Posted by: admin November 15th, 2016

Topical issues of the day for Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience

Becoming aware of how all of the Italian plays seem to be dealing with issues that had a real topicality for their Elizabethan audience.

The Shrew: female equality in marriage. The marriage vow to "obey" your husband is being constantly challenged within society. Visitors from Catholic Europe describe England as "a paradise for wives".

The Merchant: the morality of lending money at interest. Emerging capitalism is creating a major philosophical break with the medieval past. For centuries the doctrine of the Church ( and by implication the state ) had been that making money by lending money was a mortal sin.
See "Religion and the Rise of Capitalism" by R.H. Tawney.

Romeo and Juliet: parental involvement in the choice of their child's marriage partner. The emergence of the right of the son or daughter to make their own decisions according to their feelings and without regard to dynastic, social or economic factors. Throughout Shakespeare we see 'Love' become the dominant motivator replacing old ideas of status.

Much Ado About Nothing: class and the idea of honour. The wealthy middle and merchant classes begin to challenge the moral authority of the aristocracy.

Comparing the four other Italian plays to Two Gents

So the Two Gentlemen could have been a hotly topical play in its time as it seems to begin to question the idea that male friendship is the highest form of relationship between human beings.
Richard Edwards 1564: "True friends should be two in body, but one in mind, as it were one transformed into another."
Another key theme in the play: metamorphosis.
The Arden editor ( William C. Carroll ) writes: ".... the relentless instability experienced by many of the figures in the play - the transformations of character, the shifting of allegiances, the erosion of resolve, the instability of language."
See Proteus in Act 5 Scene 4: 

" O heaven, were man
But constant, he were perfect. That one error
Fills him with faults, makes him run through all the sins."