QUEEN MARY I DIES; QUEEN ELIZABETH I ASCENDS THE THRONE
The Catholic Mary wanted to have a child in order to block her half-sister, the Protestant Elizabeth, from the throne. It didn’t happen. Elizabeth oversaw a flourishing of the arts during her reign, as well as a massive expansion of spying and the police state.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE BORN
Born in Canterbury, in the southeast of England. Attended Cambridge University, possibly worked as a government spy.
THE RED LION THEATRE OPENS
The first purpose-built theatre in London. A game changer.
BEN JONSON BORN
Born in London, Jonson left school early to work with his stepfather as a bricklayer. He began his writing career as a script doctor, polishing unfinished plays. Like Shakespeare, he never attended university.
THE THEATRE OPENS
The first venue in London with a resident theatre company business model. Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, performed there from 1594-7.
THE BLACKFRIARS THEATRE OPENS, FOR CHILDREN’S ACTING COMPANIES ONLY
This theatre was open for eight years and was the precursor to the second Blackfriars theatre, built in 1596 and finally occupied by Shakespeare’s company in 1608.
THE CURTAIN THEATRE OPENS
After losing their lease on the Theatre in 1597, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s company) moved to the nearby Curtain theatre. It was their home until 1599, when the Globe was built. Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and possibly even Henry V had their premieres at the Curtain.
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE COMPLETES HIS CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF THE WORLD
Stories of Drake’s travels would have provided inspiration for Shakespeare’s references to ‘exotic’ locales and circumnavigation, especially in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
THOMAS NORTH’S ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF PLUTARCH’S LIVES FIRST PUBLISHED
This book was a major source for Shakespeare’s history plays.
MACHIAVELLI’S THE PRINCE TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
Shakespeare probably read The Prince in an early translation. Machiavellian ideas can be found in the characters of Edmund (King Lear), Iago (Othello) and Richard Gloucester (later Richard III). In Coriolanus, Volumnia counsels her son to use deceit to achieve his political aims – straight out of Machiavelli’s playbook.
THE ROSE THEATRE OPENS
Built by famous early-modern theatre producer Philip Henslowe, the Rose was the first purpose-built theatre to stage a play by Shakespeare. Henry VI Part 1 and Titus Andronicus had their premieres at the Rose. The opening of the Globe in 1599 sent the Rose into decline and it was abandoned a few years later.
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS EXECUTED
Mary was the first cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth and mother of the future King James. She was executed by Elizabeth as a potential threat to her crown.
SPANISH ARMADA DEFEATED
Established England as a major military power. Elizabeth’s rousing speech to the troops at Tilbury was used by Shakespeare as inspiration for Henry V’s ‘Crispin’s Day’ speech, written about 10 years later.
MAJOR OUTBREAK OF PLAGUE – THEATRES CLOSED
Shakespeare wrote his major narrative poems, The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis, during this outbreak. He gained early fame as a celebrated poet.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE KILLED
Marlowe was killed aged 29 in a lodging house in Kent, purportedly during a fight over a bill. Conspiracy theories abound.
DR LOPEZ EXECUTED FOR ALLEGED PLOT TO POISON THE QUEEN
Lopez’s trial was poisoned by anti-Semitism. He was a convert to Christianity, but was never fully accepted at Elizabeth’s court. His last words were reportedly that he “loved the Queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ”. Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice a few years later.
THE ADMIRAL’S MEN ESTABLISHED UNDER PRODUCER PHILLIP HENSLOWE
The Admiral's Men were long-term rivals to Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
KING JAMES VI OF SCOTLAND‘S DAEMONOLOGIE FIRST PUBLISHED
Daemonologie was a book about witchcraft, and why witches should be exposed and persecuted. James would later succeed Elizabeth as England's monarch, and his obsession with witches fed into the writing of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
EAST INDIA COMPANY FOUNDED
The East India Company was founded to conduct trade in the Indian Ocean region. At one point the largest corporation in the world, the East India Company formed its own army and colonised much of India. England’s burgeoning colonisation impulse, and the subjugation of local populations, provides a backdrop for The Tempest.
THE FORTUNE THEATRE OPENS
Built by Philip Henslowe in response to the construction Globe Theatre. Henslowe wanted the Fortune to be bigger and more extravagant than the Globe in every way, to draw crowds to performances by his company, the Admiral’s Men.
QUEEN ELIZABETH I DIES; JAMES VI OF SCOTLAND BECOMES JAMES I OF ENGLAND
Elizabeth dies without an heir. James is her first cousin twice removed (the grandson of her first cousin James V of Scotland). The new King becomes patron of Shakespeare’s company – now known as The King’s Men.
MAJOR OUTBREAK OF PLAGUE
The new King’s coronation was held up as a result. Harsh lockdowns were instituted, and theatres closed.
THE FIRST ENGLISH DICTIONARY PUBLISHED: A TABLE ALPHABETICALL
The first attempt in English to standardise word spellings and definitions. This was a slim volume, quickly superceded by better dictionaries.
EDWARD DE VERE, EARL OF OXFORD, DIES
‘Oxfordians’ claim that de Vere in fact wrote Shakespeare’s plays. There are many arguments to refute that claim, including the fact that de Vere died before more than a dozen of the plays are known to have been written.
THE GUNPOWDER PLOT
A plot by Guy Fawkes and fellow conspirators to blow up parliament and kill the royal family. The plot was foiled, and references to it are found throughout Macbeth.
THE ACT TO RESTRAIN ABUSES OF PLAYERS CENSORSHIP LAW PASSED
A £10 fine was levied for each time an actor “jestingly or prophanely [spoke or used] the holy Name of God or of Christ Jesus, or of the Holy Ghost or of the Trinity”. This possibly impacted the publication of some of Shakespeare’s plays, with later versions showing ‘blasphemous’ references edited or cut entirely.
MAJOR OUTBREAK OF PLAGUE
Macbeth and King Lear were possibly both written during this time. Both are full of ‘disease’ metaphors.
FIRST ENGLISH COLONY IN AMERICA ESTABLISHED
Jamestown, Virginia (named after both King James and Queen Elizabeth, ‘the Virgin Queen’). Reports of various journeys to America served as inspiration for the story of The Tempest.
MAJOR OUTBREAK OF PLAGUE
Theatres were closed for over 60% of the time between 1603 and the end of Shakespeare’s career.
KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE PUBLISHED
The other major literary feat of the early modern period. Shakespeare didn’t write it. Or did he? Google ‘Psalm 46 Shakespeare’.
FIRST FOLIO PUBLISHED
The First Folio was collated by Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell. Among this collection of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays are 18 plays that would have been lost forever if the First Folio had not been published. These include notable plays such as Macbeth, The Tempest and Julius Caesar.
KING JAMES DIES; HIS SON, CHARLES I, ASCENDS THE THRONE
Charles I reigned until 1649, when he was tried and executed for treason by the English Parliament. England operated as a republic for the next 11 years. Charles’s son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660. Women were finally allowed to act on stage after the Restoration.