Our lives today are filled with ready-made entertainment - television, computers, music etc. In the Tudor period people had to make their own entertainment. Hours of work were long and without electric light or the benefit of being able to read, many people simply went to bed when it got dark. The time for entertainment was on a Sunday or Saint's day or when there was a great public event - Royal wedding or public execution.
The popularity of the theatre rose with both rich and poor alike, during the sixteenth century. This popularity was helped by the rise of great playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare as well as the building of the Globe theatre in London.
When plays were first performed to the public long before the Tudors they were used by the church to get across a message of correct behavior or to actively demonstrate passages from the bible. By the time of the Tudor era people wanted to only see plays for entertainment rather than be told how to behave correctly. Like food and clothing, there was a social hierarchy demonstrated at the theatre. The below video shows how hierarchy was set out in the Globe Theatre and what the theatre going experience would be like:
The Tudors did enjoy violent plays – rather like their pastimes. At the end of a play, the stage was frequently littered with ‘dead’ characters and murder weapons.
The greatest and most famous playwright in the reign of Elizabeth was William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s first play, “Henry VI, was performed in 1592. Over the next 11 years, he wrote “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “King Lear”, “Macbeth, The “Merchant of Venice” etc. His play “Richard III” was popular as it showed Richard III as a corrupt man – it also received approval from the Tudors – after all, it was Henry VII who had defeated Richard III in battle!
A gruesome form of Tudor Entertainment
A public execution was an event not to be missed and people would queue through the night to get the best places. There was always a carnival atmosphere and a good trade was done by pie sellers, ale merchants and producers of execution memorabilia. Public executions always produced a carnival-like atmosphere with large crowds attracting peddlers, minstrels, jugglers and other street performers anxious to use this ready-made audience.
The most common crimes of royalty and wealthy nobles included:
- High Treason
The punishment for most of the above crimes was death. There were various forms of execution. These terrible punishments included execution by beheading, burning and the terrible punishment for high treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered. Minor punishments would include taking the lands, titles and wealth form those who had been found guilty of various crimes.
Another form of punishment was the "Ducking Stool". This was primarily used to discipline women and was seen as a form of entertainment for the people watching. Watch the below video to see a reenactment of it: (watch till 2.20 min)
Entertainment of the Poor
Recreation for poor people included singing, bowling, cock-fighting and dancing.
Poor peoples’ sport included fishing and archery. An early version of football was played between neighbouring villages on holidays. The game was much more violent than today and might continue for hours as crowds of men often fought to get the ball to their opposition's village goal (sometimes a tree!).
Jousting was popular. Only the nobility (upper classes) were allowed to take part in jousting tournaments.
Jousting involved two armoured knights separated by a four-foot-high wooden barrier. Each knight carried a lance and the objective was to knock your opponent off his horse as he galloped past.
Tennis is one of the oldest of all racquet sports.
During the Tudor times it was played indoors in a large room with a net. Like tennis today, players had to hit the ball over the net. However, in the Tudor times, the ball could also be bounced off the walls and points were also scored by hitting the ball into one of three goals high in the walls.
Tudor tennis rackets were made of wood and strung with sheep gut. The leather tennis balls were filled with hair.
Only the rich were allowed to hunt deer. Yeoman farmers could hunt foxes but the poor were only allowed to hunt hares and rabbit.
Individual bears were chained to a post in a bear-ring. A group of dogs were then set on the bear. The dogs tried to kill the bear by biting its throat.
Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth enjoyed watching bear-baiting. A ring was even built in the grounds of Whitehall so that the Tudor monarchs could watch bear-baiting from the windows of the palace.
Some sports in the Tudor times were banned!
A law was passed in 1512 that banned ordinary people from a whole range of games including tennis, dice, cards, bowls and skittles. This was because the government wanted people to work more and play less.
On your device or paper write down your top five favorite entertainments. Look at your neighbours and see if you have any in common and then look back at the spark and see if you have any in common with the Tudors.
If you have something in common with the Tudors write down how different or similar it is to the modern form of your entertainment. You may need to research it more in detail
If you don't have anything in common with the Tudors choose one of the forms of entertainment from above and find out 5 interesting facts about it that we haven't already covered.