Although life was, in the main, much harder in the sixteenth century than it is now, that does not necessarily mean it was less enjoyable. Many of the ways people of all walks of life amused themselves are not dissimilar our own pastimes – music, games and physical recreation. For the poorer members of society, although want was never far away, their lives were not ruled by the relentless need to feed the machines that characterised the life of the working poor after the industrial revolution: instead, the rhythm of work and play reflected the needs of agriculture – busy from sowing to harvest, but less frenetic at other times.
Prior to the Reformation, the frequency of holy days and saints’ days gave labourers a degree of free time, often spent in religious celebrations that involved community meals, processions and general merry-making. After the Reformation, these days were severely curtailed and labourers worked man more days in each year – a not insignificant reason for the landowners’ support of the new religion.
By the early seventeenth century, the phenomenon of public, secular, theatre, which replaced the local religious mystery plays, was taking London by storm.