For all the productions of Shakespeare staged on the beach; there isn’t a lot of action in Shakespeare’s plays that specifically involves beach activities. Sure, we have Prospero’s conjuring scenes in ‘The Tempest’ and some shipwreck sense (I’m looking at you, Comedy of Errors); but there’s not really a beach scene in any of Shakespeare’s plays where people actually do beach-y things.
What was your average Elizabethan’s day at the beach like anyway? Well, assuming you had enough money to both skip work for a while and travel to a beach (not the closest thing to London); your beach bum dreams would certainly be a lot different circa 1598. For starters, going to the beach for fun wasn’t a pastime in Elizabethan England (or Elizabethan anywhere else, for that matter). The idea of going to the beach for fun or leisure didn’t really catch on until the 19th century. In fact, the idea of being wet at all was thought of as unhealthy. Getting wet was viewed as a disruption of the humours, and was avoided like the plague (ok, probably more successfully).
The beaches themselves, if you happened to have both a lot of money and an estate near one, looked different as well. They would have all been natural, rocky and cliff-edged. The only place you would have found sand is where it occurred naturally; like the south Americas and the African continent.
Hungry for some ice cream and burgers for your Eliza-beach-an adventure? Of course you’re not! This is 1598, so naturally your go-to snack is bread and cheese. If you happen to be especially rich, though, you can have some swan and pastries. Delicious and refreshing! And if you’re not the type to go in the water (a rather good idea, survival-wise, as the water isn’t the cleanest), you can enjoy a plethora of dry land activities. In the Elizabethan era there is bear baiting, chess, cards, and of course the theatre, to name a few. So much to do you’re sure to sleep well tonight.
Now, don’t you just wish more Renaissance Fairs were held at the beach? I know I do. That swan sounds so good I’m tempted to make it at home.
We can only postulate, but my personal guess is that Shakespeare was probably a little too busy to make it out for some fun in the sun. And after giving us so many wonderful plays and poems, we can’t really blame him. Perhaps, for the bard, it mattered not that you were on a beach; but more so what you did on it.