Social activities in Elizabethan times incorporated any number of activities from dancing to games. Upper classes and royalty were often proscribed by tradition and rigid social requirements. The Elizabethan era was the time of Queen Elizabeth in the 16th Century when life was hard, mortality rates high and celebrations were important for the fabric of society.
Dancing played a large party in the social activities in Elizabethan times. Dancing was considered a healthy pursuit for both mind and body. Queen Elizabeth viewed dancing as a form of exercise and not only encouraged dancing among members of her court, but also expected them to be skilful dancers.
The upper classes and royalty performed much more sophisticated and stately dances, such as the Roundel, the Volta, the Tordion and the Galliard, which differed from the energetic traditional country dances of the lower classes. Many country dances had significance relating to customs and festivals that had been celebrated for many years and were part of the social fabric of their lives.
While the lower or peasant classes learnt the traditional dances from their families, the upper classes often employed dancing masters since many dances used at noble courts first found expression in other foreign courts of Spain, France and Italy. Most dancing activity of Elizabethan times did not allow much contact between partners, though in the Volt, couples did embrace one another.
Music was important in Elizabethan times. In fact, Queen Elizabeth encouraged both dancing and music among her subjects. She was a skilled musician herself and encouraged the work of composers and musicians. Not only did Queen Elizabeth encourage music and dancing, but most courts opened their doors to travelling musicians, called minstrels, who entertained the nobility with songs of ancient legends, and troubadours, who recited or sang romantic love songs. These forms of entertainment, which started in an earlier era, did decline somewhat toward the end of the Elizabethan Era.
The Social Calendar
Much of the social activities in Elizabethan times occurred around traditional feasts, fairs, festivals and religious holidays. The Elizabethans celebrated around the calendar starting in January, when they celebrated the visit of the Magi as the Twelfth Night festival. Even in the Sixteenth century, they celebrated St. Valentine's Day in February and Easter in March. April's All Fool's Day was a day of mayhem and jokes led by jesters. June brought Midsummer's Eve. And so around the calendar with September bringing the celebration of Michaelmas and, of course, Christmas in December. Other celebrations and festivals provided all classes social activities of food, music, dancing, acting troupes and jugglers.
Games, Gambling and Sports
The Elizabethans played games, including a form of craps called "Hazard" and a form of backgammon. Landsknecht was an easy-to-play card game. Elizabethans played tennis and a badminton-like game called "shuttlecock." Elizabethans liked gambling and sports, including jousting tournaments that still found expression during this era.