This chapter gives an overview of the development of closet tragedy in early modern England and its place in relation to the tragic genre. Rather than dramatising incidents, closet drama emphasises the reactions of the characters and the form often features lengthy rhetorical speeches abounding in devices such as apostrophe and stichomythia, along with a chorus. Although the form has often been dismissed as a rather inept protest movement against the perceived aesthetic lapses of the popular theatre, this chapter shows that the extent of this schism between the two forms has been exaggerated and that closet drama was fertile ground for generic experiments. Fulke Greville’s Mustapha, the first in a projected trilogy of political dramas, departs from the prevailing tradition in closet drama for dramatising episodes from ancient Roman history, focusing instead upon a sequence of events from the recent history of the Ottoman Empire, involving the sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, and thus sharing common ground with the so-called Turk plays which were enjoying considerable popularity in the commercial theatres. Greville’s play raises questions about the nature of tragic heroism and explores the opportunities and limitations of tragedy as a locus for political comment and generic experiments.
This collection of essays explores tragedy, the most versatile of Renaissance literary genres, revealing its astonishing thematic, stylistic and emotional range. Each chapter consists of a case study, offering not only a definition of a particular kind of Renaissance tragedy but also new research into an important example of that genre. There is only one chapter on Shakespeare; instead contributors attend to subgenres of tragedy – biblical tragedy and closet drama, for example – in which Shakespeare did not engage and others in which the nature of his influence is interrogated, producing original critical readings of individual plays which show how interventions in these subgenres can be mapped onto debates surrounding numerous important issues, including national identity, the nature of divine authority, early modern youth culture, gender and ethics, as well as questions relating to sovereignty and political intervention. The chapters also highlight the rich range of styles adopted by the early modern tragic dramatists and show how opportunely the genre as a whole is positioned for speaking truth to power. Collectively, these essays reassess the various sub-genres of Renaissance tragedy in ways which respond to the radical changes that have affected the critical landscape over the last few decades.