Elizabethan England: Lavish or Lackluster?

Elizabethan England: Lavish or Lackluster?    When one thinks of England, cars, bustling cities, and other 21st century sights come to mind. Today England is one of the world’s most developed countries, and many modern comforts can be enjoyed there, like hot showers, air conditioning, and health care – all expected in today’s top nations. Yet the country wasn’t always this way; in 1597, the year in which William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet  was written, a citizen of modern England would only know where they were by the accent of others around them. Even then, the way people spoke, ate, and kept clean would be drastically different from today’s standards. Many find the play strange due to the language and manners exhibited by the main characters, but a look at the past can give readers a better understanding of why characters act the way they do, what behaviours are strange even for the time, and how realistic events such as those that happen in the play truly are. Through differences in language, food, hygiene, and more, Elizabethan-era England was a strange place compared to the modern world.    Educated citizens of England were passionate about their language – texts from Shakespeare, Elyot, and Cheke show the variety in writing and abundance of figurative language many English writers utilized as often as possible. Devices of classic writing were employed frequently, and works like Cheke’s translation of the New Testament show authors’ enthusiasm to vary words and provide new ways to describe characters and events of stories that shaped the world of literature then and now. The written word hold high value not only to scholars, but even the common folk in the pit could appreciate such stories as Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the enormous Globe Theater, which was not only an impressive theater but a physical representation of how highly the English valued the arts (Edmund).The way in which love is presented during a particular time period is often one of the best ways to determine a culture’s values. As one would expect, women’s rights were a sliver of what they are today, and women had little to no choice in who they married. Raised to believe they were inferior to men and that the opposite gender would always be in the right, women were oppressed by a patriarchal society, furthering the strong discouragement of disobedience to one’s husband –  a crime at the time in most forms of Christianity practiced by the English. The family of the bride was expected to give a dowry to the groom, a societal expectation as common as the act of proposing with a ring is today. Women were subservient to their husbands, and when they became married they became property of their husbands by law. More interesting is the fact that women could legally marry at 12, while men had to wait until the age of 14, implying that the man being older than the woman not only occured often but was mandatory in many cases. Regardless of age, the disadvantages to women in this time period were as numerous as most would expect, but the blatant brainwashing by men around them that took place and was furthered by generations of mothers that conformed to society created a twisted culture unimaginable to many today (Alchin).    It’s a well known fact that hygiene wasn’t up to current standards in Elizabethan England. Water was so difficult to gather that baths were a rare occurrence, and several people would bathe in the same water before the bathwater was thrown out.  Even one as rich as Elizabeth I bathed only once a month, making it clear why in this time period the average life expectancy was 42 years, half of what it is in today’s more developed countries (“Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era”). Once baths were taken, however, it wasn’t likely the cleanliness of those who took them would improve by much; the average person would scrub with a rag and, if lucky, a very small amount of soap. Even worse is that water for bathing, cooking, cleaning, and disposing of wastes came from the same unfiltered river (Joseph).    Elizabethan England was a strange place when compared to the world of today. While the educated English of old had a love for language that stands almost unparalleled, their hygiene and stance on women’s rights were far below what is acceptable today. Although a magical place in many regards, especially in literature, the luxuries of modern life make modern England a more comfortable place than the England that existed hundreds of years ago.