The Elizabethan People/Chapter 8

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IT seems hardly necessary to say that gossip was then a matter of great indulgence. Not women so much as men were the prime spreaders of information by this process, and the barbershop, we learn repeatedly from the old plays, was the centre and source of most of the gossip. Fancy needle-work was a chief source of indoor amusement to women who would otherwise not occupy their idle hours. Flirting, too, should not be winked at as belonging to this division of our subject. So common was this habit, especially among the citizens' wives of London, that "sitting in the bay-window" was an expression synonymous with catching the eye of a passing gallant. Women were fond of pets, especially birds. Squirrels were sometimes led about at the end of a chain. We find an allusion to this custom in Lyly's Endymion.[1] "Fairholt informs us that the Tapestry of Nancy, found lining the tent of Charles the Bold, after his death at the siege of that place in 1476, contains a lady of rank seated with a favourite squirrel secured to her wrist by a chain."[2] From The Puritan[3] we learn that monkeys, parrots, and musk-rats were occasionally used as lady's pets. This was a habit not unrelated to the more masculine habit of love for captive wild animals. There was a famous menagerie at the Tower of London, and in many of the country houses wild animals were kept from time to time as objects of show.

It is only the authority of Erasmus that suggests classing the national custom of kissing among the indoor amusements of the time. In many respects the manners of the Elizabethans were, judged by modern standards, very free and unconventional. Between equals, kissing was a form of salutation as common as hand-shaking is to-day. A French lady thus addressed Cavendish: "'Forasmuch,' quoth she, 'as ye be an Englishman, whose custom it is in your country to kiss all ladies and gentlewomen without offence, and though it be not so in this realm, yet will I be so bold as to kiss you, and so shall all my maidens.'"[4]

"Item, when a foreigner or an inhabitant goes to a citizen's house on business, or is invited as a guest, and having entered therein, he is received by the master of the house, the lady, or the daughter, and by them welcomed (wilkommen heiset)—as it is termed in their language—he has even a right to take them by the arm and to kiss them (zu küssen), which is the custom of the country, and if any one does not do it, it is regarded and imputed as ignorance and ill-breeding on his part: the same custom is also observed in the Netherlands." (Written by Samuel Kiechel, 1585. See Rye, p. 90.)

"Another custom is observed there [England], which is when guests arrive at an inn, the hostess with all her family go out to meet and receive them; and the guests are required to kiss them all, and this among the English was the same as shaking hands among other nations."[5]

Erasmus in 1499 wrote a letter from England to his friend Fausto Andrelini, an Italian poet, exhorting him in a strain of playful levity to think no more of his gout, but to betake himself to England; for, he remarks, "here are girls with angels' faces, so kind and obliging that you would far prefer them to all your Muses. Besides, there is a custom here never to be sufficiently commended. Wherever you come, you are received with a kiss by all; when you take your leave, you are dismissed with kisses; you return, kisses are repeated. They come to visit you, kisses again; they leave you, kisses all round. Should they meet you anywhere, kisses in abundance: in fine, wherever you move, there is nothing but kisses."[6]

Rye (p. 225) quotes again from a letter by Chamberlain, 1625. "The Duchess of Richmond admitted him [at Ely house] with the proviso that he must not offer to kiss her; but what was wanting in herself was supplied in her attendants and followers, who were all kissed over twice in less than a quarter of an hour."

A kiss seems to have been the customary fee of a lady's partner in the dance:

I were unmannerly to take you out.
And not to kiss you."[7]

The other Elizabethan plays contain numerous allusions to the custom. In Arden of Feversham Alice, in order to convince her husband that his jealousy is unfounded, says that she had done no more than to kiss the object of their dispute. "What favour hast thou had more than a kiss at coming or departing from the town?"[8]

"Wife, give entertainment to our new acquaintance; your lips, wife; any woman may lend her lips without her husband's privity; it's all allowable."[9] It was a mark of favour to kiss another below one in rank (see Marlowe, Edward II., I. i. 140); and a liberty, in cases amounting to an insult, to kiss one of higher rank. (See Middleton, A Trick to Catch the Old One, II. ii. 327.)

The Elizabethans were very fond of practical jokes. They were resorted to upon all occasions, and with very little provocation. Tossing in a blanket, for instance, is mentioned in Satiromastix. Dun is in the Mire, a game of this sort, is often referred to in the contemporary plays. It is thus described by Gifford: "A log of wood is brought into the midst of the room: this is Dun, (the cart horse), and a cry is raised that he is stuck in the mire. Two of the company advance, either with or without ropes to draw him out. After repeated attempts, they find themselves unable to do it, and call for more assistance. The game continues till all the company take part in it, when Dun is extricated, of course; and the merriment arises from the awkward and affected efforts of the rustics to lift the log, and from sundry such contrivances to let the ends of it fall on one another's toes." Practical jokes of a more elaborate nature form the main substance of the plots of Twelfth Night, the Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Silent Woman, not to mention other well known plays.

The story-teller, especially in the country, was always in popular demand. It was a time when the common people of the rural districts read little. They would gather about the fire of a winter evening and listen credulously to the most outlandish stories of spirits, prodigies, and fairies. Desdemona was fond of hearing of "men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders." Even King Richard did not disdain to "Sit upon the ground And tell sad stories of the death of kings." Domestic servants often held their positions by virtue of their ability to tell a story with effect, a skill they utilised to amuse their master and his guests at meals. This personage merged into the professional story-teller, who was only a step removed from the juggler, the minstrel, and the musician—all common Elizabethan characters in both town and country.

There were in vogue a great number of parlour games such as are still played to-day. A Thing and Who Did It and Substantives and Adjectives are two such, fully described in Cynthia's Revels[10] The former is thus introduced by one of the players: "Why, I imagine a Thing done; Hedon thinks, who did it; Moria, with what it was done; Anaides, where it was done; Argurion, when it was done; Amorphus, for what cause it was done; you, Philautia, what followed upon the doing of it; and this gentleman, who should have done it better?" Then the thing is mentioned and each player must make good his answer already given in ignorance of the name of the thing. The latter game required each member of the circle to mention an adjective. Then some one suggested a substantive. It was then the duty of each player to explain how his adjective qualified the substantive. Thus:

"Arg. Humble!

"Pha. O yes, we must not deny It. And why barbarous, Hedon?

"Hed. Barbarous! because commonly, when you have worn your breeches sufficiently, you give them to your barber."

A number of games were played upon boards, some of which are elsewhere mentioned under dicing. The modern bagatelle was familiar under the name of Troll My Dame. A billiard table was a common piece of furniture. Shovel-board and Shove-groat were variations of the same game. The latter is described in the statutes of 33d Henry VIII. as a new game. The table necessary for shovel-board was an expensive piece of furniture. "It is remarkable," observes Dr. Ploot, "that in the hall at Chartley the shuffle-board table, though ten yards, one foot, and an inch long, is made up of about two hundred and sixty pieces, which are generally about eighteen inches long, some few only excepted, that are scarce a foot; which, being laid on longer boards for support underneath, are so accurately joined and glewed together, that no shuffle-board whatever is freer from rubbs or casting.”[11]

The mode of playing the game is thus described by Strutt: “At one end of the Shovel-board there is a line drawn across, parallel with the edge, and about three or four inches from it; at four feet distance from this line another is made, over which it is necessary for the weight to pass when it is thrown by the player, otherwise the go is not reckoned. The players stand at the end of the table, opposite to the two marks above mentioned, each of them having four flat weights of metal, which they shove from them, one at a time alternately: and the judgment of the play is, to give sufficient impetus to the weight to carry it beyond the mark nearest to the edge of the board, which requires great nicety, for if it be too strongly impelled, so as to fall from the table, and there is nothing to prevent it, into a trough placed underneath for its reception, the throw is not counted; if it hangs over the edge, without falling, three are reckoned towards the player’s game; if it lie between the line and the edge, without hanging over, it tells for two; if on the line, and not up to it, but over the first line, it counts for one. The game, when two play, is generally eleven, but the number is extended when four, or more, are jointly concerned.”[12]

Chess was frequently played by both men and women. It was a game so well known and understood by the people in general that technical allusion to its rules of play are introduced without stint into the contemporary plays. Middleton's A Game at Chess, a political satire, carries the idea of chess-playing throughout with far more fidelity than is observed in Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass. Its full appreciation must have required a knowledge of the game as complete and detailed as the average American audience possesses of base-ball.

A complete description of Elizabethan card games would fill a volume. The fantastic names of some of them have completely disappeared from our vocabulary: for instance, Tickle me Quickly, My Lady’s Hole, Whip her Jenny, Mack, Lodam, Post and Pair, etc. The most popular games, however, were Gleek, Maw, Noddy, and Primero—the latter above all the others.

Gleek was a game for three persons, requiring but forty-four cards. The two’s and three’s were thrown out of the pack. Each person received twelve cards, and eight were left upon the table. Seven of these could be bought by the players. The eighth, or turn up card, belonged to the dealer. The different cards had various nicknames. The ace of trumps was Tib, the knave, Tom, and the four, Tiddie. Each of these was paid for by the others to him who held it. The manner of counting was such that it involved upon occasion the payment of large multiples of the original stake. Thus, though a farthing or half penny was often the sum adventured, considerable money sometimes changed hands during a game. Some people, however, would not play for less than sixpence or a shilling; and a spendthrift in Greene’s Tu Quoque played for the high sum of half a crown. In the time of Ben Jonson, gleek seems to have been an extremely fashionable game. “Nor play with costermongers,” one says, “at Mum-chance, tray-trip—But keep the gallant’st company and the best games—Gleek and primero.”[13] The name gleek was applied to three cards of a sort. The laws of the game can be found in full in Wit’s Interpreter, 1662, p. 365.

Of the game maw very little is known beyond the fact of its popularity. Sir John Harrington,
Playing Cards. (From Strutt's 'Sports and Pastimes.').jpg

Playing Cards.
(From Strutt's " Sports and Pastimes.")

in one of his epigrams (IV. 12) speaks of heaving the maw. "This heaving," says Nares, "was clearly some grotesque bodily action performed in the game and deemed characteristic of it." Turberville, in his Book of Falconry, says:

"To checke at chesse, to heave at maw, at mack to pass the time,
At coses or at sort to sit, or set their rest at prime."

It was doubtless the "heaving" that made the game unsuitable for pedants and people of great dignity. "Yet in my opinion it were not fit for them [scholars] to play at stool-ball among wenches, nor at mumchance or maw, with idle loose companions."[14]

It has been conjectured that noddy is the same as cribbage. The identification, however, rests upon similarity of terms. In the same way it may be inferred to have been similar to several other games. Nothing is known of it beyond a few of its terms.

Primero was the game of cards par excellence. Gardiner relates that he left the king playing at primero with the Duke of Suffolk. Sir John Harrington speaks of "overwatching himself at primero." It was also in general use as a gambling game. "Primero, why I thought thou hadst not been so much gamester as to play at it.”[15] The following is one of the several quotations to be found in Nares:

“Each player had four cards dealt to him, one by one; the seven was the highest card in point of number that he could avail himself of, which counted for twenty-one; the six counted for eighteen, the five for fifteen, and ace for the same; but the two, the three, and the four for their respective points only. The knave of diamonds was commonly fixed upon for the quinola, which the player might make what card or suit he thought proper; if the cards were of different suits, the highest number was the primero [or prime]; but if they were all of one colour, he that held them won the flush.”

The common name for a deck of cards was a pair of cards. In Heywood's A Woman Killed With Kindness Frankford calls to the drawer to bring “A pair of cards . . . and a carpet to cover the table.” “Marry, I will allow you to sweat privately, and tear six or seven score pair of cards, be the damnation of some dozen or twenty bale of dice, etc.”[16]

Cards were in common use as an amusement for the assembled audience in the theatre before the play began. "Before the play begins," says Dekker to the Gallant in his Gull's Hornbook, "fall to cards; you may win or lose, as fencers do in a prize, and beat one another by confederacy, yet share the money when you meet at supper: notwithstanding, to gull the ragamuffins that stand gaping aloof at you, throw the cards, having first torn four or five of them, round about the stage, just upon the third sound, as though you had lost."

Dancing was a favourite amusement for all, and a necessary accomplishment for the well bred. Dancing was extremely popular at court, the queen herself being a good dancer and very fond of the amusement. It is common tradition that Sir Christopher Hatton owed his advancement to his pleasing skill in this accomplishment. Whether the tradition is true or not, all who would appear well at court spent much time in learning to fashion their steps. Like card games, many of the old dances have gone altogether out of fashion. A list of dances taken from the old plays would include many names that were also the names of tunes which were sung by the dancer to accompany his steps. The following are mentioned in Heywood's A Woman Killed With Kindness: Rogero, Beginning of the World, John Come Kiss Me Now, Cushion Dance, Tom Tyler, Hunting of the Fox, Hay, Put on Your Smock a' Monday, and Sellinger's Round.

It is hardly necessary to do more than to enumerate the most characteristic dances of the time. Antic was generally applied to any kind of grotesque dancing, made so either by boisterous behaviour or monstrous masquerade. The brawl was a wild sort of dance that seems, from the following couplet, to have been a rough imitation of a battle:

"'Tis a French brawl, an apish imitation
Of what you really perform in battle."[17]

A special form of this dance, called the French brawl, is thus alluded to in Good Fellows, a ballad published in 1569:

"Good fellows must go learn to dance
 The brydeal is full near-a;
There is a brail come out of France,
 The fyrst ye heard this year-a."

Marston's Malcontent gives the following description of Bianca's brawl, a quotation not inserted wholly on account of its lucidity: "Why, 'tis but two singles on the left, two on the right, three doubles forward, a traverse of six round: do this twice, three singles side, galliard trick of twenty, curranto pace; a figure of eight, three singles broken down, come up, meet two doubles, fall back, and then honour."[18]

The canary was a quick and lively dance. "A lady is taken out by a gentleman, and after dancing together to the cadences of the proper air, he leads her to the end of the hall; this done, he retreats back to the original spot, always looking at the lady. Then he makes up to her again, with certain steps, and retreats as before. His partner performs the same ceremony, which is several times repeated by both parties, with various strange fantastic steps, very much in the savage style."[19] The galliard was another similar dance with much leaping and capering among the steps. A third dance of this nimble character was the lavolta, to which Sir John Davies devotes the following lines:

"Yet there is one the most delightful kind,
 A lofty jumping, or a leaping round,
Where arm in arm two dancers are entwined,
And whirl themselves, with strict embracements bound;
 And still their feet an anapest do sound.
An anapest is all their music's song,
Whose first two feet are short, and third is long."[20]

The two slow and dignified dances most in vogue were the pavin and the measure. "The pavin, from pavo a pea-cock, is a grave and majestic dance. The method of dancing it was anciently by gentlemen dressed with a cap and sword, by those of the long robe in their gowns, by princes in their mantles, and by ladies with gowns with long trains, the motion whereof in the dance resembled that of a pea-cock's tail. This dance is supposed to have been invented by the Spaniards."[21] "The pavin," adds Drake, "was rendered still more grave by the introduction of the passamezzo air, which obliged the dancers after making several steps round the room, to cross it in the middle in a slow step, or cinque pace."[22]

There is an interesting passage in Middleton's Women Beware Women (iii. 2) concerning certain dances as danced by certain people.

"Plain men dance the measures, the sinquapace the gay;
Cuckolds dance the hornpipe, and farmers dance the hay:
Your soldiers dance the round, and maidens that grow big;
Your drunkards the canaries; your whore and bawd the jig.
Here's your eight kinds of dancers; he that finds
The ninth let him pay the minstrels."

Dancing was the usual amusement to follow a banquet. On such occasions the hall was cleared by turning the tables up, that is, laying the tops and trestles of the dining tables against the wall. "A hall, a hall!" is the cry generally met with in the old plays as the sign for this preliminary. Unless they were dancing the measure, or the equally slow and dignified pavin, it was customary for the men dancers to unhasp their swords and to give them to a page or to one of the torchbearers. Prizes were frequently given at the end of an evening's dancing for the best dancer among the women, much as prizes are given at card parties to-day. Cavendish alludes to this habit. "And after supper and the banquet finished, the ladies and gentlemen went to dancing: among whom one Madam Fountaine, a maid, had the prize."[23]

Elsewhere in the present volume something is said about the special kinds of cozenage so much more prevalent then than now in England. Here, however, is a more suitable place to speak of the almost universal custom of dice play and gambling. The following tirade dates from 1586:

"But there are in the bowels of this famous citie [London], farre more dangerous plays, and little reprehended: that wicked plays of the dice, first invented by the devil, (as Cornelius Agrippa Wryteth,) and frequented by unhappy men: the detestable roote, upon which a thousand villainies grow.

"The nurses of thease (worse than heathenysh) hellish exercises are places called ordinary tables: of which there are in London, more in nomber to honour the devyll, than churches to serve the living God.

"I constantly determine to crosse the streets, where these vile houses (ordinaries) are planted, to bless me from the inticements of them, which in very deed are many, and the more dangerous in that they please with a vain hope of gain. Insomuch on a time, I heard a distemperate dicer solemnly sweare that he faithfully beleeved, that dice were first made of the bones of a witch, and cards of her skin, in which there hath ever sithence remained an enchantment that whosoever once taketh delight in either, he shall never have power utterly to leave them for, quoth he, I a hundred times vowed to leave both, yet have not the grace to forsake either."[24]

The casual allusions contained in the old plays to the thriftless indulgence in gaming by people of all classes are innumerable. In Middleton's Your Five Gallants (iv. 1) there is a reference to one who staked away the very clothes on his back. The same stake is referred to again in Heywood's Wise Woman of Hogsden (i. 1). "Cloak, band, rapier, all lost at dice!" exclaims one of the characters in Middleton's Spanish Gipsy (ii. 2).

Not only was dicing common, but cheating at dice so frequent as to give rise to the proverbial expressions "false as dice," and "false as dicers' oaths." An anonymous manuscript of the time of James I. tells the following typical story: "Sir William Herbert, playing at dice with another gentleman, there rose some question about a cast. Sir William's antagonist declared it was a four and a five; he as positively insisted that it was a five and a six; the other then swore with a bitter imprecation that it was as he had said; Sir William then replied, 'Thou are a perjured knave; for give me a sixpence, and if there be a four upon the dice, I will return you a thousand pounds;" at which the other was presently abashed, for indeed the dice were false, and of a high cut, without a four."[25] Indeed there were many kinds of false dice. Some were unevenly cut, others were hollow, and some were loaded by setting in pieces of lead upon one side. The Percy Society has published A Manifest Detection of the Most Vile and Detestable Use of Dice Play, where a full description of methods of cheating at play is given.

The dice were usually made of bone. It was not uncommon, however, to make them of ivory. Occasionally even precious metals were used as the material for a "Bale of dice," the usual term for a pair. We learn from Holinshed's history[26] that the wife of Arden of Feversham sent her paramour Mosbie a pair of silver dice as a present to patch up a quarrel. In and In, Backgammon, Tick Tack, Tables, Passage, and Hazard, were the popular dice games. The latter, which was one of the games played upon a board, was, perhaps, the most popular of all games in taverns and ordinaries. In it the players were accustomed to invocate the dice when they were thrown, as is the present habit in craps.

The sword, dagger, or rapier was a part of the regular every-day dress of the Elizabethan; and its proper use a necessary part of his education. In a letter dated from Leicester House, October 15, 1580, Sir Philip Sidney offers the following advice to his brother Robert:

"When you play at weapons; I would have you get thick caps and bracers [gloves], and play out your play lustily; for indeed, tricks and dalliances are nothing in earnest: for the time of the one and the other greatly differs. And use as well the blow as the thrust. It is good in itself; and besides increaseth your breadth and strength, and will make you a strong man at the tourney and barriers. First, in any case, practice with the single sword; and then with the dagger. Let no day pass without an hour or two of such exercise."

Fencing schools were common and usually resorted to in the morning. In them persons received regular degrees as master, provost, and scholar, indicative of their skill. The degree was preceded by a prize contest, usually in public, hence the term, "to play a prize." Public fencing matches in the tavern yards and in the playhouses were a frequent means of popular entertainment. The three following entries in the Remembrancia (p. 351) illustrate this kind of spectacle:

"July 1, 1582. Letter from Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, to the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, requesting them to grant a licence to his servant, John David, to play his provost prize in his science and profession of defence, at the Bull, in Bishopsgate, or in some other convenient place to be assigned within the liberties of the City of London.

"July 23, 1582. Letter from Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, to the Lord Mayor, complaining of the treatment and disgrace put upon his servant in not being allowed to play prizes, after the publication of his bills, wherein his (the writer's) name had been used, although others had been so permitted.

"July 24, 1582, Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Earl of Warwick, in reply. He had not refused permission for his servant to play his prizes, but had granted him a licence, only restraining him from playing at an inn for fear of infection, and had appointed him to play in an open place at the Leadenhall. Not having availed himself of the permission for fourteen days, and the infection increasing, it became necessary to prohibit the assembling of the people to his play within the City, but permission had been given him to perform in the open fields. No permission had been granted to any others. With the man's own consent he had appointed Monday next, and had allowed him liberty to pass openly through the city with his company, drums, and show."

The city council of Cambridge feared that disorder would grow out of a public fencing match to be held January 20, 1579, and found it necessary to take especial precautions to prevent trouble. From fencing as an amusement to fencing in earnest was but a step. Duelling, in Elizabethan times, was very common. In fact, "points of honour" were matters of daily settlement. The least provocation was sufficient for a fight. Such matches were hedged about by many rules. There was also a sort of court, resident in London, consisting of four Ancient Masters of Defence, to whom difficult points of honour were submitted for judgment. How difficult of interpretation a point of honour might become is familiar to us all from the dissertation of Touchstone concerning the lie seven times removed. He was a sly fellow with a delightful sense of humour, but we cannot fairly accuse him of exaggeration. The book from which Shakespeare derived the information he put into the mouth of Touchstone was written by Vincentio Saviola, and printed in 1595. The full title is, Vincentio Saviola his Practice. In Two Books. The First intreating of the use of the Rapier and Dagger. The second of Honor and honorable Quarrels. In the second book is contained "A Discourse most necessarie for all Gentlemen that have in regarde their honors touching the giving and receiving of the Lie, whereupon the Duello & the Combats in divers sortes doth insue, and many other inconveniences, for lack only of the true knowledge of honor, and the contrarie; & the right understanding of wordes, which here is plainly set downe, beginning thus." Then comes a treatment under the following heads: "Of the manner and diversity of Lyes"; "Of Lyes certaine"; "Of conditional Lyes"; "Of the Lye in general"; "Of the Lye in particular," and "Of foolish Lyes." One or two quotations may be of interest as a justification of Touchstone and his creed.

"Conditionall lyes be such as are given conditionally: as if a man should say or write these wordes. If thou hast saide that I have offered my Lord abuse, thou lyest: or if thou saiest so hereafter, thou shalt lye. And as often as thou hast or shalt so say, so oft do I and will I say that thou doest lye. Of these kind of lyes given in this manner, often arise much contention in words, and divers intricate worthy battailes, multiplying wordes upon wordes, whereof no sure conclusion can arise." Furthermore, the reader is warned "by all means possible to shunne all conditionall lyes, never giving any other but certayne Lyes: the which in like manner they ought to have great regarde, that they give them not, unlesse they be by some sure means infallibly assured, that they give them rightly, to the ende that the parties unto whom they be given, may be forced without further Ifs and Ands, either to deny or justifie, that which they have spoken."

When one surveys the great field of Elizabethan Literature he finds that the body of lyric poetry produced in that age is scarcely less remarkable than the body of dramatic literature. The lyric note was in the air. Every one of any pretension to cultivation could write verses, generally with a fair degree of proficiency. Instead of a note to accompany a trivial gift, the sender would write a sonnet. Love lyrics were as frequent as love. And with it all went a popular pleasure and skill in music that has utterly passed away. Relative to this universal knowledge of music is the following paragraph in Chappell's Old English Popular Music (i. 59):

"During the reign of Elizabeth, music seems to have been in universal cultivation, as well as universal esteem. Not only was it a necessary qualification for ladies and gentlemen, but even the city of London advertised the musical abilities of boys educated in Bridewell and Christ's Hospital, as a mode of recommending them as servants, apprentices, or husbandmen. ... Tinkers sang catches; milkmaids sang ballads; carters whistled; each trade, and even the beggars, had their special songs; the base viol hung in the drawing room for the amusement of waiting visitors; the lute, cittern and virginals, for the amusement of waiting customers, were the necessary furniture of the barber shop. They had music at dinner; music at supper; music at weddings; music at funerals; music at dawn; music at night. … He who felt not, in some degree, its soothing influences, was viewed as a morose, unsocial being, whose converse ought to be shunned and regarded with suspicion and distrust."

An interesting collection of songs, edited by William Byrd, and printed in 1588, has the following introduction:

"Reasons briefly set down by the author, to persuade everyone to learn to sing.

"1. First it is a knowledge easily taught, and quickly learned; where there is a good master and an apt scholar.

"2. The exercise of singing is delightful to Nature, and good to preserve the health of man.

"3. It doth strengthen all parts of the breast, and doth open the pipes.

"4. It is a singular good remedy for a stutt[er]ing and stammering in the speech.

"5. It is the best means to procure a perfect pronunciation, and to make a good orator.

"6. It is the only way to know where Nature hath bestowed the benefit of a good voice; which gift is so rare, as there is not one among a thousand that hath it: and in many, that excellent gift is lost, because they want Art to express Nature.

Frost Fair on the Thames.jpg

Frost Fair on the Thames
(From a print in Wilkinson's collection.)

"7. There is not any music of instruments whatsoever comparable to that which is made of the voices of men; where the voices are good, and the same well sorted or ordered.

"8. The better the voice is, the meeter it is to honour and serve GOD therewith: and the voice of man is chiefly to be employed to that end."

Bands of musicians, consorts as they were usually called, were a regular part of the household of the Queen, and of all the great nobles, and even of lesser private gentlemen. In 1571 the Queen's musicians consisted of eighteen trumpeters, seven violins, six flutes, six sackbuts, and ten singers. King James's musicians numbered twenty-six in 1606, and twenty-two in 1617.

The word consort was properly applied to a group of musicians playing upon similar instruments: thus, a consort of stringed instruments, a consort of wind instruments, etc. Often, however, one or two instruments were introduced into a consort that differed from the others. A lute, bandore, base-viol, cittern, and flute constituted the instruments of a consort that played before the queen during an entertainment at Elvetham in 1591.[27] The word noise, often applied generally to a group of anything, as a noise of horns and hunters, was also commonly applied to music. Thus, a noise of musicians meant a group, and a noise often referred to music without any implication as to the quality of the sound. It is probable that musicians, either singly or in consorts, were to be had at little expense and at a moment's notice. We have frequent contemporary allusions to persons meeting in a tavern, and deciding suddenly to send out for musicians to help them while away the time for an hour. Such strolling players were not held in high repute; hence "consort" was often used with an insulting connotation as almost synonymous with vagabond.[28] In the Knight of the Burning Pestle we learn that the waits (another term for a band of musicians) will come from Southwark in a hurry for two shillings.[29]

Drayton in his Poly-Olbion[30] thus enumerates the instruments in use at the time in England:

"The English that repined to be delayed so long,
All quickly at the hint, as with one free consent,
Strook up at once and sung each to the instrument;
(Of sundry sorts there were, as the musician likes)
On which the practiced hand with perfect'st fingering strikes.
Whereby their right of skill might liveliest be expressed.
The trembling lute some touch, some strain the violl best,
In setts which there were seene, the musick wondrous choice.
To shew that England could variety afforde,
The Cithron, the Pandore, and the Therbo strike;
The Cittern and the Kit the wandering fiddlers like.
So there were some againe, in this their learned strife,
Loud instruments that loved, the Cornet and the Phife,
The Hoboy, Sagbut deepe, Recorder and the Flute,
Even from the shrillest Shawm unto the Cornemute,
Some blow the Bagpipe up, that plaies the country 'round.
The Tabor and the Pipe some take delight to sound."

The word "setts" in the above quotation refers to the fact that the instruments composing a consort were usually sold in sets: thus a chest or set of viols would consist of two trebles, two tenors, and two basses.

The lute was the popular instrument in use to accompany the voice. In one form it possessed eight strings and looked not unlike a mandolin. There were also other forms, one of which contained a number of unfretted strings. The fact that this instrument required retuning with every change of key gives point to many allusions, the following of which is a fair example: "If a lute player have lived eighty years, he has probably spent about sixty years tuning his instrument." [31] The gift of a set of lute strings was a dainty and much-coveted gift in Shakespeare's time. A very, unique use to which lute strings broken upon the instruments in the barber shops were put is alluded to by Ben Jonson, where he desires one "to draw his own teeth and add them to the lute string."[32] Every barber shop provided lutes and zitterns for the amusement of waiting customers. Most barbers in those days were also surgeons on a small scale, whose chief surgical duty was the extraction of teeth. It was their habit to tie the successfully drawn teeth closely together upon lute strings, which were then hung out by way of a sign—a mode of display that in a slightly altered form has survived to the present day in London. Lute playing was often made the point of reference to imply a high degree of effeminancy. Thus Tamberlaine chides:

". . . Bewrays they are too dainty for the wars.
Their fingers made to quaver on a lute.
Their arms to hang about a lady's neck."[33]

The virginals consisted of an instrument much like the piano in appearance, but smaller. When the keys were struck, small quill picks twanged the strings which gave out a high note without much volume. Virginal playing was a necessary accomplishment for young women. Elizabeth herself was an adapt on the virginals, a fact that forms the subject of one of Melville's most amusing illustrations of the Queen's inordinate vanity.

"The same day after dinner," says the Scotch ambassador, "my Lord Hunsdon drew me up to a quiet gallery that I might hear some music (but he said he durst not avow it), where I might hear the queen play upon the virginals. After I had hearkened a while I took by the tapestry that hung by the door of the chamber, and seeing her back was towards the door, I entered within the chamber, and stood a pretty space, hearing her play excellently well; but she left off immediately so soon as she turned her about and saw me. She appeared to be surprised to see me, and came forward, seeming to strike me with her hand, alleging she was not used to play before men, but when she was solitary, to shun melancholy. She asked how I came there? I answered, as I was walking with my Lord Hunsdon as we passed by the chamber door, I heard such a melody as ravished me, whereby I was drawn in ere I knew how; excusing my fault of homeliness as being brought up in the court of France where such freedom was allowed; declaring myself willing to endure what kind of punishment her majesty should be pleased to inflict upon me for so great offence. Then she sank down low upon a cushion, and I upon my knees by her; but with her own hands she gave me a cushion to lay under my knee; which at first I refused, but she compelled me to take it. She inquired whether my queen or she played best. In that I found myself obliged to give her the praise. …

"Then she asked what kind of exercises she used? I answered that when I received my dispatch the queen was lately come from the Highland hunting: that when her more serious affairs permitted, she was taken up with the reading of histories; that sometimes she recreated herself in playing upon the lute and virginals. She asked if she played well? I said, reasonably for a queen."

  1. Edition Bond, Vol. III., p. 37, and note, p. 508.
  2. Same, note, p. 508.
  3. Act IV., Scene ii.
  4. Cavendish, Life of Wolsey, Temple Ed., p. 75.
  5. Leo von Rozmital, 1577. See Rye, p. 260.
  6. See Rye, p. 261.
  7. Shakespeare, Henry VIII.
  8. See also I. i. 377; IV. iv. 93; IV. iv. 99.
  9. Dekker, Westward Ho, p. 31.
  10. Act IV., Scene i.
  11. Quoted by Drake, Vol. I., 306.
  12. Sports and Pastimes, p. 264.
  13. The Alchemist, v. 4.
  14. Rainoldes' Overthrow of Stage Plays, 1599.
  15. Greene's Tu Quoque, vii. 24.
  16. Dekker, The Gull's Hornbook.
  17. Massinger, The Picture, ii. 2
  18. Act IV., Scene ii.
  19. Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare, Vol. I., p. 331.
  20. Poem on Dancing, Stanza 70.
  21. Sir J. Hawkins, quoted in Reed's Shakespeare, Vol. V., p. 407.
  22. Shakespeare and His Times, Vol. I., p. 174.
  23. Life of Wolsey, Temple Ed., p. 80.
  24. [[Author:George Whetstone|]], The Enemie to Unthriftinisse, 1586.
  25. Quoted by Strutt, Sports and Pastimes, p. 272.
  26. Vol. III., p. 1063.
  27. Lyly's Works, Ed. Bond, i. 450,
  28. See Romeo and Juliet, III. i. 49.
  29. Induction.
  30. Fourth Song.
  31. Mattheson, 1720
  32. The Silent Woman, iii, 2.
  33. The Second Part, i, 3,