Dr Sanders' book grew out of uneasiness over commonly accepted ways of talking about Elizabethan literature. Phrases like 'world picture', 'received ideas' are so easily used that we bypass important questions: A picture of whose word? Ideas received by whom? and in what way? The heart of Dr Sanders' book is a critical account of seven plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare (The Massacre at Paris, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, Dr Faustus, Richard II, Richard III and Macbeth). In his examination, Dr Sanders is at pains to analyse the nature of the intellectual and cultural environment in which the plays were written, to define the ways in which this environment influenced Marlowe and Shakespeare and thus to come to a full understanding of the manner in which a work of art can be simultaneously 'of an age' and 'for all time'.
'This long book achieves real consonance. In the discussion of the history-plays, and of Marlowe especially, it finally closes one chapter and opens another; the excellent studies of Doctor Faustus and of Macbeth must be read by all those who find criticism useful at all. This is an ipressive book, an example of the best that is nowadays done in its kind.' Modern Language Quarterly 'Mr Sanders writes intelligently, and his aim, to reconcile historical and purely critical approaches to the drama, is splendid.' Review of English Studies