Hello! This a preview of what\'s inside this patrons-only post. Have you ever wondered why Shakespeare wrote sonnets or what purpose it served to learn iambic pentameter? Here to share with us the history of sonnets for the 16th century and explain why a playwright wrote poetry is our guest, Stanley Wells.
Errr… you say the bow was totally obsolete by the 16th century… but the rest of the world continued to use it into the 19th century to good effect. In fact, at this time, the Manchu horse-archers were defeating the musketeers of the Ming. That’s how the Qing came about, forming the largest empire in Chinese history.
There are also accounts of the Comanches overcoming European settlers, the Koxinga pirates astounding the Portuguese, and even the Kalmyks defeating French soldiers of the Grande Armee….
So I think that view is viewing the world from an incredibly narrow Eurocentric lens. So narrow in fact, that it doesn’t even consider the words and accounts of other English writers who were also military men….
Hello Avast! Thank you for listening to the podcast, and for taking the time write such an intelligent comment. It is always very nice to hear from listeners who enjoy not only the show, but who study history like we do! It’s nice to have you aboard.
To address you concerns about our Eurocentric viewpoint, I’ll suggest that we are even more incredibly narrow than that for which you give us credit (or perhaps blame). The show as a whole focuses specifically on the life of William Shakespeare, who lived in England, and so our show deals with things that would have been going on in an around his life specifically. So, yes, we are narrowly focused, intentionally Europe focused (though we do stray into other parts of the world as our investigations of Shakespeare take us there.) Overall, when it comes to suggesting we are narrowly focused, that’s absolutely true and intentionally so, and I believe that functions as a strength of our show.
More to your point, however, our guest in this episode is talking about the use of the longbow by the English military in the 16th century when she says it is obsolete. The English military was not using the longbow in the battlefield as a standard matter of protocol when Shakespeare was writing about longbows in his plays. That’s the point our guest was making, and indeed, what I asked her to address. Our show does not delve into the many more global uses of the longbow, the overall history of archery, or any of the many appearances of the weapon of archery bow (and the undoubted plethora of iterations on “bow” we might could dig up). Again, this is intentional. See explanation above of how our show is focused.
Though, in general, I will mention I believe you may be confusing longbow with a more traditional archery bow, which are different weapons. Lastly, the Comanche made their own bows and the Comanche bow is its’ own class of weapon, not at all within the context of what this episode was designed to cover. I do not know of any Comanche in England during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but I would love to know about it if you find any.
So, in conclusion, the simple fact is that we didn’t address the issues you bring up because our show is not designed to be exhaustive on any subject, and does not stray outside the life of William Shakespeare except perhaps by a few years either way for context. I hope that helps!
Hello. Thank you for taking the time to write a full response. I’m glad you’re interested in exploring the subject with the comments. I think comments can be very useful in this way, giving the audience more in-depth information.
Granted, it’s true that the show is very specific. I still felt the need to raise this point, since the statements about the bow being (undeniably?) obsolete as a military weapon, and the apparent discrediting of military thinkers who advocated for the bow, are hard to limit to England.
I know a little bit about classes of bows, though I’m afraid I’m not sure what’s more traditional than a self-bow. Comanche bows varied in length, being either composite, or self bows typically made out of Osage orange (the wood doesn’t work well with sinew). Interestingly, American Indians in general often made bows from the, “bow tree”, also known as a Yew tree.
Longbows were used all over the world, and even the Mediterranean draw is seen everywhere from Africa to Asia to the Americas, with similar draw-weights to the English archers also used across the world. Thus, there’s nothing so distinct about the English Longbow that points against it wouldn’t also apply to Nubian, or Indian, or Joseon bowmen.
Except for one point, that the Yew tree almost went extinct in England, such that a good bow could cost something like a month’s pay; which combined with the lamentable conditions after enclosure made it so that few could afford the time, health, and wealth to practice archery.
Of course, you’re correct your show cannot be exhaustive. You raised many interesting points, such as the recruitment of actors who look like bowmen. I’ll make sure to check out some more of your episodes.
Nice talking with you.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from listeners, especially one so thoughtful as yourself. It’s nice talking with you, too! I look forward to what you think about our other episodes. Welcome!