The years between 1500 and 1660 is widely known as the English Renaissance which saw a flowering of the arts, particularly within the dramatic field. William Shakespeare was, of course, the most notable figure to come out of this time. But he was not alone. Near the end of this grand period came James Shirley, the 10th great-grandfather of my aunt. He was a favorite of King Charles I and became the leading playwright for Queen Henrietta’s Men (the second leading acting troupe of the day, only behind the King’s Men for whom Shakespeare wrote.).
He was a prolific writer, credited with 37 tragedies, comedies, tragi-comedies and masques before his art was stymied by the times in which he lived. When the London theaters were closed in 1636 to prevent further spread of the plague, he moved to Dublin to become the dramatist for St. Werburgh’s Theatre. He moved back to London in 1640 but then Parliament again banned stage entertainment after the first English Civil War in 1642, citing the current “times of humiliation” and their incompatibility with “public stage-plays”, representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity.” Shirley turned to teaching and the publication of some educational works. Following the English Restoration in 1660, the ban was lifted but Shirley never again wrote for the stage… although many of his previously produced plays enjoyed a revival.
Shirley and his second wife suffered devastating loss during the Great Fire of London (1666) which led to both of them dying shortly thereafter due to fright and exposure.
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