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By M. M. Badawi (auth.)
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Extra resources for Background to Shakespeare
Under Queen Elizabeth the clergy were no longer envied or hated. In state matters they were kept subordinate to the laity. The archbishops felt subordinate to the Queen's secretary, William Cecil, and even in the country the parish priest felt inferior to the esquire. In fact, priests were sometimes almost looked down upon; for instance, we notice in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost a condescending attitude to the priest. At the end of Elizabeth's reign Anglicanism (or the Church of England) had become the religion of the majority, although there were many puritans (people who were extreme Protestants and followers of Calvm's teachings) who did not accept the state's control of religion, objected to having bishops in the Church and thought that religion was a matter of private conscience.
The court in London was both the Queen's residence and the seat of government. There the Queen was attended most of the year by the nobility, who beside their various manor houses had their mansions in. London. The royal household was a most elaborate organisation, but as Shakespeare's plays do not on the whole show the author's familiarity with it we need not bother to explain it here. Suffice it to say, however, that the Tudor monarch was personally attended by the Gentlemen (or Ladies or Gentlewomen) of the Privy Chamber.
On the whole the knights and esquires were a prosperous class and kept up the tradition of hospitality or housekeeping. For instance, the poet John Donne belonged for some time to the household of a knight. Although a coat of arms was the official sign of gentility, according to an Elizabethan author, the title 'gentleman' was not in common usage confined to the rich landed classes. In De Republica Anglorum (published in 1583) Sir Thomas Smith wrote: Whosoever studieth the laws of the realm, professeth liberal sciences, and to be short, who can live idly and without manual labour, and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be called master, for that is the title which men give to esquires and other gentlemen, and shall be taken for gentleman.