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Shakespeare's Times

...Book covers
were made of velvet and beautifully embroidered. The books in Elizabeth's library at Whitehall were bound in colored velvets, chiefly red. They bore her cypher and had clasps of gold and silver...

The Pageant of Elizabethan England by Elizabeth Burton

In reality, sonnets 1 thru 126 were written to a man. They might have been composed for the gentlemanon the left --Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. They were written in the months when the theaters were shut down because of the plague, and were dedicated to "his fair friend."

The Earl was also his patron at that time.

Elizabethans loved to dance... Click on the small picture Click to see the large versions

An interesting link to Elizabethan Male Costume

Hats were elaborate -- richly ornamented and embroidered. Married women wore them on the street and at home, unmarried women didn't. Men wore hats indoors too, and uncovered when the Queen entered or left a room. Early Elizabethan hats were tall steeple hats, or conical "copintakes" and the low-crowned wide-brimmed or unbrimmed hat was also very popular. The brimmed type was, in the next century, adopted by the Cavaliers. Hats were made of velvet, silk, taffeta, beaver and ermine. Coifs, hoods, cauls, and caps were also worn...

Men no less than women went in for elaborate and complicated dress and often wore a fortune on their backs. The whole point of the Ralegh story is that a man's cloak was frequently the most valuable part of his wardrobe, costing hundreds of pounds....

Another gentlemen, Robert Sidney, in a letter to John Harrington describes the dress he wore the day Elizabeth visited him....He was clad, he says, "in a rich band and collar of needlework, a dress of rich stuff and bravest-cut and fashioned with an underbody of silver and loops."

Men, almost as much as women, were given to the use of cosmetics, and were as vain about the cut and colour of a beard as they were about the cut and colour of doublet and hose. Harrison, in the middle of a "dry mock" on fashions in dress, drops in a "bitter taunt" or two about masculine beard- and hair-styles. "I say nothing of our heads" he remarks-with paralipsis worthy of Mark Antony--"which sometimes are polled, sometimes curled or suffered to grow at length like woman's locks, many times cut off, above or under the ears, round as by a wooden dish. Neither", says he, "will I meddle with our variety of beards" and then meddles delightfully. Some were "shaven from the chin like those of Turks"; others were cut short like that of Marquess Otto, or rounded like a "rubbing brush". Some had the "pique de vant", others were allowed to grow long. Barbers, on the whole, the parson says, were as cunning as tailors when it came to making a beard alter the shape of a face or cover some fancied facial defect. The long, lean, straight face could be made to look broad and large by a Marquess Otto cut. The owner of a 'platter-liken face need not be too unhappy, as a long narrow beard quite altered the flat, plate-like look. For the "weasel-becked", much hair left on the cheeks would make the owner look "big like a bowdled-hen and as grim as a goose.. These seem singularly unattractive alternatives; there can be little to choose between resembling a stoat or a barnyard fowl. Harrison, too, strikes the note that all this -- and all this included the wearing of earrings of gold set with stones and pearls -- is an offence to the Lord since men were attempting to amend the faces God gave them.

Shakespeare's Hotspur was impatient of the Elizabethan dandy. "Popinjays" he calls them and describes, for the benefit of Henry IV, how, after the battle of Holmedon when he was himself breathless, faint, dry with rage and toil

"Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress'd,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin, new reap'd
Showed like a stubble-land at harvest home;
He was perfumed like a milliner,
And 'twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box which ever and anon
He gave his nose..."

Excerpted from "The Pageant of Elizabethan England" by Elizabeth Burto

The theatre too was enormously popular, though it offended Puritans. Actors were often beautifully costumed, frequently because noblemen on their death left some of their clothes to their servants who made a profit by selling them to actors. Thus, a stage Lord might be clad in the expensive and ornate garments of a real, if defunct, Lord...

...The actor was a busy man with no time for elaborate rehearsing and, in an emergency, he could improvise at length. Italian actors were so brilliant at improvisation that provided they were given a story or plot they could make up the whole play as they went along.

Audiences, unsophisticated in their tastes, loved high-sounding words and long speeches. Heros had to be heros, villains villainous. Terror must be a real physical thing. Tragedy was not muted nor was comedy polite. Playwrights knew what audiences wanted and gave it to them in full measure. Plays were stuffed with long speeches, rhetoric, classical and mythological allusions.

Excerpted from "The Pageant of Elizabethan England" by Elizabeth Burton

Decorating Their Homes

...In fact the Elizabethans were really very like the Victorians in their passion for draping everything with something else--though of course their reasons were pleasure and ostentation, not prudery. Even that silly twin, Antipholus of Ephesus, in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Enon kept his ducats in a desk "Ucovered o'er with turkish tapestry".

In the homes of the rich, cushions, bankers, table and cupboard carpets, were of tapestry, silk or velvet. The less rich made do with painted cloths or leather, and even the poorest homes were not without a threadbare tablecloth.

Harrison, still full of wonder and admiration, says: "The walls of our houses on the inner sides ... be either hanged with tapestries or Arms work or painted cloths, wherein either diverse histories or herbs, or beasts, knots and such like are stained; or else they are ceiled with oak of our own, or wainscote brought out of the east countries whereby the rooms are ... made warm and much more close than otherwise they would be."

Plaster walls were often painted with a running design or with figure subjects rather crudely if colourfully executed. A good example was discovered about thirty years ago at Stratford on Avon. It shows the Story of Tobit, complete with explanatory notes, the odd, in-between spaces being filled with strange fruits, flowers and foliage in the manner of William Morris. All the characters in this apocryphal Old Testament story are handsomely dressed in early Elizabethan clothes, while fluted Italianate pilasters separate the scenes which have little more perspective than Chinese painting. Colour was also used on wainscotted walls and to pick out ornamental details. The framework of wainscotting was often painted a brilliant red with touches of blue and gold while the panels were often decorated with designs and sometimes landscapes; or, instead, pictures were pasted in the panels and then painted. It was an age of such colour that we, accustomed now to subtler tones, are positively assaulted by it when we see a bit restored to its original brilliance.

Jewel-like colours were also introduced into new houses through the big new windows which had such enormous areas for glazing that small panels of coloured glass were often let in. The arms of the family, scrolls, grotesques, Morris dancers, the inevitable strap-work, flowers, herbs and, loyally, the Royal Arms with supporters were often made up in coloured glass. There was some enamel-painting on glass too, while ventilation was afforded by ventilating squares of lead of a rather more restrained and geometric design; indeed, some of the clear-glass glazing- patterns were also almost reticent.

Rathgeb was absolutely stunned by the splendour and richness of the hangings at Hampton Court. On behalf of his master the Duke of Wiirttemberg--a rather tedious little man whose one ambition in life was to be given the Order of the Garter--he writes in his diary, "All apartments and rooms in this immensely large structure are hung with rich tapestry of pure gold and fine silks, so exceedingly beautiful and royally ornamented that it would hardly be possible to find more magnificent things of the kind in any other place. In particular, there is one apartment belonging to the Queen, in which she is accustomed to sit in state, costly beyond everything; the tapestries are garnished with gold, pearls and precious stones, one table-cover alone is valued at above fifty thousand crowns--not to mention the royal throne studded with very large diamonds, rubies, sapphires and the like that glitter among other precious stones and pearls as the sun among the stars."...

Shakespeare who wrote for the people of his own age, and who was always wise enough to write what was wanted, lets Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew describe the desired interior of the time when he catalogues his possessions in suing for Bianca's hand. Gremio's house was in Padua, but from the description it might have been any rich house in England

... my house within the city
Is richly furnished with plate and gold;
Basins and ewers to lave her dainty hands;
My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry;
In ivory coffers I have stuffed my crowns;
In Cypress chests my arras counterpoints,

Costly apparel, tents and canopies,
Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss'd with pearls,
Valance of Venice gold in needlework,
Pewter and brass and all things that belong
To house or housekeeping ...

Excerpted from "The Pageant of Elizabethan England" by Elizabeth Burton

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