Daily Life in Elizabethan England

By Jeffrey L. Singman | Go to book overview
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Entertainments

ELIZABETHAN PASTIMES

Leisure, no less than work, played an important part in the lives of Elizabethans. The landowning classes were not obliged to work at all. Many of them did work quite hard, whether in government, estate management, or some other aristocratic calling; but all of them had plentiful opportunity to pursue leisure activities. Ordinary people had much harder schedules, laboring from dawn to dusk most days of the week, yet they eagerly pursued entertainments in such free time as was allowed them. For such people, the principal leisure time was after church on Sundays and holidays, although religious reformers increasingly objected to Sunday games as a violation of the Sabbath.

The Elizabethan traveler Fynes Moryson commented on his countrymen's devotion to their pastimes:

It is a singularity in the nature of the English, that they are strangely addicted to all kinds of pleasure above all other nations. . . . The English, from the lords to the very husbandmen, have generally more fair and more large Gardens and Orchards, than any other nation. All Cities, Towns, and villages swarm with companies of musicians and fiddlers, which are rare in other kingdoms. The City of London alone hath four or five companies of players with their particular theaters capable of many thousands, wherein they all play every day in the week but Sunday. . . . Not to speak of frequent spectacles in London exhibited to the people by fencers, by walkers on ropes, and like men of activity, nor of frequent companies of archers shooting in all the fields, nor of Saints' days, which the people not keeping (at least most of them, or with any devotion) for church service, yet keep for recreation of walking and gaming. What shall I say of dancing with curious and rural music, frequently used by the better sort, and upon all holidays by country people dancing about the

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