In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section English Renaissance Drama

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Collections of Essays
  • Comprehensive Literary Histories
  • Intellectual, Social, and Political Background
  • Feminist Studies of Renaissance Drama
  • Politics, Religion, and Law
  • Literary and Theatrical Issues
  • Comedy
  • Tragicomedy
  • The Masque
  • Texts and Textual Studies

Renaissance and Reformation English Renaissance Drama
David Bevington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0051


The drama of Renaissance England was truly remarkable and not just because William Shakespeare wrote during that era. Among his colleagues as dramatists were Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, and John Webster, all of whom wrote plays of lasting greatness. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Edward II; Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy; Jonson’s Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair; Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and Women Beware Women; and Webster’s The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, to name only some of their accomplishments, are plays deserving of serious comparison with the best of Shakespeare. Then, too, the era produced such brilliant plays as Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changeling, Philip Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts, and John Ford’s The Broken Heart. Still other dramatists flourished, the most important of whom, such as John Lyly, Robert Greene, George Peele, and George Chapman, appear in the bibliographical lists below. All this happened within a span of roughly forty years, from the late 1580s to about 1630. Shakespeare, then, was not an isolated phenomenon; he thrived upon the intellectual excitement of the period, the extraordinary success of a popular theater able to accommodate large and eager audiences, the innovative growth of the English language, and the expanding consciousness of the English as a nation of people rediscovering their potential for cultural innovation. Today, Shakespeare is too often read outside of this context. The present bibliography explores the dimensions of an achievement in dramatic art the likes of which the world has seldom seen. Indeed, the phenomenal success of theater during the English Renaissance asks the question “Why did it occur then, and in that place?” The present entry is devoted to this remarkable achievement.


Bergeron 1972 and Ribner and Huffman 1978 are offered here as supplements to this entry for contributions through the 1970s. For more recent studies, see the annual Modern Language Association International Bibliography.

  • Bergeron, David M. Twentieth-Century Criticism of English Masques, Pageants, and Entertainments: 1558–1642. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 1972.

    Part of the series Checklists in the Humanities and Education. With separate chapters on Jonson and on Milton’s Comus as well as a supplement on folk-play and related forms.

  • Modern Language Association International Bibliography.

    Lists and indexes more than sixty-six thousand books and articles annually in all genres and periods; available online and in print.

  • Ribner, Irving, and Clifford C. Huffman. Tudor and Stuart Drama. 2d ed. Goldentree Bibliographies in Language and Literature. Arlington Heights, IL: AHM, 1978.

    With bibliographies on dramatic companies, critical and historical considerations, and the major dramatists, up to 1978.

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