OverviewEnglish Drama before Shakespeare surveys the range of dramatic activity in English up to 1590. The book challenges the traditional divisions between Medieval and Renaissance literature by showing that there was much continuity throughout this period, in spite of many innovations. The range of dramatic activity includes well-known features such as mystery cycles and the interludes, as well as comedy and tragedy. Para-dramatic activity such as the liturgical drama, royal entries and localised or parish drama is also covered. Many of the plays considered are anonymous, but a coherent, biographical view can be taken of the work of known dramatists such as John Heywood, John Bale, and Christopher Marlowe.
Peter Happé's study is based upon close reading of selected plays, especially from the mystery cycles and such Elizabethan works as Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. It takes account of contemporary research into dramatic form, performance (including some important recent revivals), dramatic sites and early theatre buildings, and the nature of early dramatic texts. Recent changes in outlook generated by the publication of the written records of early drama form part of the book's focus. There is an extensive bibliography covering social and political background, the lives and works of individual authors, and the development of theatrical ideas through the period. The book is aimed at undergraduates, as well as offering an overview for more advanced students and researchers in drama and in related fields of literature and cultural studies.