Elizabeth Sharrett is a PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute.
“my little son and three or four more of their growth we’ll dress like urchins, ouphes and fairies, green and white, with rounds of waxen tapers on their heads, and rattles in their hands.” Mistress Page, The Merry Wives of Windsor (4.4)
To help entertain them as they teetered about the house with their walkers (see my previous blog here), children may have played with toys such as this rattle. Possibly Elizabethan, it is made with a shaped piece of bone for teething at the top, and four copper alloy bells are attached just below to entertain the child. The bells may also have served as a locator for children should they venture out of sight of their busy mothers. The bone and bells are fastened atop a pewter stem, which ends in a whistle. Measuring 9cm long, the diminutive object would have been the perfect size for little hands to grasp.
Charles Hoole, a seventeenth-century schoolmaster and pedagogical author, helpfully translated William Lily’s 1534 instructions on Latin grammar, writing, “The Infant is wrapped in Swadling-clothes, is laid in a Cradle, is suckled by the Mother with her breasts, and fed with Pap [a type of formula made with flour and milk]. Afterwards it learneth to go by a Standing-stool [or walker], playeth with Rattles, and beginneth to speak”.
Interestingly, this sentence is found in a subsection of Hoole’s translation entitled “The Society betwixt Parents and Children”, and possibly provides insight into ideals of child-rearing and concepts of familial relationships in Shakespeare’s England. Mistress Page’s doting description of the children in Merry Wives may likewise shed light on parent-child dynamics and notions of child development. I’ll be exploring further facets of her description in my next blog where I’ll discuss children’s garments…
This rattle is part of the Neish Pewter Collection which has now been transferred to Stirling Museum and Art Gallery.