Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/29

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


9
THE ELIZABETHAN CHARACTER

from all parts of the world. New drinks, new foods, new table manners, as well as improvements in house-building and domestic conditions were imported and developed with a rapidity suggestive of the recent development of electricity.

This much has been said in order to suggest the multiplicity of new ideas thronging upon the people. Not in one but in every direction were people daily astonished by something new. Nothing was too unthought of to appear, nothing too impossible to be believed. It was this condition of affairs that gave rise to the national credulity. One needed but an imagination and an audience to obtain followers of the most intangible will-o'-the-wisps. A gull gives his name to the earliest of our Elizabethan comedies, and he remains a stock character, significant of the times, till the end of the period. A book was written for his instruction by Dekker, and Iago wound him about his finger at the suggestion of Shakespeare.

This credulity manifests itself again in the national attitude toward superstition, to be dealt with more at length in later pages. No country-fair or horse-fair is to-day a more profitable field for the operation of quacks and fakirs than were the streets of London from January to December. Let me once again suggest the danger of inferring that an Elizabethan writer lacks skill and ac-