Rapier and Dagger
Size: Rapier: H:1280mm. Dagger: H: 463mm
Made in: England
Made by: Unknown
Material: Steel, Iron, Wood
We tend to think of the play about Shakespeare’s most famous couple, Romeo and Juliet, as being about the tribulations of romantic love – when in fact it’s just as much about gangs of privileged lads slicing each other to death.
Although the play’s action is set in Italy, the issue of urban violence would not have been foreign to its English audience. Weapons were part of everyday life – all gentleman of the time would have worn something similar to this rapier and dagger set – part fashion accessory, part murder weapon.
Many such gentlemen would head south of the river to London’s South Bank where, outside the authority of the City, they could encounter the roaring entertainments of Bankside which could either lead the way to delights…or dangerous drunken feuds.
This object is from the Royal Armouries
'He fights as you sing pricksong: keeps time, distance, and proportion. He rests his minim rests, one, two, and the third in your bosom. The very butcher of a silk button... Ah, the immortal passado! the punto reverse! the hay!'
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 4
- Stage fights were extremely popular in Elizabethan theatre and actors used real weapons
- According to the 1574 Statute of Apparel, rapiers and daggers could only be worn by gentlemen 'and others of higher degree and place'
- Fencing was an essential part of the education of a man of any status
- The classic text for fencing was Vincentio Saviolo's Discourse of Rapier and Dagger, translated into English in 1595
- Some theatres were multi-purpose venues, offering displays of fencing and bear-baiting when no acting company was in residence
More from Radio 4: Shakespeare's London
Writer Iain Sinclair walks the streets of London in the company of Shakespeare scholars and archaeologists, to seek out echoes of Shakespeare's city in the London of today.
More from Radio 4: The Art of War
Melvyn Bragg discusses the history and philosophy of warfare, examining how has war been understood throughout the ages, who it has served and how has it been justified.
More from Radio 4: Elizabethan Revenge
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why revenge tragedy was so popular with Elizabethan theatre goers, from Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare's Hamlet.