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Now Thrive the Armorers
Draw If You Be Men

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Draw If You Be Men



Romeo and Juliet


During the sixteenth century, fashionable young men took to wearing the new style of sword called a rapier  as part of their everyday attire. Rapiers could be made longer and thinner than battlefield swords, since they did not have to stand up to the same kind of punishing use. Spanish and Italian fencing masters began to explore new styles of swordsmanship to suit the new weapon, developing elegant systems of combat that emphasized thrusting attacks that took advantage of the rapier’s length and lightness.



Salvator Fabris. De lo schermo o'vero Scienza d'arme. Copenhagen, 1606

By the sixteenth century, a heated debate had arisen in England over the new weapon and its techniques. Traditionalists favored the old-fashioned broad-bladed sword, with its reliance on hewing attacks with the edge. But many style-conscious young gentlemen picked up a rapier and turned to the newer Italian style of combat.

 

As a result of the rapier’s popularity, the streets of London thronged with boisterous young men wearing swords at their sides. In an age where honor was everything, weapons were often drawn at the slightest provocation leading to increased civilian violence. To make matters worse, the thrusting technique of the Italian style was highly lethal. Where the traditional cutting sword tended to deal wounds that were bloody but not fatal, the rapier was designed to pierce the head or torso, where even a small puncture might lead to death. Contemporary fears about escalating violence heavily inform Romeo and Juliet , written at the height of the rapier debate in England.

 

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