Summary: Culture Through the Elizabethan Era

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The Elizabethan era, or the Golden Age, began in 1558 when Queen Elizabeth took over the throne from Mary I; better known as Bloody Mary. The Elizabethan era was a time of change, growth and discovery. This era also brought the Renaissance, a French word for ‘rebirth’. People began to take an interest in the learning of ancient time, specifically ancient Greece and Rome.

The renaissance is often said to be the start of the modern age, where conditions gradually bettered. Daily life began to change as well. People were able to enjoy more luxuries such as nicer clothes and foods and the arts. The middle class developed, made up of merchants, artisans and craftsmen who could support themselves and avoid poverty. The typical dwelling of a poor farmer was a one room, thatched hut; whereas wealthier merchants could afford larger and more spacious homes. These homes, while relatively luxurious, would have been damp, cold and dark compared to the standards of today. Running water was scarce and bathrooms were virtually non- existent, flushing toilets only invented in 1596 by Queen Elizabeth’s cousin; Sir John Harrington.

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During the renaissance, creative story telling was on the rise, many plays being written and acted out in public markets or fencing yards. Although the public at the time couldn’t read or write, those who could (such as Shakespeare) would write these plays so that the illiterate could enjoy some form of entertainment. Music also became popular during the renaissance, however this music was usually improvised, and used mainly for storytelling. Genres also became popular for the first time; including folk music, religious song and lullabies and nursery rhymes for children. As well as music, this era also had dance, usually performed as a couple and were stylised courtly dances.

During the Elizabethan era, religious leaders often had a significant influence on government and other aspects of public and private life. In this time, the Catholic church grew in numbers and wealth. However, Christianity as a whole was still facing a decline from the bubonic plague in the early stages of the Renaissance. It is spectated that because of this, other philosophies like humanism became more popular. In 1559, the new government of Queen Elizabeth I passed a Royal Injunction that called for the removal of ‘all signs of superstition and idolatry’ from places of worship, ‘so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glasses, windows or elsewhere within their churches and houses’. Whitewashing movements, led by John Shakespeare, William’s father, warranted the removal of all Catholic bible depictions and art, leaving no community untouched.Most people in the Elizabethan era had jobs, but many of these were low paying. This meant that not many people had money left over. People who had talent, like William Shakespeare, made a good deal more money and provided they didn’t waste it, led lavish lives with a good home and food. This led to a great distinction between the poorer and upper class; extremes, where you either had money and lived the high life, or had no money and lived in poverty.

The typical woman during this era would stay at home and look after the house, cooking and the children. They had very few rights and were seen as servants to men, with proof against them that men were in fact superior. This meant that the husband was very much in charge of the house. The wife would also look after the finances as well as showing off her family’s wealth. Her main role was to look pretty beside her endearing husband and was expected to never even consider a career. Women who strayed or committed adultery were beaten harshly by their husband, who could and were often encouraged to do so- as long as they didn’t kill her.Food was an important part of Elizabethan England, out of the 382 proclamations made by the Queen, 200 of these were food related. A popular trademark of English households (if they could afford it) was the complete overuse of exotic spices such as turmeric. It was an accomplishment to obtain it, making the overuse more understandable. Another food famously eaten in large quantities was fish. The English population ate over 100 types of fish, including whale; and consumed over 2500 tonnes of fish each week.

Clothing was culturally important and exclusive to class. The upper class wore expensive fabrics such as silk, velvet and satin, as well as vibrant colours made from the blood of foreign insects. In contrast to this, the poorer classes wore simple clothes made of English cotton, fur and leather. The colours of these were often muted and plain, indicating it was far less expensive than that of their richer successors. Clothes, as well as architecture and food; were a form of showing off.

In 1576, the first theatre, known as The Globe, was built; being used to host plays and other events. Years later, the famous theatre was attracting more people than it could seat and was rebuilt to accommodate the growing masses, with another theatre, the Pope, built next door. 

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