Elizabethan Era Overview

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Last updated 8 years ago

Social Studies
European history

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Elizabethan Era Overview

Elizabethan Era Overview

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by Liam Title, Brian Tang and Jerry Chung

Social Structure/Government

Queen Elizabeth I

Theatre and The Globe Theatre

The Renaissance was a period of enlightenment that began in the late 14th century; originating in Italy. This “cultural movement” formed a birdge between the Dark Ages and Modern Era. The Renaissance began with humanism, a philosophy that encouraged free will and critical thinking, rather than blind following of religion. This way of thinking caused great social disruption and caused religious reform for the first time in centuries. There were several reasons for the cause of The Renaissance, the main one being “The Black Death.” The Black Death wiped away an extremely large portion of the European population, causing the land prices to decrease as well as greatly raising the average wages, due to lack of able bodied workers. The Black Death also caused a disillusionment with religion, compelling many people to question many of the ideas that the religion of the time promoted, such as lack of free well and getting into heaven being the ultimate goal of all life. Another characteristic of The Renaissance was the sudden influx of art being created. Many famous works of art were made during this time, including the Mona LIsa, the Statue of David and the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Renaissance

Citizens who lived during the Elizabethan Era were split into 3 main categories. These were: The Nobility, The Middle Class, and The Workforce. The Nobility accounted for only a small percentage of the population. They were extremely wealthy and lived very comfortably. You could only become a noble if you were born into the position, or if you were appointed a noble by the Monarch. This type of noble is known as a “Noble of the Robe.” Nobles were always very well educated and lived with little worries in the world. The Middle Class was comprised of merchants, artisans, tradesmen and prospering farmers, also known as “Yeomen.” The middle class made a fair amount of money, and were still able to live comfortably under the Monarch’s Reign. Most people in The Middle Class also likely had a basic form of education. The Workforce was a group of citizens who had little to no education and could only complete jobs that required pure physical capability. These jobs included: farmers, labourers and cottagers. These people often only made the bare minimum for survival, and often had to starve. The Workforce had to periodically resort to theft and scavenging as a means of survival. Women and children had their own roles in Elizabethan Era society. Even the poorest of boys were allowed to go to school, and the better off ones received personal home tutoring. Girls however, were only allowed to go to schools where education was limited. These schools were known as “petty schools.” Women of Britain were more free compared to the rest of Europe, yet were still considered property of their fathers, then husbands. Women of the Nobility were often put in charge of running their husband’s estate during his absence, a very taxing job. Non noble women were in charge of all the housework in a family; including cooking as well as sewing clothing. The British Government, was able to maintain peace for a very long period of time. The control of the seas they had gained meant that there was little to fear regarding a naval attack, and the isolation of Britain meant they were relatively protected from land attacks as well.

Queen Elizabeth the First was the British Monarch from 1558 to 1603. During her reign, Britain was thought to be in it’s most successful era in history. The British Navy was able to successfully defeat the Spanish Armada, and gain strong naval control of the seas. The queen herself was a believer of the Anglican Religion, and was generally well liked by her subjects. She also strongly enjoyed the arts. Under her rule, fashion and theatre were able to flourish better than ever before. Queen Elizabeth also chose to never marry, and was considered married to the nation instead. This gained her the nickname “The Virgin Queen.” Nearing the end of her reign, things began to go awry. Many harvests had failed, causing both unemployment and food prices to go up.

Theatre was a very prominent aspect of Elizabethan life. The boom of Shakespeare caused many theatres and playing companies to be founded. One of the most famous theatres was “The Globe Theatre,” a theatre built by “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” a playing company who specialized in Shakespeare. The Globe was built in 1599, but burned down in 1613. It was rebuilt 1 year later in 1614. While the exact specifications of “The Globe” are still unknown, we still have an idea of the general layout. The theatre was 3 stories high, with no roof. There was however, a roof directly over the stage. This roof was painted blue and called “The Heavens.” The heavens had a trapdoor where actors would often descend. There was also a trapdoor under the stage, for actors to rise out of. Another notable playing company at the time was the “Admiral’s men,” who acted primarily in the “Fortune Theatre.”


People of the Elizabethan had many choices on what they could do in their free time. There were often seasonal festivals and fairs for people to visit, as well as sports such as archery, hammerthrowing, jousting and mob football. These were not the only activities available to be played - however, they were the only activities which commoners could indulge in. Gambling and hunting were two other pastimes that required money, land or power in order to play. Hunting required land on which to hunt, and dogs and hawks to assist in the hunt, all of which were not cheap. The most common form of gambling was cards, with which a variety of games were played (Maw, Ruff and Honours and Bone-Ace being some more popular types at the time). Like many exotic spices and fabrics, these cards were brought from the Middle East in the 1300s, and were still considered somewhat of a luxury.


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