2The EconomyEngland experienced a population growth during the 16th century (the 1500s). By 1603, the population was 5 million.Continued population growth placed a strain on the economy. Prices for food and clothes sky-rocketed in what was called the Great Inflation.The 1590s were the worst years of the century, marked by starvation, epidemic disease, and roving bands of vagrants looking for work. Shakespeare and his contemporaries make reference to economic hardship in their plays.
3Elizabeth’s government created the Poor Laws, which made every local church responsible for its own poor, created workhouses, and severely punished homeless beggars.One of the queen’s most important economic decisions was to issue a new currency that contained a standard amount of precious metal (either gold or silver).Keep an eye out in Shakespeare for references to tainted coin – if it didn’t have the proper amount of gold or silver in it, coin was worthless, so if you say “you are as bad as a tainted coin” it was a nasty insult.
4During Elizabeth’s reign, England expanded trade overseas and the merchant community grew. Trade with other countries grew due to safer conditions at sea (although it was still risky).England’s chief commodity was woollen cloth, traded mostly at the Dutch port of Antwerp for finished goods and such luxuries as French wines. Cloth exports were strong Britain was in rivalry with Spain in this area.
5The SocietyWas structured according to a hierarchy, known as the Great Chain of Being.Draw a diagram of the Great Chain of Being.90% of the population belonged to the “middling class” – this could include merchants, labourers, teachers, servants. It was a really wide category. Shakespeare was in this class.