Reference Blog Entries

The Bard of Avon

Laura's picture

April 23 marks the birthday of William Shakespeare.  We don’t know if that is the correct date, but it is the most likely possibility. 

There is, in fact, much we don’t know about the bard, but there are many amusing things that we can learn about the time in which he lived as found in the library’s database Daily Life th Cover of Shakespeare's First Folio rough History .

For instance, we know that some of the insults that Englishmen hurled at each other during Shakespeare’s time were “gorbellied [fat-bellied] knave” and “fat chuff” [miser] as well as the more familiar wretch, villain, simpleton and blockhead.  The database does not shy away from even cruder insults.

We also know that Shakespeare’s plays would have been staged in theatres or great halls in schools, and mansions or in open-air quadrangles in large inns.  A ranting style of acting was prevalent at the time (but not for Shakespeare’s plays) and sometimes actors would laugh at their own jokes.  

We learn that the English observed holidays in ways very different from the way that we do.  On Black Monday the queen, Elizabeth I, would wash the feet of a pre-selected group of paupers and give them a purse with a penny in it for every year that she had reigned.  Hocktide, another interesting holiday, was celebrated on Black Monday and the Tuesday that followed it.  On Black Monday men would seize any women that they found on the street, tie them up and release them only after they had paid a ransom to the church.  On Tuesday women did the same thing to men. 

We know a bit about English Poetry of the period.  Sonnets were the preferred mode of love poems.  Poetic meter was termed “numbers” by Shakespeare. Some of the more venerated poems were composed of complex meter structure.

Headgear was a very popular form of personal expression in England in the 16 th century.  Anyone over the age of seven was required by law to wear a hat.  A hat called a biggin was worn to bed. 

The women of Shakespeare’s time liked to wear bodkins which were clusters of gems or pearls placed in the hair on long pins.  The most popular sort of jewelry was rings worn by both men and women.  Usually the rings had an inscription carved inside.  A fashionable type of ring was the gimmal, that is, a ring that was actually two interlocking rings worn as one.  Another fashion for women and some men of the time was to use white lead or borax powder to lighten the skin on their face.  They would then redden their cheeks with ochre or mercury sulfide.  However, Shakespeare disdained the practice of wearing cosmetics in at least one of his plays calling it “painting” and citing it as evidence of deceit.

So drink a toast to one of the most admired authors of all time and consider the fact that although the way of life was much different than our own the people that he wrote about and the feelings that they expressed are not very different at all.

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In the Mood for Fermented Mare's Milk?

Katie's picture

Spring is finally here and Summer is quickly approaching. Are you ready to start planning your next vacation? This is a great opportunity to dig into CultureGrams, our online database that allows you to explore every state in the US, every province in Canada, and even every country in the world. 

  • The World Edition lets you choose any country to explore and gives you various statistics, recipes, slideshows, and fun facts, (which is where I learned a popular summer drink in Kazakhstan is fermented mare's milk). You can even hear each country's national anthem, view maps, and access a currency converter.
  • The Kids Edition is similar to the World Edition, but is tailored more for younger learners. Kids can learn that herdsmen in Djibouti wear a traditional wraparound skirt called a ma'awees, view a timeline of Swedish history dating back to AD 800's, and read what a typical day is like for kids in Samoa.
  • Not planning to leave the country? Check out the States Edition. You can get recipes popular in each state, learn about pro sports teams across the United States, and even access a distance calculator to find out how many miles separate any two cities in the country.
  • Lastly you can visit our neighbors to the north in the Canadian Provinces Edition. Learn about the Crow and Wolf clans from Yukon, find out what the Sugar Shacks in Quebec have to do with the making of maple syrup, and get details on the Black Gold Rush in Alberta.

Have fun exploring our database and learning more about the world we live in!

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