The Courtly Sports in Elizabethan Practice
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The Courtly Sports in Elizabethan Practice book
The last quarter of the sixteenth century saw little new inspiration in the courtly tradition, although it was still being subscribed to with considerable confidence when the Elizabethan age gave way to the Stuart. In its essential features it remained apparently flourishing. The view of human nature which it embodied was flexible and broad enough to accommodate itself to all but the most extreme shifts in theological opinion, while it had no searching philosophical questionings to face in an age which was fundamentally unphilosophical. The sense of the wholeness of man in humanism encouraged the pursuit of physical activity, both for its effect on the total personality, from which the physical was inseparable, and, though less unreservedly, for its own sake, since the physical was in its own right an integral part of a worthwhile unity. From Elyot onwards there is a persistent English belief in the character-building qualities of sport, albeit the character effects have not always been considered beneficial ones. The courtly version of Renaissance humanism also established strong social, even class, attitudes towards recreation. The structure of society itself did much to foster these but reinforcement came from the concentration on leadership and nobility which lay in the tradition of the courtier. Within this social consciousness there grew an awareness of 'style' in play, the establishment of manners and modes in games, where the result, in the theory at least, was less important than the fashion of its achievement. Such characteristics of the physical pursuits of the courtly tradition are still recognizable in the games playing of the twentieth century: whether they represent a continuous survival from Renaissance theory and practice or whether they have arisen from later revivals of sport is a question to which we must return.