Something Rotten! transports today’s audiences from the seats of a Broadway house across the Atlantic and back through the history book pages to Renaissance England. But what is the Renaissance, and how did it change England in the 16th century?
The word “renaissance” is French for “rebirth” and was a term used to describe the period roughly between the 14th and 17th centuries when society was marked by great advancements in art, science and culture. It is believed that the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century after the Fall of Constantinople and the Roman Empire. During this period, artists, scholars and scientists moved to Italy to continue their work. Patrons, wealthy families of renown in Italy, like the Medicis, provided creative minds with great sums of money to create art and innovate to further advance the family’s popularity and power. The period saw advancements in art, literature, music, politics, religion, science, philosophy and a revived interest in the humanism of the Greeks and Romans.
Some of the most notable inventions of the time were the telescope, microscope, printing press, advanced uses of gunpowder and artillery, and a flushing toilet. The most prominent artists and figures of the time include Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas More, Galileo, Martin Luther and several more. In the next few hundred years, the Renaissance moved outward from Italy to its neighboring countries, including England.
England in 1595
It is believed that the Renaissance first moved to England in the late 14th century, but the peak of the Renaissance in England occurred during the Elizabethan Age in the 16th century with Queen Elizabeth at the throne. During this time, England was marked by nationalism, expansion and a great devotion to classical ideas. The British had their sights across the Atlantic and beyond as exploration and colonization of new lands was well underway.
In 1580, Sir Francis Drake became the first man to circumnavigate the globe, or sail around the world, and in 1584, Elizabeth sent Sir Walter Raleigh to stake land in the Americas and start a colony called Virginia. England was a dominant power on the global stage, and that position of status made way for advancements in culture – specifically literature and music.
Theatrical performances at outdoor theaters began during the day, usually at 3pm since that was the point at which there was the most sunlight. Jousting was a popular sport of the era. This pastime involved two men in full armor racing towards each other on horseback to try to knock the other off with their lances.
English merchant Sir Thomas Gresham proposed the first stock exchange in England in 1565–the Royal Exchange. Coaches were a popular form of transportation for the wealthy and royal.
People drank alcohol instead of water. Water was considered unsafe to drink because it was contaminated. The English drank beer, ale, wine and cider because the alcohol content killed the bacteria.
Like most of Europe, people were accused of being witches and hanged if found guilty in England during the time. Queen Elizabeth I never married or had children, despite political pressure. She vowed to be married to England.