Elizabethan Households: An Anthology

Elizabethan Households: An Anthology

Elizabethan Households: An Anthology

Elizabethan Households: An Anthology



"Like Mistress, Like Maid," from The Night-Raven (London, 1620)

Put together the conceptual works on the place of servingmen and the practical guidebooks on their specific skills, and there is a fairly large literature for men in service. There was nothing comparable for women. In the late-medieval house, most chores had been done by servingmen, and there was still a conceptual bias against female servants in the Elizabethan years, even if practices had long since changed. Maidservants were, by definition, unattached; all women were, by common agreement, licentious. These women, in short, seemed to be a double threat to stable relationships in the household. This comic poem plays on standard fears about the sexuality of both housewives and their women.

Susan would meet with Richard and with Ned,
As soon as e'er her mistress was abed,
For a sack-posset they agree'd to eat,
And she besides would have a bit of meat,
And so be merry, that they would in sadness.
But even about the time of mirth and gladness,
When both the young men were bestow'd within,
One that had long her mistress' lover been,
Knocks at the door, whereat herself came down
(As loose of body as she was of gown)
And in the dark put Letcher in the room,
Where both the youths attend till Susan come.
Who in mean time to light a candle went,
So did her mistress for the same intent,
And meeting with her maid, "Oh strange," quoth she,
"What cause have you at this time here to be?"
"Mistress," quoth she, "unto you I'll be true,
There's two as honest youths as e'er I knew,
Came late to see me (pray you be content)."
"Wench, this may be," said she, "and no hurt meant,
For there's an honest man, to make them three,
That came in kindness for to visit me.
Good Susan, be as secret as you can,
Your master is [a] foolish jealous man,
Though thou and I do mean no hurt or ill,
Yet men take women in the worst sense still,
And fear of horns, more grief in hearts hath bred
Than wearing horns doth hurt a cuckold's head."

(sigs. C1r-v)


"The Praise of Cleane Linnen, With the Commendable Use of the Laundres," in All the Workes of John Taylor the Water-Poet (London, 1630)

John Taylor wrote a series of satirical pamphlets, including "The Praise of Clean Linen," first published in 1624. He derived his nickname, the "Water Poet," from a previous career as a Thames waterman. Taylor dedicated this mock-epic to Martha Legge, "the most mondifying, clarifying, purifying, and repurifying cleanser, clearer, and reformer of deformed and polluted linen." Laundry was the one household task that was always reserved for women. Following the dedicatory epistle, from which a sample follows, Taylor produced a poem in heroic couplets.

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