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Welcome to Episode #81 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

The Renaissance in England brought with it the exploration of new lands as well as the invention of new technology. For William Shakespeare, the concept of using something as ordinary as a wrist watch was a brand new thought that most people had never seen before. In fact, one of the ways we even know there were wrist watches in Shakespeare’s lifetime comes from a single reference to an “arm watch” given to Queen Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley. For the regular guy on the street or in the theater, in our case, they had a different idea of what it meant to tell time, as the 16th century marked the first time anyone was trying to do it using mechanical clocks. Our guest this week is Wendy Beth Hyman.

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Wendy Beth Hyman is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College, where she teaches classes on Shakespeare, Renaissance poetry, and the intersections of early modern literature with science, material culture, and the history of art. She is author of the Impossible Desire and the Limits of Knowledge in Renaissance Poetry (published by Oxford University Press in 2019), an essay collection called The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature, She is also the coeditor (with Hillary Eklund) of Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare: Why Renaissance Literature Matters Now). She has published widely on the relationship between early modern poetics and the history of science, including work on early modern mechanical birds, the relationship between physics and metaphysics in lyric, and the strong proximity between mechanical engines and ingenious poetry.Her article on early modern clockworks and jacquemarts shows their influence on Jack Falstaff and other characters negotiating their relationship to time in Shakespeare’s history plays. She has served on the Program Committee of the Shakespeare Association of America, is one of the editors for the forthcoming Routledge Encyclopedia of the Renaissance World, and is co-editing a special issue of English Literary Renaissance called “Theorizing Renaissance Fictions.”

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In this episode, I’ll be asking Wendy about :

  • Why were there places, like a forest, where a person could “get away from time”?   
  • Was owning a watch, or carrying one was a status symbol?

  • Could jacquemarts (a specific part of a clock device in the 16th century) have been used in the theater? 

  • … and more!

While I stand fooling here, his Jack o' the clock.
This music mads me; let it sound no more

Richard II

Richard II (V.4)

Image: Drawing of Queen Elizabeth receiving a “wristwatch” in 1571. From 1926 Gruen Guild advert. “The imaginative illustration shown here is taken from a 1926 Gruen Guild advert and shows Robert Dudley presenting the queen with her wristwatch.” Quotation and accompanying article Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 – 2019 all rights reserved. The image itself is older than 70 years, and therefore in the Public Domain per US Copyright Law. Source

Elizabeth's Arm Watch

According to a book from the Massachussets Public Library, and available online, the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, not only have her majesty one wrist watch, but he and other courtiers were very fond of giving her majesty clocks as gifts throughout the early 1570s. As you might expect, every single watch given to the Queen was beautiful and highly ornate. (Though likely not very good at keeping actual time.)

In 1571 the Earl of Leicester gave
to his royal mistress “ one armlet or shakell of golde, all over fairelv
garnished with rubyes and dyamondes, haveing in the closing thearof
a clocke.” In the same year two other gifts are mentioned, a “ juell,
being a chrsolite garnished with rubyes and dyamondes, haveing in
the closing thearof a clocke ‘; and “a juell, being a chrsolite
garnished with golde, flagon facyou, throne side sett with two
emeraldes, . . . thbther side having in it a clocke.” In 1573
Elizabeth received from Margaret, Countess of Derby, “ a white
beare of gold and mother of perle, holding a ragged staffe, standing
upon a toune of golde, whearin is a clocke, the same toune staffe
garnished with dyamondes and rubyes.” The “ clock and all ”
weighed three ounces. In 1575 Mr Hatton, captain of the guard,
gave the queen “a riche juell, being a clocke of golde, garnished
with dyamondes, rubyes in the bottome, and a fayre emeralde
pendante sett in golde and two mene perles pendaunte, all ix oz.
iii q a .” In 1578 the Earl of Leicester presented Elizabeth with “a
tablet of golde, being a clocke fully furnished with small diamondes
and rubyes ; abowte the same are six bigger diamondes pointed,
and a pendaunte of golde, diamondes, and rubyes very smale. And
upon eche side losengye diamonde, and an apple of golde enamuled
green and russet.” In the same year the Earl of Russell gave to
the queen “a ring of golde, called a parmadas, sett with vj small
diamonds and garnished round about with small rubies and two
sparcks of ophalls, and in the same backeside a dyall.” In 1580
the Earl of Leicester gave her “a cheyne of golde made like a
pavre of beades concayning viii long peeces fully garnished with
small diamondes, and fower score and one smaller peeces fullie
garnished with like diamondes : and hanging thereat a rounde clocke
fullie garnished with dyamonds, and an appendante of diamondes
hanging thearat.” In the same year was presented to the queen by
Lord Russell, “item, a watche sett in mother of pearle with three
pendaunts of goulde garnished with sparc-kes of rubyes, and an
opliall in everie of them, and three small pearles pendaunte.” In
the same year Mr Edward Stafford gave her “ a little clocke of
goulde with a cristall, garnished with sparc-kes of emeraldes, and
furnished on the back syde with other dyamondes, rubies, and other
stones of small value.” There were also many humbler contributors
to her store. In 1556 her clockmaker, Nicholas Urseau, presented
“ a faire clocke in a case cover with blake vellat ” ; and her “ clocke
keeper, John Demolyn, a cloke with a lambe on it of copper guilt. “

From “Old Clocks and Watches & Their Makers” by F. J. Britten, 3rd Ed. Source

I pray you, what is't o'clock?

As You Like It (III.2)

Jacquemart de la Collégiale Saint Pierre à Louvain (Belgique) | Jacquemart (Bell Striker) | Source

What is a jacquemart?

This week, Wendy shares that “There’s an understanding of character a jack as a person is interpolated with time systems” for Shakespeare's lifetime, and figure that not only shows up in the plays but was popular throughout Europe at the time the bard was writing.

Wendy described the jacquemart as “The figure that strikes the bell” and gives the example of the soldier figure in Venice at Well's Cathedral. The figure that struck the hammer was called a jackmart, which was someone who weilded a hammer to strike the clock on the hour. In french, the word “jacquemart” translates to “jack + hammer” and represents a working class figure who does physical labor. 

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare's plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
 Download the app here.

This app is an official sponsor of That Shakespeare Life.


Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning
May bare the raven's eye! I lodge in fear;
Though this a heavenly angel, hell is here.
[Clock strikes]
One, two, three: time, time!


Cymbeline (II.2)

The outer dial and quarter-jacks on the north transept at Wells Cathedral. Posted to Wikimedia Commons by user named Lamia. Source

Where did people see jacquemarts?

Wendy explains that for people of Shakespeare's lifetime, if they saw a jacquemart in person it would have been at Well's Cathedral in Venice, which was built in the 1380s and is still in existence there today. This jacquemart was either seen by many, or talked about upon return home to England, but it was a concept many knew about.

As far as time-telling goes for William Shakespeare's England, many still relied on the bells at local cathedrals to mark the time of day. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral was unique in that it rang bells to mark the quarter of the hour, but the jacquemart that made this possible was not located in an area of the cathedral where it was highly visible. Wendy believes not many would have seen it there. 

As a fun fact about time in Shakespeare's England is that it was confusing. For example, not many people knew the year they were born. As an example of how time telling was different for some in Shakespeare's lifetime, the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet talks of Juliet's age in terms of the major events that occured that year, as opposed to citing the calendar. 

The internal dial of the astronomical clock at Well's Cathedral. Source

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If to-morrow be a fair day, by eleven o'clock it will go one way or other


Troilus and Cressida (III.3)

Sir John Schorne (died 1313) was rector of North Marston in Buckinghamshire, England. He was a very pious man and was said to have performed miracle cures for gout and toothache. His reputation for holiness was so great, that he is believed to have cast the devil into a boot. (This stems from a 17th century belief that evil spirits could be trapped in human shoes) He is often pictured holding a boot with a devil in it, which was thought to be the origin of the child's jack-in-the-box toy. IMAGE SOURCE

Jacquemarts related to the Jack-in-the-box

 Despite the apparent affluence the ownership of a clock conveyed, there are specifically germanic expressions related to the clock like jack-in-the-box, for example, which were used to indicate a lower class, mechanical labor origin of the clock. Wendy commented that she finds it funny that people ascribe affluence to the clock itself, but not to the creation of one. I (Cassidy) find this humerous as well, thinking of brands like Omega and Rolex, we seem to continue this mindset with our time pieces still today.

Etymologically, the concept of a jack in the box does trace it's roots to a jacquemartand to jacob, which translates in some languages to Iago. (Like the character villian in Shakespeare's Othello). A jack in the box, or jack of all trades, carries with it a reputation of someone who is circumnavigating the correct channels. Wendy describes the association of the term as “Anyone who is ambitious trying to enhance their station is someone of lower character. [They are trying to] outwit and out maneuver the social structures, [and] that’s a Jack.”

We see this concept of a Jack, with implications of those characters doing just that–of trying to circumnavigate their social structures in numerous places in Shakespeare's plays. 

Wendy points out that in the 16th century, people had a weird mixup between distinct things, like the clock vs the clockmaker. They would make a distinction between someone who did something and someone who conceived of the thing in the first place. There was “a weird conflation of machine, and the cerebral quality of being a genius and brilliant.”

Video taken by Deborah Harkness (Author of Discovery of Witches). This is part of the exhibition at the MET in New York City, USA, about "early modern automatons" Shared on Facebook Feb 2020.

Books Wendy Beth Hyman recommends:

Wendy Beth Hymand recommends an excellent resource by Tiffany Stern that you can download for free and read online here. It is called Time for Shakespeare.

You can also listen to Tiffany Stern's episode here with us on That Shakespeare Life at



Wendy's desert island book selection is:


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