Internet Shakespeare Editions


Coins and money

"Angel" -- a coin illustrating St. Michael.

Not only were there many denominations of coin, but the values of the coins changed as their compostion, and the value of the metal they were made with, changed.

Coins were not just tokens, as they are today; they were worth the value of the metal from which they were made.Thus when the coinage was "debased"--the amount of gold or silver reduced--the value of the coin itself declined. Click here for a list* of Elizabethan coins.

In addition, many businesses issued their own tokens for small amounts (especially halfpennies and farthings). Made of brass, lead, even leather, tokens were redeemed by the merchant for goods, but were not universally exchangeable.

The coin illustrated here is an "angel," a coin worth 6 shillings and eight pence (one third of a pound)--often punned* on in plays of the period.

Loans, usury, and interest

In 1571 a law was passed allowing the payment of up to 10% interest on loans. The effect of the law was actually to reduce interest rates; by making interest legal, the black market rates that prevailed earlier-- which were much higher--became unnecessary.

As the age became more dependent on money and capital, credit and interest-bearing loans became more frequent. Antonio, in The Merchant of Venice, would have been very much the exception in Shakespeare's England, lending out money gratis, and thus bringing down the rate of "usance" in Venice (see 1.3.41-42).

On Shylock and usury.


  1. The value of the coins

    Sovereign gold 13 1/3 to 30 shillings
    Ryal (royal) gold 15 to 33 shillings
    Pound gold 20 shillings
    Angel gold 10 to 11 shillings
    Noble gold 6 2/3 to 10 shillings
    (Ducat) gold 6 2/3 shillings
    Crown {gold or 5 shillings
    Unite {silver 20-22 shillings
    Shilling silver 12 pennies
    Sixpence (Also known as a "tester") silver 6 pennies
    Groat silver 4 pennies
    Penny {silver or
    Halfpenny {brass
    Farthing brass 1/4 penny
  2. Punning

    Benedick manages to pun on two coins as he catalogues the qualities of the ideal woman he just might accept as wife: she must be "noble, or not I for an angel" (Much Ado 2.3.31-32).