Posts Categorized: Early-modern-life

Balancing the body and consulting the heavens: Medicine in Shakespeare’s time

Few Elizabethans were wealthy enough to afford a licensed physician. Instead, they would rely on the knowledge of a local “wise woman,” with her home collection of remedy recipes and medicines. Or, they would send a description of their symptoms (along with a urine sample) to an “empiric,” who might cast an astrological horoscope. Broken bone? Call the barber-surgeon!… Continue Reading »


The Cotswold Olympicks

  The Ancient Greeks may hold the franchise on Olympic wrestling—but how would they have fared against a 17th-century British shin-kicker? In 1612 in the tiny village of Chipping Campden, Robert Dover opened the first Cotswold Olympicks, ushering in a new sporting tradition that revived the Olympic spirit and laid the foundation for the modern… Continue Reading »


A perfect pairing: A recipe for almond jumballs and a podcast episode on “Recipes for Thought”

Early modern kitchens, food, and recipes offer an intriguing window on the world in which Shakespeare lived. Our new Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode is a fascinating interview with Wendy Wall, who explores the role of food, kitchens, and other related subjects in her 2015 book Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen…. Continue Reading »


Ask a Librarian: Summertime in Elizabethan England

Q: I know about Queen Elizabeth I’s summer progresses, but how did ordinary people spend their summers in Shakespeare’s time? A: For most Elizabethans, summer presented little opportunity for a vacation from regular work routines. There were still farms to tend, boots to cobble, and chickens to pluck. But all was not drudgery. Hearthside amusements such… Continue Reading »


The Elizabethan Garden: 11 plants Shakespeare would have known well

The text for this blog post is adapted from an article in the Summer 2009 issue of Folger Magazine. Shakespeare, who grew up in a riverside country town and was the grandchild of prosperous farmers, refers with familiarity to an extraordinary number of plants (including many weeds), often using their folkloric names and alluding to their popular uses. What might be… Continue Reading »


How Queen Elizabeth I spent her summer vacation

You thought you had packing woes—imagine trying to cram a whole palace-full of goods into carts for a summer-long jaunt through the English countryside! Yet this is just what Queen Elizabeth I’s staff did almost two dozen times during her 44-year reign, as she and her court took to the highways for her seasonal progresses…. Continue Reading »


Elizabethan Holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Day… and Plough Monday?

The Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 to January 6, was the longest and most enthusiastically celebrated festival in the Elizabethan calendar. On Christmas Eve, people decorated with evergreens, ivy, and holly, burned a Yule log, sang carols, and visited neighbors. Wassail was dispensed by groups who carried the cauldron of beer and roasted… Continue Reading »


Happy Holidays from Elizabethan England

Some people believe that the Renaissance image of “Merry England,” a land of festivity and mirth, was a myth created during the Stuart reign by people nostalgic for the good old days before the Puritans put the kibosh on fun. But scholar Ronald Hutton, who pored through records of church ales and other gatherings, finds… Continue Reading »


The Four Humors: Eating in the Renaissance

In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio attempts to squelch Katherine’s hot temper by denying her meat, snatching away a roast that he claims was “burnt and dried away,” and thus likely to engender choler. “And better ’twere both of us did fast,” he offers by way of explanation, “since of ourselves, ourselves are choleric.”… Continue Reading »