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See the mischief," he exclaims; "many men knowing that merry company is the only medicine against melancholy, will therefore neglect their business, and in another extream, spend all their dayes among good fellows, in a Tavern or an Ale-house, and know not otherwise how to bestow their time but in drinking; malt worms, men fishes, or water snakes, “Qui bibunt solum ranarum more, nihil comedentes," like so many frogs in a puddle. 'Tis their sole exercise to eat, and drink; to sacrifice to Volupia, Rumina, Edulica, Potina, Mellona, is all their religion. They wish for Philoxenus neck, Jupiter's trinoctium, and that the sun would stand still as in Joshua's time, to satisfie their lust, that they might "dies noctesque pergræcari et bibere." Flourishing wits, and men of good parts, good fashion, and good worth, basely prostitute themselves to every rogues company, to take tobacco and drink, to roar and sing scurrile songs in base places.
"Invenies aliquem cum percussore jacentem,
"What Thomas Erastus objects to Paracelsus, that he would lye drinking all day long with carrmen and tapsters in a Brothel-house, is too frequent amongst us, with men of better note: like Timocreon of Rhodes, "multa bibens, et multa voraus," &c. They drown their wits and seeth their brains in ale.'
Few ceremonies are better calculated to throw light on the manners and customs of a country, than those attendant on Weddings and Burials, and with these, as they occurred in rural life, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James, we shall close this chapter.
The style of courtship which prevailed in Shakspeare's time, may be drawn, with considerable accuracy, from the numerous love-dialogues interspersed throughout his plays. From these specimens not much disparity, either in language or manner, appears to have existed between the addresses of the courtier and the country-gentleman; the female character was indeed, at this period, greatly less important than at present; the blandishments of gallantry, and the elegancies of compliment were little known, and consequently the expression of the tender passion admitted of neither much variety nor much polish. The amatory dialogues of Hamlet, Hotspur, and Henry the Fifth, are not more refined than those which occur between Master Fenton and Anne Page, in the Merry Wives of Windsor; between Lorenzo and Jessica in the Merchant of Venice, and between Orlando and Rosalind, in As You Like It. These last, which may be considered as instances taken from the middle class of life, together with a few drawn from the lower rank of rural manners, such as the courtship of Touchstone and Audrey, and of Silvius and Phoebe, in As You Like It, will sufficiently apply to the illustration of our present subject; but it must be remarked that, in point of fancy, sentiment, and simplicity, the most pleasing love-scenes in Shakspeare are those that take place between Romeo and Juliet, and between Florizel and Perdita; the latter especially present a most lovely and engaging picture, on the female side, of pastoral naïveté and sweetness; and will, in part, serve to show, how far, in the opinion of Shakspeare, refinement was, at that time, compatible, as a just representation of nature, with cottage-life.
Betrothing or plighting of troth, as an affiance or promise of future marriage, was still, there is reason to suppose, often observed in Shakspeare's time, especially in the country, and as a private rite. The interchange of rings was the ceremony used on this occasion, to which the poet refers in his Two Gentlemen of Verona :
"Julia. Keep this remembrance for thy Julia's sake.
Pro. Why then we'll make exchange; here take you this.
(Giving a ring.)
Act. ii. sc. 2.
The public celebration of this contract, or what was termed espousals, wa
Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, 8th edit. p. 191.
Vincent de Beauvais, a writer of the 13th century, in his "Speculum historiale," lib ix. c. 70., has defined espousals to be a contract of future marriage, made either by a simple promise, by earnest or security given, by a ring, or by an oath." Douce's Illustrations vol. i. ́ թ. 109.
formerly in this country, as well as upon the Continent, a constant preliminary to marriage. It usually took place in the church, and though nearly, if not altogether, disused, towards the close of the fifteenth century, is minutely described by Shakspeare in his Twelfth Night. Olivia, addressing Sebastian, says,
A description of what passed at this ceremony of espousals or betrothing, is given by the priest himself in the first scene of the subsequent act, who calls it
A contract of eternal bond of love
Confirm'd by mutual joinder of your hands,
Strengthened by interchangement of your rings;
Act. v. sc. 1.
These four observances, therefore; 1st, the joining of hands; 2dly, the mutually given kiss; 3dly, the interchangement of rings; and 4thly, the testimony of witnesses: appear to have been essential parts of the public ceremony of betrothing or espousals, which usually preceded the marriage rite by the term of forty days. The oath, indeed, administered on this occasion was to the following effect:-"6 "You swear by God and his holy saints herein and by all the saints of Paradise, that you will take this woman whose name is N. to wife within forty days, if holy church will permit." The priest then joining their hands, said" And thus you affiance yourselves;" to which the parties answered,"Yes, sir." So frequently has Shakspeare referred to this custom of trothplighting, that, either privately or publicly, we must conclude it to have been of common usage in his days: thus, in Measure for Measure, Mariana says to Angelo,
"This is the hand, which with a vow'd contract,
and then addressing the duke, she exclaims,
Act. v. sc. 1.
So in "King John" King Philip and the Arch-duke of Austria, encouraging the connection of the Dauphin and Blanch:
“K. Phil. It likes us well;-Young princes, close your hands.
Act. iii. sc. 1.
One immoral consequence arising from this custom of public betrothing was, that the parties, depending upon the priest as a witness, frequently cohabited as man and wife. It would appear, indeed, from a passage in Shakspeare, that the ceremony of troth-plight, at least among the lower orders, was considered as a
Douce's Illustrations, vol. i. p. 113.
+ Here assur'd is taken in the sense of affianced or contracted. If necessary, many more instances of betrothing, and troth-plighting, might be brought forward from our author's dramas.
sufficient warrant for intercourse of this kind; for he makes the jealous Leontes, in his Winter's Tale, exclaim,
We must not forget, however, to remark, while on the subject of betrothing, that a singular proof of delicacy and attention to the fair sex, on this occasion, during the sixteenth century, has been quoted by Mr. Strutt, from a manuscript in the Harleian library, and which runs thus:
"By the civil law, whatever is given "ex sponsalitia largitate," betwixt them that are promised in marriage, hath a condition, for the most part silent, that it may be had again if marriage ensue not; but if the man should have had a kiss for his money, he should lose one half of what he gave. Yet with the woman it is otherwise; for kissing or not kissing, whatever she gave, she may have it again."*
Concerning the customs attendant on the celebration of the marriage rite, among the middle and inferior ranks, in the country, during the period which we are endeavouring to illustrate, much information, of the description we want, may be found in Shakspeare and his contemporaries.
The procession accompanying a rural bride, of some consequence, or of the middle rank, to church, has been thus given us:
"The bride being attired in a gown of sheep's russet, and a kirtle of fine worsted, her hair attired with a habillement of gold, and her hair as yellow as gold hanging down behind her, which was curiously combed and plaited, she was led to church between two sweet boys, with bride laces and rosemary tied about their silken sleeves. There was a fair bride-cup of silver, gilt, carried before her, wherein was a goodly branch of rosemary, gilded very fair, hung about with silken ribbands of all colours. Musicians came next, then a groupe of maidens, some bearing great bride-cakes, others garlands of wheat finely gilded; and thus they passed on to the church.”†
Rosemary being supposed to strengthen the memory, was considered as an emblem of fidelity, and, at this period, was almost as constantly used at weddings as at funerals: "There's rosemary," says Ophelia, "that's for remembrance.' Many passages, illustrative of this usage at weddings, might be taken from our old plays, during the reign of James I., but two or three will suffice.
* Strutt's Manners and Customs, vol. iii. p. 155.
History of Jack of Newbury, 4to. chap. ii.
Ram Alley, or Merry Tricks, by Barry, 1611. Vide Ancient British Drama, vol. ii.
Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady, 1616.
** A Faire Quarrel, by Middleton and Rowley, 1617. Besides rosemary, flowers of various kinds were frequently strewn before the bride as she passed to church; a custom alluded to in a well-known line of Shakspeare,
"Our Bridal Flowers serve for a buried corse:
and more explicitly depicted in the following passage from one of his contemporaries :—
"Adriana. Come straw apace, Lord, shall I never live
To walke to Church on flowers? O'tis fine,
To see a Bride trip it to Church so lightly,
As if her new Choppines would scorne to bruise
A silly flower!"
Barry's Ram Alley, or Merry Tricks, act v. sc. 1. 4to. 1611.
Of the peculiarities attending the marriage-ceremony within the church, a pretty good idea may be formed from the ludicrous wedding of Catherine and Petruchio in the Taming of the Shrew. It appears from this description, that it was usual to drink wine at the altar immediately after the service was closed, a custom which was followed by the Bridegroom's saluting the bride.
"He calls for wine :-A health, quoth he; as if
And kiss'd her lips with such a clamorous smack,
In the account of the procession just quoted, we find that a bride-cup was carried before the bride; out of this all the persons present, together with the new-married couple, were expected to drink in the church. This custom was prevalent, in Shakspeare's time, among every description of people, from the regal head to the thorough-paced rustic; accordingly we are informed, on the testimony of an assisting witness, that the same ceremony took place at the marriage of the Elector Palatine to King James's daughter, on the 14th day of February, 1612-13: there was "in conclusion," he relates, "a joy pronounced by the king and queen, and seconded with congratulation of the lords there present, which crowned with draughts of Ippocras out of a great golden bowle, as an health to the prosperity of the marriage (began by the prince Palatine and answered by the princess). After which were served up by six or seven barons so many bowles filled with wafers, so much of that work was consummate."†
This bride-cup or bowl was, therefore, frequently termed the knitting or contracting cup; thus in Ben Jonson's "Magnetick Lady," Compass says to Practise, after enquiring for a licence,
The parson's pint t'engage him—
and Middleton, in one of his Comedies, gives us the following line:
"Even when my lip touch'd the contracting cup.” §
The salutation of the Bride at the altar was a very ancient custom, and is referred to by several of the contemporaries of Shakspeare; Marston, for instance, represents one of his female characters saying,
"The kisse thou gav'st me in the church, here take."
It was still customary at this period, to bless the bridal bed at night, in order to dissipate the supposed illusions of the Devil; a superstitious rite of which Mr. Douce has favoured us with the form, taken from the Manual for the use of Salisbury in the 13th century. It is noticed by Chaucer also in his "Marchantes Tale," and is mentioned as one of the marriage-ceremonies in the "Articles ordained by King Henry VII. for the regulation of his Household." Shakspeare alludes to this ridiculous fashion in the person of Oberon, who tells his fairies,
"To the best bride-bed will we,
Act. iii. sc. 2.
Finet's Philoxenis, 1656, p. 11.
Folio edit. p. 44. Act iv. sc. 2.
No Wit, no Help like a Womans, 8vo. 1657. Middleton was contemporary with Shakspeare, and commenced a dramatic writer in 1602.
Insatiate Countess, 4to. 1603.
Midsummer-Night's Dream, act v. sc. 2.
+ Douce's Illustrations, vol. i. p. 199.
To this brief description of marriage-ceremonies, it will be necessary to subjoin some account of those which accompanied the mere rustic wedding, or Bride-ale; and fortunately we have a most curious picture of the kind preserved by Laneham, in his "Letter on the Queen's Entertainment at Kenelworth Castle," in 1575, one part of which was the representation of a country Bride-ale set in order in the Tilt-yard, and exhibited in the great court of the castle. This grotesque piece of pageantry, a faithful draught of rural costume, as it then existed, must have afforded Her Majesty no small degree of amusement.
"Thus were they marshalled. First, all the lustie lads and bold bachelors of the parish, suitably every wight with his blue buckram bridelace and a branch of green broom (cause rosemary is scant there) tied on his left arm (for a that side lies the heart), and his alder poll for a spear in bis right hand, in martial order ranged on afore, two and two in a rank: Some with a hat, some in a cap, some a coat, some a jerkin, some for lightness in his doublet and his hose, clean trust with a point afore: Some boots and no spurs, he spurs and no boots, and he neither one nor t'other: One a saddle, another a pad or a pannel fastened with a cord, for girts wear geazon: And these to the number of a sixteen wight riding men and well beseem: But the bridegroom foremost, in his father's tawny worsted jacket (for his friends were fain that he should be a bridegroom before the Queen), a fair straw hat with a capital crown, steeple-wise on his head: a pair of harvest gloves on his hands, as a sign of good husbandry: A pen and inkhorn at his back; for he would be known to be bookish: lame of a leg, that in his youth was broken at football: Well beloved yet of his mother, that lent him a new mufllar for a napkin that was tied to his girdle for losing. It was no small sport to mark this minion in his full appointment, that through good schoolation became as formal in his action, as he had been a bridegroom indeed; with this special grace by the way, that ever as he would have framed him the better countenance, with the worse face he looked.
"Well, Sir, after these horsemen, a lively morrice-dance, according to the ancient manner; six dancers, maid-marian, and the fool. Then three pretty puzels, (maids or damsels, from pucelle) as bright as a breast of bacon, of a thirty year old a piece, that carried three special spice-cakes of a bushel of wheat (they had it by measure out of my Lords backhouse), before the bride: Cicely with set countinance, and lips so demurely simpering, as it had been a mare cropping of a thistle. After these a lovely lubber woorts,* freckle-faced, red-headed, clean trussed in his doublet and his hose taken up now indeed by commission, for that he was so loth to come forward, for reverence belike of his new cut canvass doublet; and would by his good will have been but a gazer, but found to be a meet actor for his office: That was to bear the bride-cup, formed of a sweet sucket barrel, a faire-turned foot set to it, all seemly besilvered and parcel gilt, adorned with a beautiful branch of broom, gayly begilded for rosemary; from which two broad bride laces of red and yellow buckeram begilded, and gallantly streaming by such wind as there was, for he carried it aloft: This gentle cup-bearer yet had his freckled physiognomy somewhat unhappily infested as he went, by the busy flies, that flocked about the bride-cup for the sweetness of the sucket that it savoured on but be, like a tall fellow, withstood their malice stoutly (see what manhood may do), beat them away, killed them by scores, stood to his charge, and marched on in order.
Then followed the worshipful bride, led (after the country manner) between two ancient parishioners, honest townsmen. But a stale stallion, and a well spred, (hot as the weather was) God wot, and ill smelling was she; a thirty-five year old, of colour brown-bay, not very beautiful indeed, but ugly, foul, ill favoured; yet marvellous vain of the office, because she heard say she should dance before the Queen, in which feat she thought she would foot it as finely as the best : Well, after this bride, came there by two and two, a dozen damsels for bride-maids; that for favor, attyre, for fashion and cleanliness, were as meet for such a bride as a treen-ladle for a porridge-pot; more (but for fear of carrying all clean) had been appointed, but these few were enow." +
From a passage in Ben Jonson's "Tale of a Tub," we learn that the dress of the downright rustic, on his wedding day, was as follows:
"He had on a lether doublet, with long points,
With a silver claspe, on his leere side."‡
Woorts; of this word I know not the precise meaning; bnt suppose it is meant to imply plodded or stumbled on.
Nichols's Queen Elizabeth's Progresses, vol. i.-Laneham's Letter, p. 18, 19, 20.
Jonson's Works, fol. edit. of 1640, vol. ii. A Tale of a Tub, p. 72,-Much of the spirit and costume