Notions about class distinctions during the Renaissance became more ambiguous than at any other period of time. "Many countries moved from a feudal to a capitalist economy, leading to some of the worst peasants' revolts in the history of Europe."(Aston) During the last quarter of the 1500's the conditions for social status and position were going through radical changes, as "the boundaries between the upper elite and the gentry as well as those between these groups and the wealthier professional classes below them were particularly ambiguous." (Bailey)
There came about a term called sorts, which essentially split the population into two roughly defined classes. There were the better sorts, which included the noblemen, gentlemen, and yeomen. The meaner sorts included the husbandmen, artisans, and laborers. The citizens or merchants could go into either category depending upon income, rank in society, local reputation, profession, and age. Citizens rose in the ranks due to an economic boom in "national trading, service industries, manufacturing businesses, and government posts." (Bailey) The laboring classes saw an increased number of skilled workers and the availability of printed literature provided educational advances. The traditional gauges of status such as "birth, wealth, occupation, political allegiance, and life style, as well as regional, religious, and professional affiliation," (Bailey) were beginning to fade.
To maintain some order, Queen Elizabeth declared a clothing proclamation in 1562. In summary, apparel was one of the primary means through which royalty and the upper class could proclaim their authority and power. One coul...
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...the heir of property and money. Our own ways of judging people and situations is deeply rooted in the social changes that took place in the English Renaissance.
Aston, Margaret. The Panorama of the Renaissance. New York: Abradale Press, 2000.
Bailey, Amanda. "Monstrous Manner: Style and the Early Modern Theatre" Criticism , Vol. 43, Issue III 2001.
The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. CD-ROM, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Ronk, Martha Clare. "Locating the Visual in As You Like It," The Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 52, Issue II, 2001.
Shakespeare, William. " As You Like It." The Oxford Shakespeare The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, and William Montgomery, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Wall, Wendy. "Why Does Puck Sweep?: Fairylore, MerryWives, & Social Struggle," The Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 52. Issue I 2001.
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