Monday, 21 July 2014

5 Amusing Stories from Elizabethan England

1. Sense of humour. Level: Shakespeare

During one performance of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third, in which Richard Burbage plays the title role “a female member of the audience grows so smitten with Burbage that she urges him to come to her that same night. She tells him to knock on her door and announce himself as 'Richard the Third’. Shakespeare overhears their conversation and goes to the lady’s chamber first. When the appointed hour arrives, Burbage knocks on the door and announces that ‘Richard the Third’ has arrived – only to hear Shakespeare reply from within: William the Conqueror came before Richard the Third.”

2. Queen Elizabeth, too, was famous for her humour:

“One day the earl of Oxford breaks wind as he bows down in front of her. Mortified, he leaves court immediately and does not return for seven years. When he finally does come back, the queen greets him cheerfully with the quip, ‘My lord, I had forgotten for the fart.”

3. …speaking of Elizabeth, did you know that she is considered one of the ‘greatest patrons of fashion in history’?

By 1600, in her royal residence could be found that“she has 102 French gowns, 67 round gowns, 100 loose gowns, 126 kirtles, 136 foreparts, 125 petticoats, 96 cloaks, 85 doublets and 99 ‘robes’… Additionally she kept 2 robes, 26 French gowns, 14 round gowns, 27 loose gowns, 23 kirtles, 58 foreparts, 27 petticoats, 41 cloaks and 38 doublets at the Office of the wardrobe at Blackfriars.”

4. Many of the words that were used in Elizabethan England and are still used today, have changed their meanings. For instance:

The word ‘nice’ used to mean ‘exact’ or ‘accurate’; the word ‘cute’ means ‘sharp’, while ‘mean’ refers to something little or humble, e.g. ‘the meanest woman in town’ reflects on poverty. Also: ‘several’ meant ‘separate’; ‘ecstasy’ = ‘madness’; ‘cheap’ = ‘market’; ‘budget’ = ‘bag’, and so on…

5. A remarkable man of Elizabethan England has to be Sir Richard Grenville:

“In 1591, after fighting for a whole day single-handedly against a Spanish fleet, with forty men dead on deck, no gunpower left, gaping holes in the side of his ship and six feet of water in the hold, you might think he surrender. Nothing of the sort: Sir Richard vows to fight on, to the death.”

To learn all you need to know about Elizabethan England, and to read first-handedly all these stories and more: get your hands on The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer.

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