Shakespeare, William: The Economy of England Durin
g Shakespeare’s TimeThe Economy during William Shakespeare’s Time
England, during William Shakespeare’s time was much different then it is today.
There were no commercial buildings, cars, busses, offices, and factories back then. The
economy was a lot different back then, the majority of the people lived in poverty, earning
barely enough to survive. There were many causes for the poverty at that time, such as
bad harvests, inflation, lack of jobs and a rise in population.While all these people were
living in poverty, there was a small percentage of the population, which included big land
owners, wealthy peasants and prosperous townsmen, who were able to make some money
and become prosperous. It was a very diverse economic nation.
Most of the people in England during Shakespeare’s lived in rural areas. Most of
these people involved in agriculture. There was a greater need for more people to be
involved in agriculture back then, since they didn’t have the modern farm equipment that
we have today, which cuts down on the need for human labor. Everyone depended on the
farmers for food. The majority of the people who farmed rented land to farm on from big
land owners. The men would usually go out and farm while the women would stay home
and work inside their house. Other people who lived in rural areas included craftsmen.
When inflation struck (which made poverty worse) only the landowners who
owned a lot of land made profit off renting their lands out to others to farm. The smaller
landowners were losing out on money due to inflation, so a lot of the smaller landowners
decided to enclose their land for pastures in order to raise sheep, which was more
profitable then renting out their land to farmers. Since the smaller landowners stopped
renting out their land, lots of farmers were put out of work and had to look for jobs in
other places, most of them went to the cities looking for jobs.
Because of the large number of sheep that were being raised in England, it’s
biggest export and industry was wool. There was around 10 million sheep being raised in
England, which was about 4 times the population of England at that time. Most of the
wool was processed into cloth at workers homes, most women spun and carded wool at
home as an extra way of making income.The wool was sold to other countries in Europe
so they could use it as raw material and make it into clothing and other things.(Singman
People who didn’t live in rural areas lived in market towns which contained five
hundred to five thousand people and others lived in big towns(only about eight percent of
the population) with populations over five thousand people. Most of the people who
lived in towns worked as craftsmen and tradesmen. Since there was almost no industry at
that time, craftsmen and tradesmen were needed to make finished products such as
furniture, clothes, and shoes. The most common of the craftsmen and tradesmen were
shoemakers tailors, bakers, smiths, weavers, smiths and carpenters. Other jobs included
going into servanthood, becoming a sailor ,becoming a soldier , and becoming a pedlar,
whose job was to buy goods from one place and sell them elsewhere.
The craftsmen and tradesmen would usually work in the upper part of their house
and make the ground floor of their house the shop. An apprentice would work with a
master craftsmen or tradesmen in order to learn a special skills. In exchange for the
apprentices work the master would give him a place to stay and a small amount of money.
Apprenticeships lasts around seven years, and after that the apprenticeship, the apprentice
could go and try to start his own business. (Singman 30)
The cost of clothing, furniture and other goods were expensive since they were
handmade and not mass produced like today. People would try to make these goods last
as long as possible. Some people made a living off buying old clothes and items, fixing
them up and then resell them at markets.( Singman 34) People could sell their goods that they made or foods that they grew at markets. There were well over six hundred market towns in England, but most of the markets in the towns were very small. At times there would be special fairs, which was a big market that lasted for a short period of time, and many people would go there to buy and/or sell goods
at the big markets. One of the biggest special fairs in England was the Stoubridge fair,
which lasted for three weeks and included items such as food, spices silks, charcoal, brass,
and many other goods. Some buyers would come and buy goods at markets or special
fairs in order to sell them in other countries in order to make a small profit.
Women were an important part of the economic life in England. Women done
most their work at home. If the family had animals the women were responsible for taking
care of them, she was also responsible for making butter, cheese, and collecting eggs.
Women would also spin cotton, cook, mend clothing, clean, educate their children, go to
the market to buy and sell goods, and sometimes when the men needed help, the women
would go out and help on the fields.
London was the biggest city in England, at that time, and was located in the
southeast, which was considered the richer section of England while the northwest part of
England was considered the poorer section of England. By the 1580’s ninety percent of
England’s foreign trade was composed through the ports that were in London. London
was a center for business and it attracted lawyers, merchants, businessmen, poets,
playwrights (which included William Shakespeare) and anyone else who was looking for
success. Lots of people who had no work outside of London went to London hoping to
find work. (Coleman 68)
England’s industrial products and techniques were not as good as those found in
other nations of Europe. England relied heavily on other countries for certain exports
such as writing paper, good-quality glass and silk. England’s natural resources included
coal tin, iron, lead, and wood, and they traded these products to other countries. Since
England was surrounded by water, it had many good harbors which made it easy for
England to trade with other countries.
William Shakespeare was able to make his money through entertainment He wrote
plays and had them performed in the Globe Theater, which was located in London. He
would make money off his theater by accommodating all the social classes by charging a
minimum admission charge as little as a penny to the common laborer who would not as
good of a view as someone in a higher social class who’d pay more for admission to the
There was a social hierarchy in England, and it was hard to move up. If you were
born poor, you were most likely to stay poor. If you were poor you would dress in not as
flashy clothes as the rich and most likely do some sort ofmanual labor. If you were rich,
you would dress better, eat better, and live in a big house. (Fox 15)
Times were tough for most people in England during the time of Shakespeare’s
life. Things did not get better economically for most of the people in England until the
beginning of the sixteen hundreds when England as a nation slowly began to get wealthier
and economic conditions improved greatly, but this all began to happen at the very end of
Coleman, D.C.”Economic Life in Shakespeare’s England.” William Shakespeare, His world, His work,
His influence.Vol. 1. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985.
Fox, Elizabeth. The Shakespeare Handbook. Boston: G.K. Hall and company, 1987.
Singman, Jeffery. Daily Life in Elizabethan England. Westport: Greenwood Press 1995.
Williams, Perry. Life in Tudor England. London: B.T. Batsford LTD, 1974
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