil“, “The Duchess of Malfi” (Buy now for Rs. 127/-) (his Masterpiece) etc.

Other playwrights of this age are Middleton, Tourneur etc.

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