Entertainment in Shakespeare's Time

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Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
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"Young and Old Come Forth to Play," in Elizabethan Life in Town and Country, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1961, pp. 240-56.

In the following essay, the critic provides a survey of typical Elizabethan-era pastimes and leisure activities. St. Clare Byrne discusses the wide variety of games, participatory and spectator sports, and social activities, including family gatherings, village fetes, and playgoing, in which a typical subject of Queen Elizabeth might have indulged.

The Elizabethan worked hard, and when he took a holiday he took it whole-heartedly, stretched his limbs and his lungs, feasted himself and entertained himself on a generous scale. He loved the riot and noise of Bartholomew Fair or its country equivalent, with its side-shows, its monsters, its fat women, its ballad-mongers, its gilt gingerbread, its hobby-horses, and its roast pig. He loved to gape at pasteboard and finery and fireworks; pageantry of all kinds delighted him, and he indulged at every opportunity in trials of strength and skill. He seized upon any excuse for a junketing: when his child was born he feasted his neighbours as lavishly as his means allowed; when the parish needed to raise funds for some particular purpose he brewed a noble quantity of good ale, and then retailed it to the surrounding villages. He danced at weddings, and ate heartily of the baked meats at a funeral; and, above all, whatever the occasion, he was ready to sing and make music with a zest and a mastery that his nation has never since been able to recapture. He had lost the holidays of the Roman Catholic calendar, but he had not lost the spirit of merry-making and his delight in festivals and foolish old customs. May Days and Church Ales, Cotswold Games and Lord Mayors' Shows still called him out into the open and relieved the tedium of the long work hours. High spirits had to find some outlet, and they found an extremely good one in the outdoor sports and pastimes of the age.

Games, as one would suppose, were inclined to be of a rough and strenuous description. The only thing to be urged in extenuation of the delight men took in the extremely brutal sports of bull- and bear-baiting and cock-fighting is the equal delight they took in breaking each other's bones in wrestling matches, and their heads at cudgel-play. Their cruelty to beasts does not appear excessive when compared, for instance, with the practical jokes they were accustomed to play upon their friends. The average Elizabethan was not sensitive to the spectacle of physical suffering, either in human beings or in animals; spiritually he was well developed in some directions, and hardly at all in others. Contemporary descriptions of such a game as football make it quite plain why James I refused to class it amongst those sports which he held to be commendable. Even Mulcaster, who believed that if properly played it would be conducive both to health and strength, has not (in 1581) a good word to say for it 'as it is now commonly used'—'with bursting of shins and breaking of legs, it be neither civil, neither worthy the name of any train to health'. [Philip] Stubbes calls it 'a friendly kind of fight ... a bloody and murdering practice', and describes what he had evidently seen for himself. His dislike is obviously increased by the fact that the game was often played upon Sundays. Even so, however, his account leaves us in no doubt of its extraordinarily rough and hazardous nature, and it is easy to see why the university authorities at Oxford banned it so firmly. 'Doth not everyone lie in wait for his adversary,' asks Stubbes, 'seeking to overthrow him, and to pitch him on the nose, though it be upon hard stones, in ditch or dale, in valley or hill, or what place soever it be, he careth not, so he have him down? And he that can serve the most of this fashion, he is counted the only fellow ... so that by this means sometimes their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, sometimes their legs, sometime their arms; sometime one part thrust out of joint, sometime another; sometime the noses gush out with blood, sometime their eyes start out.... But whosoever scapeth away the best goeth not scot free, but is either sore wounded, crazed and bruised, so that he dieth of it, or else scapeth very hardly; and no marvel, for they have the sleights to meet one betwixt two, to dash him against the heart with their elbows, to hit him under the short ribs with their griped fists, and with their knees to catch him upon the hip, and to pitch him on his neck, with a hundred such murdering devices.'

If football was hazardous in the extreme when played in this rough-and-tumble fashion, cudgel-play, wrestling, and broadsword encounters were equally likely to send their players home with bloody heads and broken limbs. The object in cudgel-play has always been to draw your antagonist's blood with a sharp rap on the head: the red streak down the face was the sign of the winning hit. Of the breaking of ribs in wrestling Touchstone bears witness when he comments on the sport as a spectacle not suited for ladies. Even Spenser's Calidore, the model of courtesy, when he engaged in a wrestling bout, 'almost brake' his opponent's neck. In all these games, however, the skill and strength displayed were of no mean order. The roughness of the play would be more in evidence at a village gathering or a match at a fair; as practiced, however, by such noble youths as Philip Sidney—who excelled at wrestling, running, shooting, swimming, and leaping—these games, though strenuous and at times dangerous, were not the least valuable side of the education of an Elizabethan gentleman. Even the timorous King James considered that running, jumping, wrestling, and fencing were sports suitable for princes, and groups them with hunting, archery, riding, and tennis as 'honourable and recommendable'. All of these, with such milder exercises as bowling, quoit-throwing, pall-mall, and skittles were popular throughout the reign—bowls, pall-mall, and fishing, in particular, being amusements practiced also by ladies. Upon such country games as leapfrog, blindman's buff, prisoners' base, and barley break there is no need to comment; with many others they were exactly the same as the games known by those names and still played by children.

If the weather kept him indoors when he was disposed to amuse himself the Elizabethan was much more likely to turn to some indoor game than to a book. There were not only various table and card games and dice, but a great number of forfeit games, guessing games, and parlour games of all kinds, many of which are still played by children. Chess was extremely popular, and more familiar to the average man and woman than it is today. The Faringdon inventory lists 'a chessboard with men and a silk bag to it', and Hengrave Hall had 'one chess board with a bag of leather for the men.' The Earl of Leicester had an ebony chess board, the chequers of crystal and other stones, inlaid with silver and garnished with bears and ragged staffs, the chessmen made of crystal and precious stones. Maw, cent (sant, saint), gleek and primero were all popular card games, with the last easily the favourite for gambling, both in the tavern and at Court. Socially, primero was the smart game, as bridge is in this century. The Queen, who also played chess and draughts, enjoyed a hand at primero, and Lord North's accounts note some of his gambling losses to her—at maw, £28; at primero, £33; end 'at play', on one occasion, £70. A delightful painting of four distinguished-looking elderly gentlemen playing primero is reproduced in Shakespeare's England (II, p. 427). Backgammon was very popular, and is always spoken of as 'tables'. Shovel board, draughts, and billiards were also played; and simple country folk amused themselves with such childish trifles as hot cockles, ninepins, shuttlecock, and handy-dandy.

Dancing was popular with all classes: the great danced in their long galleries and their stately dining halls, and the villagers danced upon the green. Elizabeth was an excellent dancer, and until the end of her life enjoyed watching the dancing at Court and taking part in it, both in private and on public occasions. In 1589 she would dance as many as six or seven galliards in a morning for exercise, and in her seventieth year, barely three months before her death, was able to dance a coranto. In 1597 she told the French ambassador, De Maisse, that in her youth she had danced very well, and sitting with her in a gallery, watching the dancing, he notes that she takes such pleasure in it 'that when her Maids dance she follows the cadence with her head, hand and foot. She rebukes them if they do not dance to her liking, and without doubt she is a mistress of the art, having learnt in the Italian manner to dance high'. Years before, Sir James Melville, when she inquired of him whether she danced better than the Queen of Scots, had ingeniously evaded the dilemma by replying that she 'danced more high and disposedly' than his own mistress, or as we might say, she was lighter on her feet in a galliard and a born dancer.

Court dances were quite different in style from the lively jigs, hornpipes, rounds and morris dances in which country folk disported themselves; but country dances were by no means unknown at Court, and seem, indeed, to have been the fashionable thing in the last years of the reign. In December 1599 Rowland Whyte wrote to Sir Robert Sidney, 'Her Majesty hath graced the dancing and plays with her own presence; and played at cards in the Presence at Primero, with the Lord Treasurer, Mr Secretary and the Lord North'; and on 5 January 1600 he reports that 'almost every night she is in the Presence to see the Ladies dance the old and new country dances with the tabor and pipe'. In September 1602 the Earl of Worcester notes that there was much dancing of country dances in the Privy Chamber. Normally, however, at Whitehall, Greenwich, Hampton Court and the other palaces, the great ladies and gentlemen 'trod a measure', slow, stately and dignified, or stepped the formal, processional pavane—ceremonious dances, well suited to the stiff and cumbrous fashions of the day. In these slow dances, as Lupold von Wedel noted in 1584, the older gentlemen took part, wearing gloves and putting on their hats for them although in the presence chamber. The pavane was the original danse noble, designed for princes and state dignitaries in their robes, composed entirely of walking and gliding steps in which the feet remained on the ground. This is the basse dance, as distinguished from the haute, such as the galliard, the cinquepace, the coranto, in which lively and brisk movements and leaping and running steps were introduced, and variations devised by the male partner were permitted. These latter were much brisker in pace, demanding considerable energy and lightness of foot, and much nearer in style to country dancing. The galliard, von Wedel noted, was danced by the younger courtiers, who laid aside their rapiers and cloaks for it and danced in doublet and hose. In later times it was attached to the pavane as a gay concluding movement. The cinquepace was a livelier form of the galliard: the coranto had the same steps as the pavane, but with running and jumping steps substituted for walking. The allemande was a processional dance in three parts. Each time the music stopped the dancers conversed with their partners, and the music for each movement was progressively quicker and livelier in mood, working up to a gay conclusion. The 'brawl' or bransle (branle) was a French dance, the ancestor of the seventeenth-century minuet. The volte or lavolta—so called from the high spring into the air which characterized it—was another form of the galliard, and is the dance depicted in a curious painting at Penshurst, which is supposed to represent the Queen dancing with Leicester.

In Elizabeth's time there were still a considerable number of popular festivals, some of them regularly kept up all over the country, others only in certain localities. Strove Tuesday afforded occasion to all and sundry for a final indulgence before the rigours of the Lenten season: pancake tossing, football, masquing, cockfighting and feasting enlivened the day for all save the Puritan. Easter was celebrated by sports of all kinds, and in some parts of the country, especially at Reading and Coventry, Hock Monday and Hock Tuesday were still observed—on the former day the men of the town would capture all the women and hold them to ransom, on the latter the women did the same to the men. The money thus collected went into the churchwardens' funds for charitable use.

On May Day town and country alike went a-maying.... 'All the young men and maids, old men and wives run gadding overnight to the woods, groves, hills and mountains, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes: and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch and branches of trees to deck their assemblies withal.' To Stubbes it was just an opportunity for licentiousness, but Stow, who was undeniably a serious man, suggests that there was another side to the old custom: 'On May morning in the morning every man ... would walk into the street, meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, praising God in their kind.' The chief ceremony of the day was the planting of the maypole. 'They have twenty or forty yoke of oxen,' says Stubbes, 'every ox having a sweet nosegay of flowers placed on the tip of his horns; and these oxen draw home this maypole ... which is covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round about with strings from the top to the bottom, and sometime painted with various colours, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And thus being reared up with handkerchiefs and flags hovering on the top, they strew the ground round about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer halls, bowers and arbours hard by it, and then fall they to dance about it....'

In most towns and villages ... the morris dancers and the hobby-horse enlivened the proceedings, and continued to do so throughout the next two reigns, 'May games' being amongst those pastimes stamped with the royal approval of both the first James and the first Charles....

When a parish wanted to raise funds for the repair of the church or the purchase of service books, or to meet some extraordinary charge, it would purchase or obtain by gift half a score or twenty quarters of malt which was then brewed into a very strong ale and sold to all comers [in a festival known as a Church Ale], often enough in the church itself. 'Then when ... this Huff cap ... is set abroach, well is he that can get the soonest to it and spend the most at it; for he that sitteth the closest to it and spends the most at it, he is counted the godliest man of all the rest.' It is not necessary to suppose that the whole village and all the neighbouring hamlets went home reeling drunk every night so long as the ale lasted. Many an Ale must have been a pleasant enough merrymaking, the young folks dancing on the green, the older people playing at bowls or watching while the more energetic ones disported themselves. Nevertheless it is easy to sympathize with Stubbes's objection to financing the national religion in this dubious manner; and the fact that towards the end of the reign the law began to suppress all Church Ales suggests that only too often they must have been the cause of a disgusting amount of drunkenness and of broils and troubles of all kinds.

Whit-Sunday in many parishes gave occasion for a Church Ale, and the following Tuesday was for some years associated in the west country with 'Captain' Robert Dover's famous Cotswold Games. Of Elizabethan origin, they lapsed towards the end of the reign and were revived by Dover after James's accession. The descriptions in Annalia Dubrensia give us a vivid idea of what such gatherings were like; there were coursing matches for greyhounds, running matches, cudgel-play, and


Abroad to jolly shepherds, bagpipes play,

Of whom, some leap, some wrastle for the day,

Some throw the sledge, and others spurn the bar.

August brought the harvest, and the end of a husbandman's year. To Nicholas Breton it is a 'merry time, wherein honest neighbours make good cheer', and he gives us a delightful picture of the country-side in this harvest month:

'The sun ... dries up the standing ponds ... now begin the gleaners to follow the corn-cart, and a little bread to a great deal of drink makes the traveller's dinner: the melon and the cucumber is now in request: and oil and vinegar give attendance on the sallet herbs ... the pipe and the tabor is now lustily set on work, and the lad and the lass will have no lead on their heels: the new wheat makes the gossip's cake, and the bride-cup is carried above the heads of the whole parish: the furmenty pot welcomes home the harvest cart, and the garland of flowers crowns the captain of the reapers.' Hentzner, too, gives us a pleasant glimpse of the 'harvest home'. As he and his companions were returning to their inn at Windsor, he tells us, 'We happened to meet some country people celebrating their harvest home; their last load of corn they crown with flowers ... men and women, men and maidservants, riding through the streets in the cart, shout as loud as they can till they arrive at the barn.'

September and October, when in the country 'the hogs are turned into the cornfields' and 'the flail and the fan fall to work in the barn', brought no festivity to the farmer or his men; but in November there was Hallowe'en with its seed cake, its ducking for apples, and other games for the countryman; and in London there was the Lord Mayor's Show, with all its elaborate pageantry, to delight the citizen and his prentice. The procession which still forms a part of the ceremonies pertaining to the installation of the Lord Mayor took place, as a rule, partly on land and partly on the Thames. The pageant Metropolis Coronata, put together by the dramatist Anthony Munday the year before Shakespeare's death, in honour of a Worshipful Draper, gives a good idea of what the show was like in Elizabethan times. In the morning the Lord Mayor-elect was rowed in his barge to Westminster, and was welcomed on the water by the first part of the pageant, consisting of a ship representing the Argo, in which were Jason and Medea with the golden fleece, and a sea-chariot shaped like a whale in which was the 'shade' of Sir Henry Fitz-Alwine, reputed the first Lord Mayor of London. Peals of ordnance and long speeches came next on the programme; and when the procession had transferred itself to land it took its way through the streets to St Paul's, accompanied by Neptune mounted upon a pellited lion, Father Thames upon a sea-horse, and a ram escorted by a carload of 'housewifly virgins sitting seriously employed in carding and spinning wool for cloth'. The Argo, meanwhile, had been beached and equipped with a wheeled trolley; it followed the ram, and was itself followed by 'the chariot of man's life', and London and her twelve daughters—the twelve great livery companies of the city. Last of all came a 'show' of Robin Hood and his green-clad huntsmen with their bows and arrows, carrying a newly-slain deer. The proceedings ended at night with a torchlight procession to escort the Lord Mayor to his own house. Then everybody went home to bed, the Argo and the chariots and the fancy dresses were put away until the next year, and the city went back to work, until Christmas with its Lord of Misrule brought to both town and country another opportunity for dressing up and holding revel....

Philip Stubbes ... has registered for us some of the most vivid pictures we possess of his countrymen at their popular amusements. To him a Lord of Misrule is almost the devil incarnate, and in consequence every stroke tells when he describes the revels of the lusty villagers:

'First of all the wild-heads of the parish ... choose them a grandcaptain of all mischief whom they enoble with the title of my "lord of Misrule" ... he chooseth forth twenty, forty, three score or a hundred lusty guts like to himself... then every one of these his men he investeth with his liveries of green, yellow or some other light wanton colour; and as though that were not (bawdy) gawdy enough ... they bedeck themselves with scarves, ribbons and laces, hanged all over with gold rings, precious stones and other jewels: this done, they tie about either leg twenty or forty bells, with rich handkerchiefs in their hands, and sometimes laid across over their shoulders and necks.... Thus all things set in order then have they their hobby-horses, dragons and other antics, together with their bawdy pipers and thundering drummers to strike up the devil's dance withal. Then march these heathen company towards the church and churchyard, their pipers piping, their drummers thundering, their stumps dancing, their bells jingling, their handkerchiefs swinging about their heads like madmen, their hobby-horses and other monsters skirmishing amongst the rout.' He has caught the very spirit and motion of the tireless, excited, dancing mob; its drums and its bells echo through the sentences, which have the insistent throb of the dance in their rhythm.

Such, then, were some of the pastimes and the festivals of the period, and they bring us at last, at the end of the year, to Christmas—Elizabethan England's only 'holiday season'—when, for about a fortnight, work was more or less suspended both in town and country, and all classes held high festival. Hospitality and entertainment were the order of the day. At Court, plays, masques, and s succeeded one another until Twelfth Night; there was merry-making and feasting in every great house; and in the country the farm workers expected to be allowed to enjoy themselves until Plough Monday, when after a final orgy they went back to hard work and simple fare for another year:


When Christmastide comes in like a Bride

With Holly and Ivy clad;

Twelve days in the year much mirth and good cheer

In every household is had.

Country 'housekeeping' was decaying, and great men were beginning to hold their Christmas celebrations in London, but according to one of the popular ballads the country had still the greater reputation for its Christmassing:


The Court in all state, Now opens her gate,

And bids a free welcome to most;

The City likewise, though somewhat precise,

Doth willingly part with her cost;

And yet by report, from City and Court,

The Country gets the day;

More liquor is spent, and better content,

To drive the cold winter away.

At Court the Master of the Revels was busy for weeks beforehand seeing performances by the different companies of players in order to select those who were to perform plays before the Queen during the festivities. It must have required upon his part the exercise of some discretion; the plays had to be carefully 'perused', and then if necessary 'reformed', anything 'not convenient to be showen before her Majesty' being deleted. Elaborate rehearsals were given, that the master might form a considered opinion, and then the selected companies proceeded with still further rehearsals of their amended plays. Other responsibilities, too, rested upon the shoulders of the Master and his subordinates: Court entertainments took place at night and would last till one in the morning; the Revels' office had to see to the hanging of enormous candelabra to light the hall; then the players' slender stocks of properties and apparel had to be eked out with assistance from the Revels' wardrobe, and anything of an elaborate nature had to be designed and manufactured. Meanwhile the Office of Works was busy with the seating arrangements and the erection of a stage; and the Revels, after seeing to such diverse matters as the censoring of the performances and the provision of thousands of candles, had—probably at the last moment, and in the person of some harassed subordinate—to remember to provide gloves for all the players. So the preparations for the Queen's Christmas went forward.

Plays, however, were not the only dramatic entertainment: for the Christmas season the masque was in considerable demand. This pleasant, social affair—a mixture of dance, song, disguising and dressing up, speech-making, and spectacle—had been peculiarly attached to the Christmas pleasures since the Middle Ages, although naturally enough it was also extremely popular for any festive occasion such as a wedding. The informality and the brilliance of the spectacle were its chief attractions; in the dance the guests mingled with the disguised performers during the larger part of the proceedings, and all the time the lights carried by their torch-bearing attendants gleamed and glanced upon the gay apparel, the satins and the spangles, of their elaborate and costly dresses. Cloth of gold or silver, and the finest fabrics, jewels, and glowing colour all helped to make of the masque the most spectacular of the courtly revelries.

In the country great lords out of favour at Court, or those who preferred the older fashion of life, might still see at Christmas-time the crude folk maskings and mummings from which the gorgeous shows of the Court had originally taken their rise:


To mask and to mum kind neighbours will come

With wassails of nut brown ale;

To drink and carouse to all in this house,

As merry as bucks in the pale;

Where cake, bread and cheese is brought for your fees

To make you the longer stay.

'Now capons and hens, besides turkeys, geese and ducks, besides beef and mutton, must all die for the great feast,' exclaims Breton: 'music must now be in tune or else never, the youth must dance and sing and the aged sit by the fire.' Cards and dice were everybody's game during the twelve days of Christmas. Even the children were included: Peregrine and Susan Bertie were given five shillings for 'play' on Christmas Day, 1561, when they were, respectively, six and seven years old. And after supper there was dancing for everyone:


... the youth must needs go dance,

First galliards; then larousse; and heidegy:

'Old lusty gallant'; 'all flowers of the bloom'

And then 'A hall!' for dancers must have room,

And to it then; with set and turn about,

Change sides and cross, and mince it like a hawk;

Backwards and forwards, take hands then, in and out, ...

And thus forsooth our dancing held us on

Till midnight full.

New Year's Day had its special ceremony of present giving, observed both by rich and poor. At Court everyone had a gift for the Queen, from great lords like Leicester to such humble officials as 'Smyth, Dustman'. On one occasion the former presented her with 'very fair jewel of gold, being a clock fully furnished with small diamonds and rubies: about the same are six bigger diamonds pointed, and a pendant of gold, diamonds and rubies, very small; and upon each side a lozenge diamond and an apple of gold enamelled green and russet'. In return the givers were presented by the Queen with a proportionate amount of gilt plate: Leicester had a hundred ounces every year, Smyth in return for his two bolts of cambric had twenty and one-eighth ounces. This exchange of gifts was observed by everyone: the country lass had a blue neckerchief for her sweetheart, and Peregrine and Susan Bertie received ten shillings each from their father. So the New Year was propitiously begun.

Having thus seen something of both the good and the bad aspects of Elizabethan amusements and holidays, it will be pleasant to conclude with some account of the part played in people's lives by all kinds of music. Until recently we have been apt, as a nation, to depreciate our own taste and skill in music, and to assume that our musical history is a blank. As a result of the work done by modern scholars upon Tudor music we are now just beginning to realize that in the sixteenth century we led the world; that in this art we were without peers, sent our teachers to Italy to impart their skill and their methods, and were looked to by the whole of Europe as the most musical of civilized nations. Our Elizabethan music, both vocal and instrumental, printed and in manuscript, is an enormous body of work that should be one of our proudest possessions, but that we are only just beginning to discover and appreciate. As Sir Henry Hadow has put it: 'It is not too much to say that our music in the sixteenth century was of as great account as our literature: Palestrina is like Dante, Byrd is like Shakespeare, and he had round him a company of wit and genius not inferior to that which foregathered at the Mermaid.'

Ordinary Elizabethan men and women felt ashamed if they could not take their part in the singing of a madrigal or accompany their songs upon the lute. Musical instruments and books of music were left lying about the room to solace the waiting guest much as the dentist today leaves Punch upon the table of his ante-room. An Elizabethan expected his visitor to pick up a music book and read an elaborate part-song for four or five voices and sing his part at sight; when the dinner was over he called for his music books, and he and his guests and his children and his servants sang then as probably no such haphazard gathering of ordinary folk has ever been able to sing since. The scene which closes the good citizen's dinner party in Hollyband's French Schoolemaister is typical; it is a scene in which he himself must frequently have taken part in the houses of the parents of his pupils:

'Roland, shall we have a song?' says the master of the house. 'Yes, sir,' replies Roland, 'where be your books of music, for they be the best corrected.' 'They be in my chest,' the master rejoins. 'Katherine, take the key of my closet; you shall find them in a little till at the left hand.' In a few moments, Katherine returns with 'fair songs at four parts', and then with David taking the bass, John the tenor, and James the treble the quartet sing a song by 'Master Edwards, master of the children of the Queen's Chapel ... a man of a good wit, and a good poet'.

I see no reason to accept the contention, made when this book was reprinted in 1934, that the singing of part-songs was not a normal Elizabethan accomplishment. We need only refer to R. Steele's Earliest English Music Printing to realize that a very considerable number of part-song and madrigal books were published between 1570 and 1600, and that this supply is obviously indicative of demand, which, in its turn, indicates facility. In 1575 letters patent were granted to Tallis and Byrd to print music for 'any and so many as they will of set song or songs in parts, either in English, Latin, French, Italian or other tongues that may serve for music in Church or chamber or otherwise to be played or sung'. In 1587 we find William Bathe boasting in his Brief Introduction to the Skill of Song that he habitually teaches people in less than a month. He is even prouder of having taught a child of eight in a month 'to sing a good number of songs, difficult crabbed songs, to sing at the first sight, to be so indifferent for all parts, alterations, cleves, flats and sharps, that he could sing a part of that kind, of which he never learned any song'. Most convincing of all, however, is Thomas Morley, in his Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practical Music (1597): 'Supper being ended and the Music books, according to the custom, being brought to the table: the mistress of the house presented me with a part, earnestly requesting me to sing. But when after many excuses, I protested that I could not: every one began to wonder. Yea, some whispered to others, demanding how I was brought up'.

The lute was undoubtedly the most popular instrument, and children began their lessons upon it at an early age. One was bought for six-year-old Peregrine and seven-year-old Susan Bertie, at a cost of forty-six shillings and eightpence. A lute was part of the furniture of a barber's shop; with it his waiting clients beguiled themselves, and entertained the lathered occupant of the chair. To the lute the gallant warbled his love-songs, and for it such musicians as John Dowland and Campion wrote their delightful 'Ayres'. Four lutes figure amongst the instruments included in the inventory of Sir Thomas Kitson's goods in 1603, with 'two luting books covered with leather'. At Hengrave he had 'a chamber where the musicians play', and the list of his musical instruments throws considerable light upon what Nerissa calls 'the music of the house' in a gentleman's establishment—six viols, six violins, a case of seven recorders, four cornets, a bandora, a cittern, two sackbuts, three hautboys, a curtall and a lysarden, two flutes, 'one great pair of double virginals', one pair of little virginals and 'one pair of great orgaynes' provided a remarkably full equipment for family music. He had over fifty song-books and collections of dance music. There were songs of four, five, six, seven and eight parts; six books of English songs of four, five and six parts; five books of pavanes, galliards, measures and country dances, five of levantoes and corrantoes, and another five containing 'one sett of Italyan fa-laes'. This notable Elizabethan music lover also showed his devotion to the art by supporting in his service the composer John Wilbye, who stands in the front rank of English madrigal writers, inferior only to the two greatest masters, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. However we may deplore the brutality of certain of his chosen pastimes such as bull- and bear-baiting, the Elizabethan undoubtedly had 'music in his soul'.

Byrne, M. St. Clare, "Young and Old Come Forth to Play," in Elizabethan Life in Town and Country, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1961, pp. 240-56. EXPLORING Shakespeare. Online Edition. Gale, 2003.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2115601429