Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What was Bottom's sixpence a day worth?

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Flute the Bellows Maker remarks that Bottom, had he been present (& not ensorcelled in Titania's bower, e.g.), would not have missed winning sixpence a day for life by playing Pyramus. What was the Duke's pension worth?

It turns out that sixpence (half a silver shilling) was a day's wage for a farm laborer in the provinces, equivalent to two dinners, an unbound copy of Hamlet or six performances of that play among the groundlings at the Globe theater. Not a bad way to smooth over a few tempests at home, 'ey, Bottom?

It seems likely that Shakespeare was having the groundlings on a bit, because Bottom clearly lived in simpler times. Bottom's fabulous but rustic pension probably seemed a bit trifling by comparison to modern times.



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