Historical Context of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare- CSEC English B


Understanding the historical context helps to appreciate the nuances and references embedded in “Twelfth Night.” The play reflects the cultural and social characteristics of its time, including the festive traditions of Twelfth Night, the theatrical conventions of the Elizabethan stage, and the broader cultural influences of the Renaissance.

The Renaissance, meaning “rebirth” in French, was a period of cultural, artistic, and intellectual revival that spanned roughly from the 14th to the 17th century in Europe. This era marked a transition from the medieval to the modern world and had a profound impact on various aspects of society.

“Twelfth Night” was written by William Shakespeare around 1601-1602, during the late years of the Elizabethan era and the early years of the Jacobean era in England. To understand the historical context of the play, it’s important to consider the following factors:

  1. Elizabethan England:

    • Queen Elizabeth I ruled England from 1558 to 1603, a period known as the Elizabethan era. This was a time of relative stability and cultural flourishing in England.
    • The era was marked by a renewed interest in literature, theatre, and the arts. London, in particular, became a hub for the flourishing arts and entertainment scene.
    • Elizabeth I | Biography, Facts, Mother, & Death | Britannica
  2. Theatrical Environment:

    • “Twelfth Night” was likely performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors for which Shakespeare was a key playwright and actor.
    • The play was written for the traditional Elizabethan stage, which had a thrust stage and minimal set design. The actors relied on language, costumes, and minimal props to convey the story.
  3. Twelfth Night Celebrations:

    • The title “Twelfth Night” refers to the Christian feast of Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th. Traditionally, this marked the end of the Christmas season.
    • Twelfth Night was a time of revelry and festivity, characterized by masquerades, social disorder, and role reversals. It was a time when social norms were temporarily overturned, providing a festive backdrop for Shakespeare’s play.
  4. Political Climate:

    • Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, and James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne as James I, marking the beginning of the Jacobean era.
    • The political transition from Elizabethan to Jacobean England is reflected in the changing cultural and social dynamics of the time.

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