Internet Shakespeare Editions


The Elizabethan cost of living

It is difficult to say how much Shakespeare's money would be worth today, thanks to inflation both then and now, but we can compare it to some wages and prices of the time.

A soldier's shopping list
(based on a Tudor soldier's food allowance)
24 oz. wheat bread 1 penny
2/3 gallon beer 1 penny
2 lbs. beef or mutton (cod or
herring on Fridays)
2 pence
1/2 lb. butter 1 1/2 pence
1 lb. cheese 1 1/2 pence
Total 7 pence

Note the lack of vegetables and fruit.

Units of currency were pounds, shillings, and pence. Because a simple penny could buy quite a lot, it was divided into halfpence (pronounced "ha'penny") and farthings -- each a quarter of a penny.

1 pound = 20 shillings
1 shilling = 12 pence

Learn more about:


  1. Average wages

    In the city, skilled journeymen (men who have completed their apprenticeships) could earn up to a shilling a day (more usually half that), with food and drink included. Actors in Henslowe's company were paid a shilling a day, but it is unlikely that they received food. Apprentices got food, drink and lodging.

    Farm workers got no more than half these wages; women in particular were paid less, and often supplemented their earnings by spinning thread.

    Thatchers and hedgers would have received about sixpence a day, threshers and reapers half that. Others, especially permanent servants, were paid by the year, with board and food included--often no more than six shillings a year, or sixpence a week.

  2. The cost of the theatre

    The Lords' room 1 shilling (i. e. 12 pence)
    The Gentlemen's rooms 6 pence
    The galleries 2 pence
    The pit (for the "groundlings") 1 penny

    The cheapest seats in the private theatres were usually 6 pence; thus effectively excluding all but relatively wealthy patrons.

    Philip Henslowe paid 3-5 pounds for a play (60-100 shillings); on a good day his gross gate for a performance of a new play would be over three pounds: on 28 November, 1595, he took in 4 pounds, 6 shillings for the first performance of "Harey the V"--The Famous Victories of Henry V, the precursor to Shakespeare's more famous play on the same king.

  3. Falstaff's bar tab

    Prince Hal finds a bill in Falstaff's pocket:

    Item, a capon ..........2s. 2d.
    Item, sauce ............. 4d.
    Item, sack, two gallons ..........5s. 8d.
    Item, anchovies and sack after supper.....2s. 6d.
    Item, bread .............. ob.

    Sherry, usually sweet, and often drunk with sugar added. (One of Falstaff's nicknames is Sir John Sack-and-sugar).
    "Obolus" (Latin): a halfpenny.

    Hal comments on Falstaff's unbalanced diet:

    O monstrous! But one halfpennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!
    (Henry IV, Part One, 2.4.535-44)

  4. A baker's expenses

    A week's expenses for a baker:

    shillings pence
    House rent at 30 pounds per year 11 6
    Diet of man and wife 10 0
    Diet of three children 7 0
    Diet of 4 journeymen at 2 shillings and 6 pence 10 0
    Diet of 2 maids at 10 pence 1 8
    Clothing of man, wife and apprentices 7 8
    Wages of 4 journeymen at 2 shillings and 6 pence 10 0
    Wages of 2 maids at 10 pence 1 8
    Yeast, wood, coal, sacks, salt, boulters,
    garner rent, baskets, water
    29 3
    Parson, Poor rate, Scavenger, Watch 1 0
    Total 6 pounds, 10 shillings 1 pence

    Note the different amounts for food (family and others) and wages for journeymen, apprentices, and women.

    A container for holding large quantities of flour etc.
    poor rate
    A tax on all businesses, the money to be spent on providing support for the poor and homeless.
    As the name implies, someone employed to clean up (any scraps could be kept to augment the wage).
    The equivalent of security guards.