Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period > Servingmen
  Depression of the Labouring Class Treatment of the Poor, Vagabonds and Criminals  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period.

§ 31. Servingmen.


Wholly distinct from labouring men proper were the serving-men, whose large numbers in the Elizabethan age are the subject of frequent comment, and who were a legacy of medieval times and conditions. Harrison 124  dwells on the “swarmes of idle serving-men, who are an evil to everyone,” 125  and observes that, while many of them brought their young masters to grief by their wastefulness, not a few of them fell into bad ways themselves, and ended as highway robbers. It was easier to insist, in the interests of society in general, that the numbers of these hangers-on should be lessened, when not only was service continually passed on from generation to generation, but many sons of yeomen and husbandmen entered into the condition of serving-men, in order to escape the obligation of military service, and, generally, to secure easier and more comfortable conditions of life. On the part of the gentry, the custom of keeping up a large show of servants was by no means confined to the wealthy, and the author of that interesting tract The Serving-man’s Comfort 126  draws a humorous picture of the needy Sir Daniel Debet, pacing the middle walk at St. Paul’s, with six or seven tall hungry fellows in attendance.   40

Note 124. p. 135. [ back ]
Note 125. Combining the turbulence of those in Romeo and Juliet with the roguery of those in Coriolanus. But these do not exhaust Shakespeare’s gallery of servants, good, bad and indifferent. [ back ]
Note 126A Health to the Gentlemanly profession of Servingmen or the Serving-man’s Comfort (1598). In Hazlitt’s Inedited Tracts. Serving-men, though some varieties of them did not escape the satire, may be said to have largely attracted the goodwill of Elizabethan playwrights, including Shakespeare, who, according to a tradition said to have been current at Stratford, himself performed the part of Adam in As You Like It. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Depression of the Labouring Class Treatment of the Poor, Vagabonds and Criminals  
 
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