Social And Economic Time Druing Shakespeare S Era
William Shakespeare lived in England during to great periods in history, the Renaissance and the Elizabethan era. The Renaissance was an influential cultural movement which brought about a period of scientific revolution and artistic transformation that spread all through out Europe, it marked the transitional period between the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the Modern Age (“Renaissance”). The Elizabethan Era was the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and is often considered to be a golden age in English history. It was during the end of the English Renaissance. During the end of the Middle Ages the old feudal system had crumbled due to the devastating effects of the black plague, society changed dramatically afterwards because of the loss of life. A new order of social classes rose: the food people ate changed, the cloths people wore changed, the entertainment changed. Economically guilds were being formed and many new trade routes were being established with the new technology in navigation.
There were four man social classes in the Renaissance and Elizabethan era Nobility, Gentry, Yeoman, and the Poor. The noble class was kept small as possible by Queen Elizabeth because she felt threatened by them. The Gentry consisted of people that were not noble but held the deeds to large amounts of land. The Yeoman also held deed to certain amount of land, but had a much smaller amount then the Gentry. At the bottom of the era were the Poor.
The Nobility class was considered the richest most powerful class under the king and queen. It was smaller because many men had died in battle during the War of the Roses. This lifestyle was brought about by one or two reasons: inheritance or by grant of a monarch. Nobles had the best dresses, food, homes and habits. They were expected to have an important job for their own expense. They had large amounts of input- many served as a council to Elizabeth. Many were also lieutenants and sheriffs (“Social classes in Shakespeare’s England”).
The next society level was the Gentry. This was one of the most important classes in the Elizabethan era. Many in this class were not born into it, but came about large amounts of property. Some women even were married into families in the gentry’s class. The upper level gentry tried to live like nobles, with big homes and servants. The Gentry were considered the backbone of this era. This is because they combined the wealth of the nobility with the energy of the peasants. Some of the Gentry served in parliament, and as peace justices. The upper level Gentry would boast of their families’ accomplishments and the lower gentry would brag of the way their families overcame the social classes. (“Social classes in Shakespeare’s England”).
The Yeomen were the third social class. This class consisted of small farmers that looked up to the Gentry and Nobles. The Yeomen were prosperous, but they decided to spend their money in different ways than the upper classes. Instead of attempting to buy the grand dresses and material things, they would buy or rent more land from the nobles. (“Social classes in Shakespeare’s England”).
Just like any other society the Poor was the lowest social class in the Renaissance and also the largest. It held the sick, disabled, the old and the soldiers unable to work because of wounds. Many of the poor were employed as farmers or other menial jobs. Many resorted to thievery to survive. (“Social classes in Shakespeare’s England”).
Besides social status the classes of people also differed in many other things like how and what they ate. Elizabethan royalty, the Upper Classes and Nobles would eat their food from silverware. Lower classes would eat their food from wooden or horn dishes. Every Elizabethan had their own knife. Spoons were rarely used as any liquid food, such as soups, was drunk from a cup. The kitchens in large houses or castles were usually situated some distance from the Great Hall and therefore food was generally served cold. (“Elizabethan Daily Meals”) The lower class mainly ate, bread, porridge, meat and drank beer because the water at was usually never sanitary. The upper classes differed considerably from the diet of the Lower Classes. The number of courses and variety of Elizabethan foods consumed by the Upper Classes included ingredients which were too expensive for the majority of English people. The Upper classes had a taste for spicy and also sweet foods and could afford the expensive spices and sugar required to create these exotic recipes.
The Elizabethan era time was a very fashion-conscious age, for both men and women a like. They strived to have their dress ornate, stylish, impressive, and attracting. However, this is not to say that the common workers were not influenced in their wardrobe by the high fashion standards of living. Queen Elizabeth, along with many others, believed that on should be able to determine a person’s rank by their clothing. More specifically by the fabrics and their colors, the sturdiness of an outfit and accessories of an outfit. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, a period of particularly cold weather hit England, known as the Little Ice Age. It was this weather that brought the need for clothing that to the modern day person would perceive as too hot and constraining (Signman 94). The basics outfit, from inner garments to the outer, working women would consist of: smocks, kirtle, bodice, and petticoats. The smock would be a shirt that would be knee or floor length. The kirtle was a fitted garment was very simple but would give the body a simple shape. The bodice was very close-fitting garments that was usually made of wool and meant to give the popular shape of the body. The petticoats themselves were wheel farthingales, which required a huge skirt that could cover over it. The petticoat was used to give shape to the skirt. Most working women however, would find this too constraining for their daily lives. So, as an alternative, they would layer several skirts on top of each other. An ordinary women’s wardrobe consisted of the colors brown, dark red, and gray, which were inexpensive and classified with the poor. For the wealthy women however, she would wear intensive colors, since they were difficult to produce, such as bright red and black. Besides color difference, wealthy women could wear a gown, the richest form of garment, and it took many forms. It was adorned with false sleeves and the skirt was often opened in the front, to display the contrasting skirts
The basic lower part of the male outfit changed a bit during the Elizabethan era time. The clothing themselves were made of wool, woven, and rather tight fitting by the standards of today. The “trunkhose” and “canions” were added to the outfits of well-dressed men. The “trunkhose” was a stuffed garment that extended from the waist to the tops of the thighs in an onion shape. The canions were tight fitting cylindrical extensions that reached from the bottom opening of the trunkhose to the top or bottom of the knees. The more fashionably conscience would also have pockets installed in them to place candy and little items inside (Singman 101). There were also “breeches,” which were trousers that reached to the knee. The upper body of the outfit didn’t change much during the time; it consisted of a short fitter jacket that was narrow to the waist, known as a doublet. A large portion of society wore this, but the materials varied. The poor had a coat instead that would be almost shapeless and tied at the waist while the rich men wore coats over theirs.
Although a large number of people were illiterate, books still provided entertainment to those who could afford it. Many popular books at the time were: The Voyage and Travaile of M. Caesar Frederick, The Merchant of Venice, Into the East India, and Most Excellent Booke to fin the Fatal Destiny of Every Man. A lot of plays were read at home as well. Some were “Marlowe’s Tamburland the Great”, “Dido Queen of Carthage”, “Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday”, “Pleasant comedy of Old Fortunatus”, and “Every Man in his Humour”. Later on, music sheets were printed and reproduced for the masses, which went to revolutionize the amateur music world of Shakespeare’s time. This only allowed for more dancing, although to some it was looked down upon; “seeing the you men take off their doublets and lifting their partners into the air. They saw it as ‘the horrible vice of pestiferous dancing…what kissing and bussing [more kissing], what smouching and slabbering one of another, what filthy groping and unclean handling is not practiced every where in these dancings?” (Picard 215). Surprisingly, during Shakespeare’s time, theaters, plays, and players were disapproved by the city. “In 1576 London’s first public theater was built–outside the city limits, to escape the stringent regulations imposed by hostile city authorities…by 1580’s such theaters had become a permanent fixture in London” (Singman 150). Nevertheless, theaters were packed. “In our assemblies at plays in London, you shall see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering” (Pritchard 188). It is estimated that 30 inches of legroom was allowed for the men and 24 for the women, dude to padding and the huge skirts. The playhouses themselves for the most part were shoebox shaped, which didn’t allow for as much of an audience as say, the Shakespeare’s Globe, but it didn’t need as much artificial lightly and has good acoustics, which allowed for the close audience to hear quite well. The women wear played by men because it wasn’t acceptable for women to perform.
Economically during the transition between the middle age into the Renaissance and Elizabethan era only two main things had changed. First, in towns and city’s guilds were becoming more common, a guild was a group of people with the same trade and skill that worked together to protect mutual interests and maintain standards of conduct (“Guild”). The guilds were made up of masters who where the experts in the profession, apprentices who were students learning the profession and journeymen who were above apprentices but not quite a master yet. Secondly with the new breakthroughs in science the during the renaissance shipbuilding improved as large ships called galleons became common. These ships were powered by sail rather than by men using oars. With galleons the nations were able to easily trade goods with one other and make money. The Atlantic trade had started to begin by the end of this era and so the slave trade. This type of economy based on trade was called mercantilism.