Elizabethan Age 1558-1603

Elizabethan Age
The Elizabethan Age
Most of Shakespeare's career unfolded during the
monarchy of Elizabeth I, the Great Virgin Queen from
whom the historical period of the Bard's (BARDpoet) life takes its name as the Elizabethan Age.
Elizabeth came to the throne under turbulent
circumstances in 1558 (before Shakespeare was
born) and ruled until 1603. Under her reign, not only
did England prosper as a rising commercial power at
the expense of Catholic Spain.
Crime and Punishment
Elizabethan England was split into two
classes - the Upper Class, (nobility and
courtiers) and everyone else! Punishment
would vary according to class. The Upper
class were well educated, wealthy and
associated with Royalty and high members of
the clergy
Upper Class Crimes
High Treason
Many crimes committed by commoners were
through sheer desperation and abject poverty.
The most common crimes were:
Cut purses
Dice coggers
Theft for stealing anything over 5 pence
resulted in hanging - a terrible price to pay for
poor people who were starving. Even such
small crimes such as stealing birds eggs could
result in the death sentence. Poaching at night
resulted in the punishment by death, whereas
poaching during the day time did not.
Begging was a serious crime during the
Elizabethan era. As their punishment beggars
would be beaten until they reached the stones
that marked the town parish boundary. Those
who were caught continually begging could be
sent to prison and even hanged as their
The Pillory and the Stocks
Ducking stools
The Wheel
Boiling in oil water or lead (usually reserved for poisoners )
Starvation in a public place
Cutting off various items of the anatomy - hands, ears etc
The Gossip's Bridle or the Brank
The Drunkards Cloak
People did not travel around a lot during the
Elizabethan era.
It was a crime to travel without a license. This
law ensured that the spread of disease,
especially the plague, was contained as much
as possible and that the poor and the homeless
did not travel from one village to another
Elizabethan Actors were treated with as much
suspicion as beggars. An actors standing in
Elizabethan England was only slightly higher
than a beggar or a thief! When plays started to
become more popular rich nobles, or high
ranking courtiers of the land, acted as their
sponsors. It was soon decreed that licenses
should be granted to legitimize certain Acting
Boys were educated to be literate members of
society. The language of literacy throughout
Europe was Latin, and students were expected
to be proficient in it. Boys started grammar
school at the age of six or seven. Their typical
school day ran from 6:00a.m. to 5:00p.m.
Classroom discipline was strict, and often
involved corporeal punishment.
Formal schooling was not encouraged for girls
unless they were the children of nobility. For
those who were educated, schooling focused
primarily on chastity and the skills of
housewifery. Young girls from wealthy families
were often placed in the households of
acquaintances where they would learn to read,
write, keep accounts, and manage a
household and estate.
Religion was central to the society for which
Shakespeare wrote. Queen Elizabeth made
attendance at Church of England services
mandatory, even though many church-goers had
to travel long distances. People who did not
attend—for any reason except illness—were
punished with fines.
The Sumptuary Laws -!
The Elizabethan Sumptuary Clothing Laws were
used to control behavior and to ensure that a
specific class structure was maintained! English
Sumptuary Laws governing the clothing that
Elizabethans wore were well known by all of the
English people. The penalties for violating
Sumptuary Laws could be harsh - fines, the loss
of property, title and even life!
Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses
Elizabethan Medicine was extremely basic in an
era when terrible illnesses such as the Bubonic
Plague (Black Death ) were killing nearly one
third of the population.
Just the sight of an Elizabethan Physician in his
strange clothing, especially the weird mask,
was enough to frighten anyone to death!
All of his body is completely covered from head
to foot, even his face by the ghastly mask.
Stout boots and gloves covered his hands and
feet. Elizabethan Physicians wore long dark
robes with pointed hoods, leather gloves,
boots, and the most bizarre masks featuring
long beaks which were filled with begamot oil.
Amulets of dried blood and ground-up
toads were worn at the waists of the
Elizabethan Physicians. It was their
custom to douse themselves with vinegar
and chew angelica before approaching a
Although this might sound pointless
today, these precautions would have
protected the Elizabethan Physician.
The bizarre and gruesome Physician
masks would have acted as
protection against contracting the
disease through breathing the same
air as the victim. Neither rats nor
fleas could easily penetrate these
There were open sewers in the streets which
were also filled with garbage. This was
occasionally removed and waste was dumped
into the nearest river such as the Thames.
Diseases were easily spread in this unsanitary
environment where fleas, lice and rats all
flourished. There was no running water, this
was obtained from water pumps ( a main cause
of the spread of typhoid ).
But the Physicians clothes probably saved his life
and prevented him contracting the illnesses and
diseases of his patients such as the plague and
typhoid. The underlying cause of many of the
Elizabethan illnesses was the lack of sanitation,
especially in large towns or cities such as
The Beliefs of the Elizabethan
Medicine was basic. Physicians had no idea
what caused the terrible illnesses and diseases.
Physicians paid attention to a patients bodily
fluids, called Humours, which explains the
reason why patients where subjected to
Elizabethan Medicine
Elizabethan medicines were basic, to say the
least. Letting blood was conducted by cupping
or leeches.
Bubonic Plague was treated by lancing the buboes
and applying a warm poultice of butter, onion and
garlic. Various other remedies were tried including
tobacco, arsenic, lily root and dried toad!
Head Pains were treated with sweet-smelling
herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay.
Stomach pains and sickness were treated with
wormwood, mint, and balm.
Lung problems given the medical treatment of
liquorice and comfrey.
Vinegar was widely used as a cleansing agent as it
was believed that it would kill disease.