The OED (The Oxford English Dictionary) records the origin of the umbrella linguistically as the word “fannell” (which is sometimes spelled “Phanelle”). This term was used for an umbrella only briefly in history, and we know that from a single reference found in a German travelogue from the 16th century. Beyond that reference, there aren't any known mentions of an umbrella from the 16th century. (Source) That reference seemed promising to find umbrellas in Shakespeare's lifetime, but upon exploration, it seems the short answer to this question is, No. Shakespeare wouldn't have had an umbrella. But he had to have done something to protect against rain, so what did he do? And did he know about umbrellas? Here's what I found out:
During Shakespeare's lifetime, the parasol was a fashion statement primarily in France, but it did influence England in a limited way. Primarily for women, and strongly ridiculed for men, they weren't widely used at all, but did make prominent appearances among several noble women. Catherine de Medici brought one with her when she married the Duke of Orleans, and Mary Queen of Scots is recorded possessing a rather ostentatious parasol made of bright red silk with elaborate gold tassels. Source
Known for their part in religious ceremonies, parasols were largely regarded with a kind of pomp and circumstance. An official part of the Pope's regalia in a formal church ceremony, they would have been carried to cover the Pope during a procession. (Source)
From most accounts, it seems the umbrella would not have played a role in Shakespeare's life, other than perhaps the passing exposure from royal enthusiasts like Mary Queen of Scots, or potentially in some religious ceremonies. The common use as we think of it, to protect against rain, would not arrive in England until the late 17th century, well after Shakespeare's death, and then only in select places. There are some records of umbrella canopies from the 16th century, but those are made of silk (like Mary Queen of Scots' red silk parasol), and would not have done much to fight off moisture. Even late into the 1600s, men would face ridicule for using an umbrella, so when they were in use it was only for distinguished women. Source
For the life of William Shakespeare they did protect themselves against rain, but it seems a man's clothing, as well as seeking cover, were the primary ways of avoiding the rain. Men, specifically, had a “surtout” or long outer overcoat which could be worn to protect against the rain, and clothing itself was made from material like Flax and Wool which naturally repel water. Source and another source
The last option for protection against the rain available to William Shakespeare later in life was the carriage, if you could hire one. Relatively new in England during Shakespeare’s lifetime we do know that “carriages are available for hire in the streets of London from 1605.” (Source) While after Shakespeare, Samuel Pepys records not wanting to be seen in London streets of 1667 in a “common hackney carriage” but instead hires a nicer, more aristocratic proper coach with footmen for his travels about the city. (Source).
That's it for this week! I'm Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard.
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