Put Money in thy Purse! Shillings and Shakespeare

Today, 23rd April, is a significant date for Shakespeare, and scholars and lovers thereof. Not only was it the day he died, but also the day he was christened. So, Happy Shakespeare Day everyone!

23rd April is also a significant day for the English as it marks the feast day of St. George, our patron saint. You may also know him from such motivational Shakespearian speeches as this one:

“ The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”                               Henry V, Act III

If won’t get you fired up to fight the French, I don’t know what will. Maybe if Laurence Olivier was saying it, it would work…

This is all very well and good, but what does it have to do with museums? The British Museum doesn’t open it’s Big Shakespeare Thing until 19th July…

Well, the Big Event might not kick off until mid-July, but to whet your appetite you can find this if you look hard enough:

Shakespeare: Money and Medals

Whether he was going to wive it wealthy in Padua, or advising neither a borrower nor a lender be, or simply urging one to put money in thy purse, money always seemed to crop up in Shakespeare’s plays. As you enter this small display area, you see a bust of Shakespeare looking thoughtfully upon a pile of coins, perhaps pondering the powerful poetry of the penny.

Wedgewood’s Bust of the Bard

The bust itself is worth singling out; made by Josiah Wedgewood in c. 1780, it marks the period that Bardolatry became popular and Mr. W.S. became the cultural icon and touchstone he is today.

It is also worth noting that the money of Elizabethan and Jacobean England was a lot different to today’s coinage; luckily there is a breakdown:

Pound= 20 shillings

Shilling= 12 p

240p= One Pound.

There were other coins such as Groats and Angels, but the display didn’t reveal how much these coins were worth. I found this particularly frustrating, as I, along with other Young People (anyone born after 1971) are only able to think of money in decimal terms, not with odd names, so a little bit of help here would have been nice. We’d finally be able to understand what Gran is on about!

Ok, so maybe Gran didn’t use Groats and Angels, but you know what I mean.

Interestingly, we know how much it cost to go to The Globe in Shakespeare’s time. The display includes the Box Office Tariff and a collection pot. Here it is:

Original Globe Theatre Box Office Tariff

Fascinating! However, since the late 90s we too have a Globe Theatre! Surely, providing a comparison would have been a really interesting thinking – and talking – point?!

If you liked this post, you might enjoy the British Museum themed badges at the Museum of Museum Badges.

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