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Shakespeare & Beyond

Etiquette in early modern England (part 1)

Folger Shakespeare Library. ART Vol. c91, no. 8c
Folger Shakespeare Library. ART Vol. c91, no. 8c
Folger Shakespeare Library. ART Vol. c91, no. 8c

Royal, military and court costumes of the time of James I. Folger Shakespeare Library. ART Vol. c91, no. 8c

“Manners maketh man” was the motto of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. More than simply the social niceties, as portrayed (and sometimes mocked) in the period’s satiric comedies, courtesy and civility were the very glue that held society together. They were, as scholar Anna Bryson notes, “central to Tudor and Stuart assumptions and fears about the social and political order.”

In Days of Yore

Manners, however, did not suddenly spring to life in the Renaissance. In the Middle Ages, it was knightly virtue that set the chivalrous standards for comportment. Because eating and drinking were central to medieval social life, many of these dicta took the form of poems designed to teach table manners. Presented as easy-to-remember rhymes, these rules became part of an oral tradition in days when books were scarce and expensive and literacy was low.

Writings from this time often pass along the common wisdom, as in this excerpt from a popular thirteenth-century poem about table manners for boys:

With soup, do not use bread to sop it up,
Or suck it loudly – that is to transgress,
Or put your dirty mouth to a clean cup,
Or pass drinks while your hands are in a mess,
Or stain your napkin out of carelessness.
Also, beware at meals of causing strife,
And do not make a tooth-pick of your knife.


A pleasure to read and relive the memories of my British foundation ,Education,Manners and Etiquette.

Monica — November 9, 2017

Wonderful blog…Very informative details regarding those ages…very well written!!

Taniya Susan Varghese — November 10, 2017