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Elizabethan Theatre

-called this in honour of the current Queen (Queen Elizabeth I)

-a period of great unrest in England concerning England’s official religion

-Queen Elizabeth declared that no plays could be about the current religious matters or portray current political figures

-”Master of Revels” was the offical censor of all plays

-the Queen had to approve all the plays that were performed in London

-Queen Elizabeth liked Shakespeare’s plays and gave him support and protection

Acting Companies and Theatre Owners

-theatres had to be licenced and acting companies had to be sponsored by a patron whose rank was no lower than a baron

-Shakespeare was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which was later known as the King’s Men

-playwrights wrote to depict life as it was and let the audiences draw their own conclusions – holding up a mirror to nature and entertaining

-performances started at 2:00 to make the most of daylight

-James Burbage created the first theatre in London in 1576, called “The Theatre”

-when Shakespeare moved to London, he met with Burbage and became a promptor, then he became an actor, and later he became Burbage’s star writer

-Richard and Cuthbart Burbage opened “The Globe Theatre” in 1599

-Shakespeare produced most of his plays in the Globe and became part owner

-Shakespeare was a very popular playwright in his day and other playwrights were jealous of his success

-after 1603, Shakespeare had to write plays that would please the new King James I of Scotland (one of these is Macbeth )

-James I made theatre more widely acceptable in English culture and he contributed greatly to Shakespeare’s sucess

The Theatre Itself

-theatres held 1500 – 3000 people

-sanitary conditions were poor and diseases could pass around in theatres

-theatre was not popular with local merchants because it took away from business

-the Globe burned down in 1613 during a production of Henry VIII, but then rebuilt in 1614

-the theatre was open air and the stage was usually bare

-actors usually tell us where they are and what time of day it is in their lines.

-the stage was a raised platform, it had a stage house behind the back wall to store props and for the actors to change their costumes if needed, and make entrances and exits from

-there was a balcony, called the “inner above” to be used if needed, but most of the action took place downstage

The Actors

-actors usually wore their own clothes unless they were portraying someone evil, royal, or female

-women were not allowed to perform on stage and so boys would perform all female parts

-boys were apprentised to the acting profession between the ages of 6 and 14

-actors would have to learn many parts of a play, since up to three different plays would be performed in the same week by a company

-acting was not a well respected profession at this time

The Closing of the Theatres

-theatre was popular until 1642 when the Puritans closed down all theatres

-Puritans believed that playhouses were evil because it had nothing to do with God

-the Restoration Period began in1660 with the instatement of King Charles II

Overview of an Elizabethan Outfit


“She must be stifling in that thing”


This is a listing of the main elements of Elizabethan costume. (By the term “Elizabethan”, I mean the dress worn by the English approximately during Queen Elizabeth’s reign (1560-1600). Each item is accompanied by a short definition and explanation accompanying each item as well as pointers to more detailed information elsewhere at this site.

Even when one doesn’t take into account the variations in style between 1550 and 1590, and the radical spectrum of fashion occurring between the middling poor and nobility, there is a bewildering variety in English Elizabethan womenswear–French gowns, round gowns, loose gowns, night gowns, doublets, Italian gowns, and Flemish and Polish gowns, just for starters. So this is a general listing, not a specific one, concentrating mainly on the under-clothing worn by middle- and upper- class Englishwomen in the latter half of the 16th century to create the Elizabethan silhouette.

Putting on an English Elizabethan gown is a complicated process, and when you include hair and makeup, can take half an hour or more.

? Any undies, stockings, shoes, earrings, etc. go on first. Dress your hair and do your makeup before starting; once you’re dressed, it’ll be nearly impossible. Although Elizabethan women didn’t wear underwear per se, they did wear stockings. These usually came to just above the knee, and were held in place by a garter at the top of the calf. See Knitting Period Stockings for more details.

There is evidence that Englishwomens’ shoes during Elizabethan times were usually thin-soled with leather soles, and had uppers of leather, velvet or other fabrics lined (by the nobility, at least) with scarlet , taffeta, or satin. They were for the most part simple, slipper-type shoes, cut low on the top and round-toed, although heeled shoes became more popular from the 1560s onward. For more information, here’s a site containing Patterns for Tudor Shoes.

To protect their shoes from the muck and mud of an average English street, women wore pattens, or chopines. Pattens were wooden soles, usually 1/2 to 1 inch thick, hinged at the ball of the foot with leather straps that were strapped on over the shoes, rather like sandals. Chopines, also called pantobles or mules, ranged from sturdy-soled shoes with heels to high, discoesque platforms.

Put on your Chemise/smock. This was a simple underdress worn to protect the clothing from sweat and body oils. It often had full sleeves gathered to a cuff, and either gathered to a neckband or fitted close to the chest, although examples exist of ungathered smocks. For more information on the history and variety of Elizabethan smocks, see the section on Elizabethan Smocks and Chemises

If you’re going to wear an under-petticoat under your farthingale to keep warm and to prevent any flashes of leg, put that on now. Petticoats were underskirts worn both for decoration (often an overskirt would be tucked up to display a pretty underskirt) and for warmth. Decorated petticoats were worn over a farthingale and bumroll (see the next two sections), but flannel under-petticoats are also documented as being worn underneath the farthingale. The tailors’ patterns of the time, and surviving petticoats and skirts, most commonly show slightly gored or flared pieces gathered or pleated to a waistband. For more information on petticoats, visit this page on Elizabethan Petticoats

Put on your farthingale/hoop skirt. The Spanish farthingale, worn from approximately 1540-1580, was a cone-shaped underskirt stiffened with willow osiers or other materials. The design for this farthingale was imported from Spain; hence the name . It was this undergarment which created the signature early Elizabethan A-line skirt . As the century waned, it gradually gave way to the French Farthingale, which had a different look altogether. For more info on the farthingale and its evolution throughout the Elizabethan era, look at the sections on the History of the Farthingale and Making Elizabethan Farthingales.

The corset/pair of bodies. This was a close-fitting stiffened garment, usually with a wooden busk down the front to make it flatter and stiffer. The pair of bodies, or some comparative type of stiffening, is essential for all middle class and upper class Elizabethan gowns; even if you have a beautiful bodice and sleeves, the period effect will be ruined by the torso’s natural lumps and bulges if you go without a corset, unless the bodice itself is heavily boned (in which case it is itself called a pair of bodies–you have to love period terminology). Look at the sections on the History of the Elizabethan Corset, Corset Materials, Corset Patterns and Sewing a Corset Together to find out more about this garment.

Put on your bumroll. The bumroll, worn by almost all Elizabethan women of any means, was a round, crescent-shaped pad that makes the skirt stick out like it should. Look at Making an Elizabethan Bumroll for more information.

If you have a partlet, this goes on now. The partlet was a curious item of clothing worn by Tudor and Elizabethan women which covered only the front and back chest and tied under the arms. Originally it was worn over a dress, but by the mid 16th century it was, for the most part, worn over the corset and under the bodice.

The petticoat/forepart/kirtle now goes on. This piece of clothing evolved from a separate dress under the gown, known as a kirtle in Tudor times. Although kirtles continued to be worn under dresses throughout Elizabeth’s reign, the term–and the kirtle itself–gradually came to signify a separate underskirt or petticoat, often elaborately decorated, as well as a dress entire. In time, the front section of the kirtle alone would be decorated; known as the forepart, this triangular section at the front of the petticoat/kirtle, which was sometimes detachable and often decorated to match the bodice or sleeves. Sometimes only the forepart was decorated, and the rest of the petticoat left plain. Check out this article on Elizabethan Petticoats.

The gown. The gown consisted of a skirt attached to a bodice, with sleeves sewn on or tied on with points. Some bodices had low, square necklines, while others covered the torso all the way up to the neck. most pictures and surviving items of clothing show them laced together or closed with hooks and eyes. Alternately, a woman could wear a doublet over her skirts. During the 1570s the skirt was often split in the front to show the decorative forepart underneath. bodices attached to front-split skirts fastened together at the front, and sometimes had a decorative stomacher pinned over the front fastening. Look at the bibliography for some good references on Elizabethan clothing.


Everyone has one. We were all brought up to be Christians of one sort or another.

The official established state religion is the Church of England. It is referred to as the new religion or the established church, but not yet as “C of E”. (Do not give in to the modern inclination to acronyms.)

Puritanism is not a separate religion, but a Calvinist attitude within the Anglican church. Puritans do not yet look like Pilgrims (see Comparative Religion).

Being a Roman Catholic is not a crime, but there is a fine for not conforming to the established religion; that is, for not going to Protestant services.

Paying the fine does not allow you to have a priest or practice the Catholic faith. There is no legal way for Catholics to practice their faith.

It is illegal to be a Catholic priest in England. It is very illegal to be a Jesuit.

A non-conforming Catholic is called a recusant (rec-YOU-zant) and is guilty of recusancy.

Everyone is required to attend an Anglican service once a month. The service is referred to as the Prayer Service, or the Prayer Book Service, and sometimes as Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.

Mass is a Catholic service only. It is illegal to hold or attend one at any time in the reign, though punishment varies. People of high rank are less likely to get in trouble.

Older people may still refer to the service as a Mass, but it is politically touchy. Reformers refer to the detestable enormities of the “Mass priests”.

The rosary is period in several forms, including the modern one, and used only by Catholics. The rosary cross usually does not include a corpus, or figure of Christ.

The figure may still be on the crucifix in the Anglican Church but not in any Puritan, Calvinist, etc., congregation.

The Protestants sometimes refer to Roman Catholics as Romanists. Catholics do not refer to themselves as Papists.

The term Puritan is common in period, although sometimes the word Precisionist is used.

The Pope published a writ (1570) absolving English Catholics from allegiance to the Queen, since she is (he says) a heretic. Anyone who kills her is pre-absolved from the sin of murder.

You can apply the term atheist to anyone who disagrees with you in religion. In usage, it does not entirely mean you believe that there is no God, but that you don’t believe in my God. Any heretic can be called an atheist. So can a Jew.

Comparative Religion: The Catholics

This is a selection only of the principal attributes of the Roman Catholic faith as understood in period. It is by no means complete, but in general covers the points on which the Lutherans and other Protestants disagree with Rome.

Salvation is gained through faith in God, the prayers of the Church, the grace of the sacraments, and doing good works. Good works include both acts of mercy and major church building projects.

Only the Church, through its priests, can interpret God’s will to Man. The laity do not read the Bible for themselves.

The source of the Church’s authority is Scripture, the divinely inspired writings of the Church Fathers, and an amorphous thing called Sacred Tradition.

The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Grace is conferred by a sacrament simply from your participation in it, and your faith in its power.

The Pope, as the rightful heir of St. Peter, is the head of the Church. He is considered to be infallible in matters of faith and morals, although this is not yet dogma.

There is a half-way point between Heaven and Hell called Purgatory, where a person’s sins are purged to make him worthy of Heaven. The prayers of the living can shorten a soul’s stay in Purgatory, so it is good to pray for the dead.

The saints were more virtuous than they needed to be to get into Heaven, so there is this reserve of leftover grace available. Drafts on this reserve are called indulgences, and they are for sale.

Worship is directed to God but prayers are often addressed to one of the saints. The saints are Mankind’s advocates before God the Father.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most revered holy personage who is not actually divine. The Mother of God is thought to be more compassionate than the sternly just Father.

All rituals, simple or elaborate, are carried out in Latin. Priests cannot marry, and are required to remain celibate.

Comparative Religion: The Church of England

Most of these basically Lutheran tenets apply to all Protestants. The Calvinist (”puritan”) refinements are presented further along.

Man’s wickedness is so great that no amount of good works could hope to atone for our sin. God, being all good, would not require something of us that is impossible. Therefore, the only thing necessary for salvation is believing in His Name (”justification by faith”).

The Church exists to guide but is not necessary for salvation. There is no need for priests to interpret God’s will. Supporting the Church, or denying the flesh, does not bring you closer to God. If you are united with Him at all, it is completely and absolutely.

The Roman church has corrupted the original doctrines and teachings of Christ and His Apostles for its own purpose, and no longer represents the true faith of Christ. The only source of religious authority is Scripture.

The two sacraments are Baptism and Holy Eucharist (Communion). The other so-called sacraments are worthy but not Scripturally justified.

No sacrament is efficacious without understanding and faith.

There is no principle of Papal authority: the Pope (or Antichrist) is just a man and subject to error. He is not the leader of the true church.

The doctrine of Purgatory is denied as being un-Scriptural. You go straight to Heaven or Hell, according to God’s judgment. Thus prayers for the dead, including Masses and purchased indulgences, are of no value.

The selling of indulgences is a particular vice because a) it is not in Scripture and b) it encourages sin. The Church cannot put divine forgiveness up for sale.

Your relation to God is not mediated by priests or saints, but is a personal acceptance of the message of Scripture. The Virgin Mary almost disappears from protestant consciousness, and the role of the saints is greatly diminished.

All rituals are performed in the vernacular. Rituals are less elaborate, although candles and bells are still in use.

Ministers can marry, although the Queen would prefer they did not.

More Comparative Religion: Calvinists

(Puritans, Huguenots, Presbyterians, etc.)

Refer to the Lutherans, then add…

Every one is predestined, according to God’s plan, to be saved or damned. No action on any one’s part can change this.

Those who already saved are called the Elect. Good works are an aspect of the behaviour expected of the Elect, but are not required for salvation. They are not Saved because they are virtuous; they are virtuous because they are Saved.

The prayers of priests are no more perfect, and no more important to God than others.

Testifying, or preaching and interpreting Scripture, is encouraged and expected of both ministers and the congregation.

The prayers of noblemen are no more valuable to God, either. Every man is equal in the sight of God. This is dangerously revolutionary thinking.

The rituals of the English church are still too Roman to suit the Puritans. They would prefer that candles, bells, saints and vestments of any kind be removed.

Certain evangelical preachers are even more radical. They also maintain:

? Scripture is not the only source of God’s truth.

? It is still possible for the Holy Spirit to speak through an individual. A man (or more rarely, a woman) can have personal revelations not only of the nature of God but about matters of daily life.

? While revelation is an intensely personal experience, the person so visited has an obligation to communicate his vision with the rest of the Christian community.

Masters & Servants


Grooms are generic household serving men; grooms of the stable, chamber, etc. Females of the same order are called maids or serving maids: of the kitchen, chamber, still room, etc.

Most of the servants in any household are men.

Personal attendant is a descriptive term, not a job title. In general, it separates everyone else’s personal servants (of all ranks) from household grooms and maids. (Never introduce anyone as “my P.A.”)

The term valet is in use in English as early as 1567. According to the OED, a valet is “a man-servant performing duties chiefly relating to the person of his master; a gentleman’s personal attendant.”

From ‘varlet’: the British pronunciation is (and almost certainly was) “VAL-ett”. Valet (val-AY) is a little too French, don’t y’think?

The most common term for the job is gentleman, manservant, or just man. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio refers to Romeo’s ever present servant as “his man”, as in “Romeo came not home tonight. I spoke with his man.”

Female equivalents are waiting gentlewoman or maid, depending on the rank of the relevant parties. A lady might refer to her gentlewoman or her maid. (Only the Queen has Ladies in Waiting.)

As a verb, say that you serve, or wait upon, or attend (but not “work for”) someone. Or that you are waited on or attended to by someone.

General Attitudes

Credit, or reputation, has to do with one’s personal dignity or honor. Frances Countess of Sussex once said (1588) “My credit is more to me than my life.”

A servant and master strive to do each other credit. As a noble, it is unbecoming to your dignity to carry your own shopping basket. As a noble’s servant, it is unbecoming to your dignity to let her.

As a noble, it befits your dignity to dress yourself and your servants well. As a servant, you do your master credit by looking and behaving well. Sir Thomas Smith said, “A gentleman should go like a gentleman.” People do not dress their servants in rags. (See Livery.)

Servants are not democrats. In general, they approve of the social order, just like their masters. And they intend to take advantage of it.

A servant in a fine house expects (if he is clever) to rise in the world, improve his fortunes, and create an even better place for his children. A stable groom might aspire to become butler or steward in the same or a greater house. The pot boy might hope one day to be chief cook.

Servants take money from anyone. They will accept a vail (tip) for any service rendered. (”Here’s a penny to drink my health.”) Or a douceur (sweetener) for favors requested. They expect to be vailed for delivering a gift or message. Their masters are aware of this, and do it themselves to other people’s servants.

It is not considered dishonest unless loyalties become confused and compromised.

The good servant, like a good waiter, is attentive. The best servant is a little bit psychic. He is there when you need him but never hovers. He finds some virtuous occupation when you disappear. He is neither lewd nor vain, but maintains a respectable countenance, to the credit of his master. He is modest but never craven, humble but never base, candid but not insolent.

The good master is proud but never despotic. He is patient, governing his household with fatherly care. He does not twist your sincere desire to serve into a sincere desire to punch him out. He lets you do your job. He maintains his superior station, as God has given it him, by honorable behavior, not by argument.

Ranks and Files

The ordinary ranking of the English Court, disregarding various offices, parents, patents, or orders of knighthood is as follows:

Men Women

Duke Duchess

Marquis (MAR-kwis) Marchioness (MAR-shon-ess)

Earl Countess

Viscount (vEYE-count) Viscountess (vEYE-count-ess)

Baron Baroness

Knight Knight’s lady

Royalty refers only to the monarch and his/her immediate family.

Nobility refers to peers and their families.

The peers are barons and above, and sit by right in the House of Lords.

Gentry refers to anyone gentle but untitled, usually descended from nobility.

Knights are not noble. They are knightly. Knights and peers’ sons may sit, by election or appointment, in the House of Commons.

An ordinary, undifferentiated knight is a Knight Bachelor.

Knight Banneret is an honour conferred on a man who distinguished himself on the battlefield in front of his monarch. It is a battlefield promotion which permits him to cut the tails off his pennon (making it a banner) and permits/requires him to lead a company of his own men under it. In Elizabeth’s reign, there are only three, including Sir Ralph Sadler.

Knights of the Garter outrank all the other knights.

Note: The rank of Baronet (an hereditary knighthood) does not exist until James I invents it as a money making scheme.

In 1558, there were no more than about 600 knights in the country.

Minors and women holding rank in their own right may not sit in the House of Lords. Minors must wait till they are old enough. A woman may send her eldest son “in her right,” when he comes of age.

Certain ecclesiastical titles are also ranked with the peers. Bishops have a rank equal to that of an Earl. Archbishops rank with the Dukes, and are addressed as Your Grace.

The Queen has little use for Churchmen, however, and seldom invites them ’round to dine.

Services and Occupations

You get… From the…

Books Stationer or bookseller

Cloth Mercer

Hats Milliner or Hatter

Suit of Clothes Tailor

Shirts/Smocks Seamstress

Ready made clothes Draper

Arrows Fletcher

Bows Bowyer

Horseshoes Farrier

Other iron work Blacksmith

Armor Armorer

A Portrait Limner

Legal Service Lawyer

Drugs etc. Apothecary

Dentistry Barber Surgeon

In town…

A Stapler Buys and sells raw wool; also silk and linen.

A Draper Deals in cloth (wholesale), plus some ready-made garments and dry goods.

A Mercer Is the cloth retailer: the local fabric store is a mercer’s shop. One may be a silk mercer or a wool mercer, for example.

On your own staff, your…

Man of Business Is your accountant, looks after your investments

Steward Oversees the running of your estates.

Factor Does business for you in London, or in another country.

Nurse Takes care of infants and young children.

Wet Nurse Breast feeds the baby (maybe as long as the first 2 years.)

Tutor Educates your children

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