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Elizabethan Popular Culture

Leonard R. N. Ashley

Publication Year: 1988

Leonard R. N. Ashley delights readers with a collection of facts and folklore of the people of Queen Elizabeth I’s era. He describes sports and pastimes, religion and superstition, cooking, life in town and country, and the rising bourgeois class. In chapters titled as "Cakes and Ale," "The Playhouse and the Bearbaiting Pit," and "Hey nonny nonny," Ashley paints an enlightening portrait of a time made memorable by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

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pp. 1-3

Though I would not willingly be classed with Lyly for style, I may begin with one of that affected gentleman's sweeping bows and thank all those who have encouraged or assisted my labors on this anthology of Elizabethan popular culture. And I might add something of what Lyly puts in one of his prefaces, that to Euphues, ...

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London: The Chamber of the King

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pp. 4-11

Strangers often notice things that the locals miss (which is why the best book about America was written by Alexis de Tocqueville, who came, and saw, and caught us). These are travelers' reports of Elizabethan London. These tourists did, of course, see all the tourist sights, but sometimes they saw more of what ...

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City People and Country People

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pp. 12-27

The medieval practice of electing a Lord Mayor of London each year had, by Elizabeth's time, become one of the principal ways by which the rich merchants of the city's livery companies (or trade guilds) exercised some authority over the one-mile-square area of the ancient City of London. Even the Queen could not enter ...

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The Underclasses

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pp. 28-49

"There are cozeners abroad," says someone in The Winter's Tale, "therefore it behooves men to be wary." Many were the popular pamphlets that warned people of cozenage, cony-catching, the danger of being gulled. They were the beginning of a whole school of popular literature which is not extinct even in our day. ...

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Cakes and Ale

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pp. 50-71

The food of the Elizabethan was less like "stodge" than that the English are supposed to be sustained by today. In some ways Elizabethan food was far from bland; it was, in fact, rather spiced with the preservatives that The Crusades had brought. Tourists today recall the "English breakfast" of homely "bed and breakfast" ...

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Popular Reading

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pp. 72-115

Someone once said that he didn't care who wrote the nation's laws if he could write its songs. If by songs we mean all that we now call the media which form the public mind, then he had a point. In Elizabethan times the public was always ready (like some people The Bible mentions) to hear a new thing, ...

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Hey nonny nonny

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pp. 116-143

Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, an accomplished musician, is often mentioned as the composer of the tune, but the words of A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Greensleeves; to the Tune of Greensleeves were not published until 1584 and probably date from that decade. The word sonnet in this title is in the old sense ...

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From the Plays: An Age of Song

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pp. 144-159

Sometimes the songs in plays advanced the dramatic action (not so new an idea as you might imagine unless you believe the hyped histories of modern musicals). Sometimes they just set a mood or provided a break. We have omitted quoting from plays (selecting songs because these are briefer and also because the public ...

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The Playhouse and the Bearbaiting Pit

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pp. 160-177

Laurence, Lord Oliver has said acting, even in films, is respectable in America because Americans have a healthy respect for anything that makes good money. It is therefore necessary to translate a passage from medieval Latin (found in Sir Edmund K. Chambers' The Medieval Stage) so that Americans can appreciate ...

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Festivals and Celebrations

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pp. 178-189

The Maypole and other things of the Old Religion survived in a number of customs the full and original meaning of which many or most people may well have completely forgotten. The May Day celebrations were just one folk custom that still flourished in Elizabeth's time. Though a Virgin Queen, and far too old ...

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Love and Marriage

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pp. 190-199

Nora Epton in Love and the English (1960) pieces together useful information about wives in the Elizabethan period so expertly that perhaps we may be excused if we let her offer several items in our anthology, on the subject of love and marriage. She draws on the same sources we should have chosen ...

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Popular Belief and Reform in Religion

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pp. 200-227

It might be argued that the profoundest change in divine services in England in the Renaissance was the Protestant stress on hymn singing by the congregation. Many people rendered the psalms into verse. Here we see Thomas Sternhold (d. 1549) and John Hopkins (d. 1570) struggling with (for example) the word organum, ...

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pp. 228-239

Their search for power encouraged some to attempt (in the words of Marlowe's magnificent Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, based on the legends that had grown up around a real German student of the occult), "more than heavenly power permits." ...

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pp. 240-273

The Elizabethan schoolboy was still set to study the trivium of medieval scholars, here described by Thomas Wilson (c. 1525-1581) in his The Rule of Reason (1551), a book on rhetoric which, like his The Art of Rhetoric (first published 1553), was influential all through Elizabeth's reign: ...

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Sports and Games

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pp. 274-281

"In these islands sport is not a dissipation for idlers, it is a philosophy of life," wrote Price Collier. "They believe in it as a bulwark against effeminacy and decay." As the sport of archery in medieval times stood England in good stead in time of war and trained the bowmen who won some of the greatest battles abroad, ...

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Wise Sayings

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pp. 282-289

The Proverbs (1546) by John Heywood was the first printed collection of colloquial wisdom in England. It can be included here because it had as great influence on the common people of Elizabeth's time and was, in fact, reprinted in her reign (1562, 1598). Here are 50 of Heywood's proverbs that hit the nail on the head. ...

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Jests and Merry Tales

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pp. 290-305

It is said that when Ben Jonson asked Charles I for a square foot to be buried in in Westminster Abbey that is all he got. "He was buried in an upright position in order to take up no more space than he had bargained for," reports one writer. Another adds: "A certain Sir John Young, who happened to be in Westminster Abbey ...

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Elizabeth and Her Court

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pp. 306-316


E-ISBN-13: 9780879728755
Print-ISBN-13: 9780879724276

Publication Year: 1988