Renaissance writers

Uncover the fascinating, colourful lives of Renaissance writers including John Donne, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, and explore key features and themes in their groundbreaking plays and poetry.

Christopher Marlowe: the man, the myth and the mighty line

Christopher Marlowe: The man, the myth and the mighty line

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson looks at the infamous mysteries and controversies surrounding Christopher Marlowe's life, and celebrates the ambition, daring and skill of his work.

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‘Make me new’: the multiple reinventions of John Donne

‘Make me new’: the multiple reinventions of John Donne

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

John Donne's work includes passionate and explicit love poems and intense religious meditations. Andrew Dickson explores the poet's many identities, from Catholic child to Protestant adult, from womaniser to devoted husband, and from trainee lawyer, secretary and Member of Parliament to Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral.

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‘O Rare Ben Jonson!’

‘O Rare Ben Jonson!’

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Ben Jonson went from a classically educated schoolboy to an apprentice bricklayer and solider, before becoming one of the 17th-century's most eminent playwrights and poets. Andrew Dickson recounts Jonson's eventful life, and how his success was often marred by a difficult relationship with alcohol, with fellow playwrights and actors, and with theatre itself.

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An introduction to Doctor Faustus: ambiguity and duality

An introduction to Doctor Faustus: morality and sin

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong explore the ambiguities and dualities of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

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An introduction to Edward II

An introduction to Edward II

Article by:
Martin Wiggins

The complex portrayal of Edward II’s love for his male favourite Gaveston has fascinated audiences for centuries. Here Martin Wiggins discusses the play’s depiction of same-sex love, homophobia, power and tragedy.

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A close reading of The Flea

A close reading of 'The Flea'

Article by:
Aviva Dautch

The suitor in 'The Flea' enviously describes the creature that ‘sucks’ on his mistress’s skin and intermingles its fluids with hers. Here Aviva Dautch explores images of eroticism, death, guilt and innocence in John Donne's poem.

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John Donne and metaphysical poetry

John Donne and metaphysical poetry

Article by:
Michael Donkor

Michael Donkor explains what makes John Donne a metaphysical poet, and looks at the creative and distinctive ways in which Donne used metaphysical techniques.

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‘I am every dead thing’: John Donne and death

‘I am every dead thing’: John Donne and death

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson explores John Donne's fascination with death as a literary, philosophical and emotional subject, and examines its presence in his poetry and treatises.

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An introduction to The Alchemist: the artist and the con

An introduction to The Alchemist: the artist and the con

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong introduce Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, which combines self-conscious theatricality with sharp satire.

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An introduction to Volpone

An introduction to Volpone

Article by:
Sean McEvoy

Sean McEvoy explores Ben Jonson's Volpone, looking at Jonson's daring, unique brand of comedy and the play's treatment of money, greed and morality.

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Key features of Renaissance culture

Key features of Renaissance culture

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson follows the progress of the Renaissance through Europe, and examines the educational, religious, artistic and geographical developments that shaped culture during the period.

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An introduction to The Duchess of Malfi

An introduction to The Duchess of Malfi

Article by:
Michael Billington

Michael Billington explores the source material for The Duchess of Malfi and the play's reception over the last 200 years, and argues that Webster uses the tragedy to offer a vision of human existence as chaotic and unstable.

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The Duchess of Malfi and Renaissance women

The Duchess of Malfi and Renaissance women

Article by:
Dympna Callaghan

The Duchess of Malfi is an unusual central figure for a 17th-century tragedy not only because she is a woman, but also because, as a woman, she combines virtue with powerful sexual desire. Dympna Callaghan places Webster's character in the context of contemporary drama, politics and discourses about widows and female sexuality.

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Subversive theatre in Renaissance England

Subversive theatre in Renaissance England

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

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Further themes

Comedies

From cross dressing in Twelfth Night to magical storms in The Tempest; from deception in Much Ado to biting satire in The Alchemist, discover the beauty and complexity of Shakespearean and Renaissance comedies.

Tragedies

From Hamlet’s melancholy to Juliet’s eloquence; and from Othello’s misunderstanding to Doctor Faustus's damnation, discover the richness of Shakespearean and Renaissance tragedies.

Histories

From the staging of disability to the influence of Machiavelli, explore the history plays of Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers.

Shakespeare’s life and world

From the open air Globe to the candlelit Blackfriars; from countryside to city; and from noblemen to strangers, discover the world that shaped Shakespeare’s work and that influenced his legacy.

Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage

From courtship rituals to cross-dressing to love poetry, examine the ways in which Shakespeare and Renaissance writers explored identity, sexuality and gender roles.

Elizabethan England

Exploration and trade, crime and punishment, clothing and social structure: explore key aspects of Elizabethan life, culture and society.

Poetry

Discover close readings, critical interpretations and personal responses to Shakespeare’s sonnets, the poetry of John Donne and more.

Renaissance writers

Uncover the fascinating, colourful lives of Renaissance writers including John Donne, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, and explore key features and themes in their groundbreaking plays and poetry.

Ethnicity and identity

From Othello and Shylock to depictions of the ‘New World’ and anti-immigration riots, explore Shakespeare’s fascination with ethnic identity.

Power, politics and religion

A murdered king, a homeless ruler, a man who sells his soul to the Devil: discover how Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers represented power and powerlessness.

Global Shakespeare

Discover how Shakespeare’s work was influenced by other cultures, and how it’s been interpreted in nations across the world for 400 years.

Interpretations of ‘madness’

From Lear’s breakdown to Ophelia’s malady, examine the ways in which Shakespeare depicts ideas of ‘madness’.

Deception, drama and misunderstanding

Investigate the ways in which Shakespeare and Renaissance writers explore miscommunication, dishonesty, trickery and the nature of theatre.

Language, word play and text

Prose and verse, word play, neologisms and rhetoric: discover how Shakespeare and Renaissance writers developed innovative and experimental uses of language.

Magic, illusion and the supernatural

Mischievous fairies, monstrous apparitions and scheming witches: examine the ways in which Shakespeare and Renaissance writers played with the magical and supernatural.