Elizabethan theatre is a general term covering the plays written and performed publicly in England during the reign (1558 - 1603) of Queen Elizabeth I. The term can be used more broadly to also include theatre of Elizabeth's immediate successors, James I and Charles I up to the mid seventeenth century.


Elizabethan theater derived from several sources. A crucial source was the mystery plays that were part of religious festivals in England and other parts of Europe during the Middle Ages. The mystery plays were complex retelling of biblical stories, originally performed in churches but later becoming more linked to the secular celebrations that grew up around religious festivals. Other sources include the morality plays that evolved out of the mysteries, the Commedia dell'arte and the elaborate masques frequently presented at court.