Jacobean Drama in English Literature: Characteristics, Themes, 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.”


The Decline of Jacobean Drama

After the turn of the 16th century and the passing away of Elizabeth, the theatre continued to command popularity, although the Puritan opposition was stiffening. But the taste was changing: the audience was for a stronger fare.

The playwrights attempted to fulfill the desire of the audience, but it lacked organic unity which a supreme art must possess. In the Jacobean period, there was a steep decline in drama. The following are the main reasons behind the decline of drama in this age:

Change of Patrons

In the Elizabethan period, drama was patronized 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 favor. 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 characterization 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” “The Alchemist” and “The White Devil” by 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, characterization, and technique. The spirit had passed in 1616; the corpse remained to be burnt and it was burnt in 1642.

Jacobean Dramatists

Read about Jacobean Dramatists