Popular Entertainment

Popular Entertainment in the Elizabethan Age

Public Performances

  • Theatre was immensely popular during the Elizabethan age with public performances being the main source of entertainment. Similarly, travelling troupes performed at inns, courts and private houses.
  • Morris dancing was a common form of entertainment in the streets and often featured in fairs, along with jugglers and acrobats.
  • Mystery plays, based on Bible stories, were performed out in the open, especially around religious holidays.
  • Bear-baiting and cockfighting were also public amusements, although often criticized even in Elizabethan times because of their cruelty.

Music and Festivals

  • Music played a key role with both vocal and instrumental pieces being popular. Ballads were the most commonly heard songs, sung by minstrels.
  • Festivals were a major part of Elizabethan life, often having large public celebrations with feasts, games and performances.
  • Masked Balls were a popular form of Elizabethan celebration, particularly amongst the upper classes.


  • The Elizabethan age saw a rise in popularity in many sports. Football was played, though more violent and less regulated than today. Archery was practiced by men of all social ranks.
  • Hunting and Hawking were popular pastimes of the nobility, seen as both a sport and a way of topping up food supplies.
  • Skittles, an early form of bowling, was popular among the lower classes.

Indoor Entertainment

  • Many forms of indoor entertainment were enjoyed by the Elizabethans. Chess and cards were popular games.
  • Reading was also enjoyed by those who were literate.
  • Indoor performances such as stage plays and masques were high-quality, professional productions, often attended by Her Majesty and her court.

Students should remember that the upper-class view of what constituted ‘popular’ entertainment was often at odds with that of the lower classes. Despite this, the above points cover some of the most common forms of entertainment during this period.