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Elizabethan Fencing

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Calixta Lehman

on 4 February 2016

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Transcript of Elizabethan Fencing

Elizabethan Fencing
First of all...
Fencing during the Elizabethan Era was incredibly different from the most recent art of dueling. In Shakespeare's time, men were given the right to carry around swords, as only as a form of protection. Any sort of dueling in a public area was stricly forbidden. This law was enforced by Queen Elizabeth just to keep her subjects from killing each other for no apparant reason.
"Skill and technique, rather than size and strength, decide the outcomes." [2] Imagine a tall muscular man fencing a smaller averaging-looking man. Because of the superior size of the taller man, most people would assume that he would be the winner. This is not necessarily the case. Men in the Middle Ages have multiple opportunities to learn how to fence. If they could afford it, some men would pay a Master to teach them. But most would learn from parents, friends, and even from people demanding a duel in the streets. Being tall and burly back then did not mean as much in a fight as long as you had some experience.
When most modern authors refer to fencing in the Middle Ages, they usually include a paraphraised version of Egerton Castle's rude and uneducated comments. These comments include accusations including "Medieval society being ruled by brute force", and "duels were typically won by the gentleman with the most armor and heaviest sword". If this were true, it certainly would not take a practitioner of the Noble Science of Defense* 14 years of restless practice to be considered a Master. Beware untrue misconceptions that rough and untutored fighting was what determined things from social life to politics in the Middle Ages.

*elite academy of self defence legitimized in 1540
Book Bibliographies
Swords in the Middle Ages
Out of all the Renaissance blades, from sabers to small swords, the rapier was almost always the weapon of choice. "Ideal" rapiers were typically long, thin, double-edged blades that ranged from 42 to 48 inches. "...during the 16th century sword designs changed, and some blades became narrower, longer, and more pointed." [1] Rapier's designs were upgraded versions of swords used by knights. Kinghts needed weapons that were wide and tough, like the two-handed broadsword to break through the armor worn by opponents. Since rapiers are used for things such asduels and resolving petty arguments, they did not have to be quite as thick and strong as used by knights.
Amberger, J. Christoph. The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures in Ancient Martial Arts. Burbank, CA: Multi-Media, 1998. Print.

Clements, John. Renaissance Swordsmanship: The Illustrated Use of Rapiers and Cut-and-thrust Swords. Boulder, CO: Paladin, 1997. Print.

Byam, Michèle, and Dave King. <i>Arms &amp; Armor</i>. New York: Knopf, 1988. Print.
Newspaper Bibliography
Bishop, Mac William. "Medieval Weapon Finds Modern Appeal." <i>The New York Times</i>. The New York Times, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
Fencing in
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
does not go deep into the subject of fencing, but it does play an important role. Fencing was how most of the characters were cut from the play. This suggests that fencing was indeed common during the time of Shakespeare, as it occurs often in his writing. One of the few references to fencing in the story is before the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt. Mercutio frowns upon Tyblat's "rapier-and-daggar" technique as it is not an English style of fencing, it is Spanish. "From the descriptions given in the play, we can describe Tybalt's fencing technique, adumbrate his character from his technique, and describe the theatrical affect his fighting had on the stage." [3]
Article Bibliography
Soens, Adolph L.. “Tybalt's Spanish Fencing in Romeo and Juliet”. Shakespeare Quarterly 20.2 (1969): 121–127. Web...
by Calixta Lehman
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