Internet Shakespeare Editions


The Commonalty

The Commonalty (1)

("The middle people of England")

  • Merchants
  • Lawyers
  • Administrators
  • Clergy*

The Commonalty (2)

"The fourth sort or class"


  1. Citizens and burgesses

    Next to gentlemen be appointed citizens and burgesses, such as not only be free and received as officers within the cities, but also be of some substance to bear the charges [of office].

  2. Yeomen

    Those whom we call yeomen, next unto the nobility, knights, and squires, have the greatest charge and doings in the commonwealth. . . . This sort of people confess themselves to be no gentlemen, and yet they have a certain pre-eminence and more estimation than labourers and artificers, and commonly live wealthily, keep good houses, and do their business and travail to acquire riches.

    These were the good archers in times past, and the stable troop of footmen that affrayed all France, that would rather die all than abandon the knight or gentleman their captain, who at those days commonly was their lord, and whose tenants they were.

  3. Professionals

    Citizens in the professions were often upwardly mobile, the occupations leading to greater wealth than some of the gentry, and the possibility of gaining the grant of a coat of arms--becoming a gentleman, as did Shakespeare's father.

  4. The clergy

    The clergy had lost much prestige since the middle ages; even the highest ranking clergy were beneath the status of lawyers.

  5. Labourers

    The fourth sort or class amongst us is of those which. . . have no free land, copyholders, and all artificers, as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, bricklayers, masons, etc.

    At nearly the opposite extreme from peers, day-labourers earned about £8 to £10 per year.

  6. The unemployed

    Those who were unemployed, for whatever reason, were regarded with great suspicion:

    That great enemy of reason, virtue and religion, the multitude, that numerous piece of monstrosity which. . .confused together make but one great beast. (More...)