The commoners, however, had an ally in Elizabeth and her court. The leisured aristocratic classes had plenty of free time to fill, and most found plays delightful. Elizabeth was particularly fond of inviting theater companies to perform at her palaces during holidays, and these performances increased the theatre companies' repute. The dramatic presentations before the royal court became an important social event, and Elizabeth even proudly brought ministers from other countries to see them, in order to show off the achievements of English culture. Elizabeth, never the religious fanatic, refused to listen to the Mayor of London's claims that playwrights and actors were God's enemies. Yet the middle class never warmed to the theatre, and this gave playwrights a unique audience with which to contend: rather than writing for people of a continuous spectrum of backgrounds, they were writing for two groups separated by a huge gulf, the lower-class commoners and aristocracy. The plays thus have plots that could be appreciated by the relatively unschooled "groundlings," (those who could not afford real seats stood on the ground in front of the stage), but also are filled with allusions and literary references to delight the well-educated aristocracy of Elizabeth's court. This complexity of audience is part of the reason for the depth and complexity of the Elizabethan plays.

Edmund Spenser's poetry today seems a description of impossible fantasy scenes. However, a major inspiration for these faerie realms was the glittering splendor he saw in Elizabeth's court. We might also think that his emphasis on knights and jousting is another manifestation of fantasy; yet these, too, had their basis in Elizabeth's court: although gunpowder had put an end to the era of armored knights carrying lances on horseback in real battles, jousting and tournaments were much alive as forms of entertainment for Elizabeth and her aristocracy.

Popular pages: Queen Elizabeth I