A Cap for an Apprentice
Made in: England
Made by: Unknown
Material: Wool, Silk
Sometimes to find the joke funny, you just had to be there. If you who have ever found Shakespearean humour hasn’t managed to tickle your funny bone it could mean you’ve seen some particularly bad performances, or it could just be because you live in the 21st century, not the 16th.
Some things – etiquette, humour, fashion, language – are very much the product of their times. They constantly shift and evolve over time, and their original meaning can be lost.
One object that has survived the last 400 years intact is this woollen apprentice’s cap. Wearing a hat was compulsory by law, and the kind of hat you wore was your badge of social identity. For us, this hat unlocks the language of social differences and takes us closer to understanding the whole structure of social control.
This object is from the British Museum
'You are they/That made the air unwholesome when you cast/Your stinking greasy caps in hooting/ At Coriolanus' exile.'
Coriolanus, Act 4 Scene 6
- Everyone wore headgear in Shakespeare's day - it was rare to be bareheaded in public or company
- The cap, like all clothing, indicated status - and the higher the status, the higher the hat
- A cap was an instrument of social importance - doffing a cap was as significant as wearing it, and throwing caps to indicate support was an established habit
- This is a relatively fine cap - perhaps intended for festivals or holidays rather than daily wear
- If you wanted a favour, you'd take off your cap and be - literally - cap in hand.
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