Ep 105: Guns in Elizabethan England with Grace Tiffany
Famously, William Shakespeare’s Globe burned down from canon fire in 1599 and several of Shakespeare’s plays mention guns, gunpowder, and bullets. While we think of Shakespeare’s era as one of romantic sword battles, duels with a rapier in the streets, and even the massive naval battles with the Spanish Armada, for the life of William Shakespeare everything was under constant strain and a theme of developing the new. The development of new weapons technology was no exception as the late 16th century saw England replace the serpentine, culverine, and demi-canon, with smaller more portable hand canons, pistols, and muskets. While the average person on the street would not have carried these weapons regularly, we know from the burning of The Globe theater that canons, at least, has a place in 16th century theater, so does that mean guns and gunpowder did as well? Here to help us explore the advent of the hand gun and portable firearms that took place in England during the life of William Shakespeare is our guest, Grace Tiffany.
20 Apr 2020
Ep 111: Aqua Vitae and Scotch Whisky with Rosie Wilmot
Do you know the origin of the word “whiskey”? Turns out we have Scotland to thank for not only the drink we know as whiskey today, but the word we use to describe it as well. The earliest record of whiskey on paper happens in 1494 with a reference to aqua vitae in the Exchequer Rolls, but there was a great interest--and a good deal of illicit smuggling of Scotch whiskey-- happening not just in Shakespeare's lifetime, but under the title "aqua vitae" (which is used no less than 6 times in Shakespeare's plays), the beverage was also hugely popular for centuries prior to Shakespeare’s life in the Catholic Church as a kind of holy water. After the Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, the monks with skills in distillery went underground to create whiskey, and in so doing formed one of the largest illegal operations in Europe. You may have thought all of the parodies of drunken friars like Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood tales, and in similar way, even Shakespeare’s own Falstaff, may have been merely jokes for a story, but as our guest this week, Rosie Wilmot of the Scotch Whisky Association in Edinburgh Scotland is here to share with you today, these stories and aqua vitae, in particular, have a real historical basis directly from the life of William Shakespeare.
1 Jun 2020
Ep 110: The Paston Letters with Rob Knee
The Paston Letters are a collection of over 1,000 pieces of correspondence between 1422 and 1509 which, while never intended to last into the modern era, have been preserved throughout the centuries for the unique light they shed on the everyday events in 15th century England. John Paston was a lawyer in England, and while the letters sometimes represent the communication of John Paston to members of the aristocracy most of the letters are written by his wife Margaret, who is writing to her husband at work in London. Replete with illustrations as well as words, the letters detail mundane items like shopping lists and recipes, provide examples of medieval colloquial expressions, and perhaps the most powerful content found in the Paston Letters is their timeline of how the War of the Roses unfolded. During the late 15th century, England was effectively lawless whilst the King was paralyzed due to his surrounding nobles stifling the enforcement of law. The Paston Letters show that the government of England was hugely disorganized, with even the succession to the crown coming under contestation. This overarching discontent led to the rising of Jack Cade, and outlines the rise of the War of the Roses. Since Shakespeare’s history plays, also detail the rise of the War of the Roses, including characters like Jack Cade, and the character of Falstaff whom some scholars believe was based on a relative to the Pastons, a John Fastolf, there is often the suggestion that Shakespeare used the Paston Letters as a source for his plays. Is this true? Our guest, Rob Knee, from the Paston Heritage Society, is here this week to separate legend from fact as we explore the Paston Letters and their role in the life of William Shakespeare.
25 May 2020
Ep 109: 16th Century Playing Cards with Kathryn James
With court records of Mary Queen of Scots playing cards, as well as James I of England preferring the game Maw when entertaining royal dignitaries, we know that playing cards was not just popular for royals but a pastime at all levels of society during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it was a relatively new arrival to England overall. Playing cards did not reach Europe until 1360, and the first mention we have of playing cards in England comes in 1463 when King Edward IV banned the import of playing cards to England in an effort to bolster the English economy by focusing production of cards at home. With the influx of French and Spanish playing cards during Shakespeare’s lifetime, along with laws trying to have cards made in England exclusively, what did the average playing card look like? There is a representation of a six of diamonds on the wall of a small Suffolk church in Hessett, near Bury St Edmunds, which dates from the 15th century and that provides one example of design, but the pack of cards which has historically come to be associated with England specifically is a pack from Rouen, France, designed by Pierre Marechal. As playing cards grew in popularity, so did their design and the invention of various games--some of which like Noddy and Maw show up by name several of Shakespeare’s plays. The suits, size of card, as well as material used to make playing cards was also widely varied in the 16th century, so how do we determine what counts as historically accurate for William Shakespeare? To find out this week, we turn to Kathryn James, Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. She joins us today to share about the collection of 16th century playing cards in house at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library with some key insights on the economics, design, and appearance of playing cards from the life of William Shakespeare. Kathryn James is the Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. She is a Lecturer in the Yale History Department and the co-founder of the Yale Program in the History of the Book. Her new book, English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500-1800 (2020) is available through Yale University Press.
18 May 2020
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