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Shakespeare for Kids

Good manners were extremely important, especially when meeting Queen Elizabeth I herself. Women were expected to curtsey, and men to bow. A subject could not turn his or her back to the queen, which often meant that they had to walk out of the room backwards.

 

Bowing or curtseying was also used when people greeted each other. The more important the person, the deeper you made the bow or curtsey!

 

Mealtimes

 

Most people ate three meals a day: breakfast between 6 and 7am, a midday meal, and an evening meal served between 5 and 8pm. Hands were generally washed before eating, either before sitting down, or, if at a fancy dinner, in water brought to the table by servants.

 

Each person had a plate or trencher, a spoon, and a knife. Trendy people might use forks, which were introduced to England from Italy, but forks were not common. Cups and goblets were shared. For this reason, it was important to swallow your food before taking a drink!

 

It was bad manners to lick your hands, so polite people either wiped them on the tablecloth, or used a cloth napkin if one was provided.

 

Entertainment and Dancing

 

Guests were expected to participate in entertaining the host and household following a meal. Singing or playing instruments was a popular hobby. Men and women both learned music at home, from tutors, or from studying books.

 

Well-brought-up people learned many kinds of dances. At court, slow dances like the pavane were chosen by older men and women who couldn't keep up with fast steps! Younger dancers might like the galliard, cinquepace, or coranto, which moved more quickly. In the volta, the man lifted his partner up in the air while spinning around, making this a romantic and dramatic dance.

 

In the country, people danced on holidays in taverns or on the village green. Some of these dances eventually became fashionable at court.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 
John Dowland. The First Booke of Songes or Ayres of fowre partes with Tableture for the Lute. London, 1597



Costumes from the time of James I, table scene. Drawing, early 1600s.



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