King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

More tools and material of the written word

16th century oil lamp16th century oil lamp. Private collectionOn the right is an image of a 16th century oil lamp from a private collection. This iron lamp is fitted with a bracket, enabling it to be fixed to a wall. Oil was poured in the lidded base and a wick was then floated in the oil.

Below is an image of a manuscript receipt from 1600, also from a private collection. This example of an Elizabethan business document, dated 21 May 1600, is a receipt for the sum of £500 from Giles Raulins in part payment for a property in Friday Street, London, then operating as the Rose and Pomegranate tavern. The receipt is signed by Benjamin Strange and Samuel Raulins and the total purchase price of the building was £1,000.  Friday Street, which still exists, was a small lane in the tangle of thoroughfares between Cheapside and the River Thames. This is a good example of an everyday business document written on everyday paper.

The paper is thin and shows signs of wear and tear, yet it has survived with only minor damage for over 400 years, a feat which cannot be expected with great confidence of much of the paper produced in recent times. Paper in Shakespeare’s day was made from linen rags and was inherently durable, unlike the mass-produced wood pulp paper which replaced it in the mid-19th century and which contained substances – lignin in the wood and often alum in the size – that accelerated its physical deterioration.

A contemporary manuscriptA contemporary manuscript. Private collectionThe document is written in secretary hand, the everyday script of 16th and early 17th century England.  In a predominantly manuscript culture the legibility of handwriting was a serious matter, and most writers took care to follow the established conventions in letter formation. Once these are understood, Elizabethan handwriting is usually not hard to decipher.

Friday Street is a few minutes’ walk from St Andrew’s Hill, Blackfriars, a location connected with one of the few undisputed examples of Shakespeare’s hand. Like the unknown Giles Raulins, Shakespeare invested in London property and in March 1612 he was co-signatory with others to a mortgage on the Blackfriars gatehouse, which is believed to have occupied a site at the present-day junction of Ireland Yard and St Andrew’s Hill.

In this exhibition

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