Updated: Aug 14, 2022
In honor of National Candle Day, let’s look at two common candles of Elizabethan England.
Spoiler: There’s a trivia game at the end!
Early 18th Century Iron Rush & Candle Light
A rush candle is an ordinary candle that uses the stem of a rush plant (instead of a cotton wick) dipped in animal fat, likely that of a deer or farm animal.
Rush candles are known for the unsavory stench emitted when burned. Lower classes would use lower grade fat, which had a much stronger smell than the higher quality fat used by the gentry.
Let’s not forget the candlestick! There were quite a few to choose from back then. The one pictured below is made of brass, C. 1500s. That’s pretty much it - fairly simple ;)
Katherine submits to Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew (IV. V):
“And be it moon, or sun, or what you please;
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.”
Rush candles were basic… and smelly. In other words, if Katherine is willing to accept it as a rush candle, she is willing to accept anything. Katherine would do her duty no matter how insane it may seem. I mean, for a rush candle? How much more committed could you get?!
Imagine you’re outdoors in 17th century England - Anywhere in England. The weather is gorgeous. Your breakfast was spectacular. And you’re ready for a nap. There’s no Shoprite nearby, so you had to gather & prepare the beeswax yourself. You’re almost done!! You just have to dip & dip & dip.
So… seems simple but long, easy but hard? Yep. Pretty much. “Tedious” sounds good. Compared to designing an iPhone, yeah it was awfully simple. But those candlemakers deserve their due. The fun only lasted so long.
If you want a more visual and detailed demonstration of beeswax candle making, check out the video below! (If you'd like to skip the informational section and go straight to the candle making, we recommend you starts at 1:28 mins.)
While it appears the rush candles were more frequently used, the beeswax candle remained a popular option in Elizabethan England.
Just like the rush candles, beeswax candles had been used for YEARS before Mr. Shakespeare was born.
I know what you’re thinking. This is going to be five multiple-choice questions to make sure you remembered what you read. But no. They’re much more fun :)
(Answers are below)
Name the Shakespeare play. Quote: “Out, out, brief candle!”
a. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
d. The Tempest
2. Berries from what bush were later used for a while instead of animal fat? Hint: This new candle smelled much better!
3. Which play uses a candle as a symbol for life? Hint: Quote: “Here burns my candle out; ay, here it dies”
a. As You Like It
c. Richard II
d. Henry VI Part III
4. “What! you are as a candle, the better part burnt out.” This is a quote from a Shakespearean play directed at which character? Hint: The person whom you are guessing agrees: “A wassail candle, my lord—all tallow; if I did say wax, my growth would approve the truth.”
d. One of the Messengers
5. Chandeliers during the Elizabethan period would often include _____ motifs.
Fun Fact: Their berries were grayish-green.
3. d. Henry VI Part III
4. a. Falstaff
Fun Fact: Lord Chief Justice is the one speaking with Falstaff.
5. a., b., c., & d. are all correct!!!
How’d you do on the quiz??
Written by Mariela Rivero
Edited by Laura Yumi Snell
18th. Century Table Top Rush/Candle: Art Antiques Michigan. Art Antiques Michigan RSS. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2021, from http://artantiquesmichigan.com/18th-century-table-top-rush-candle-light/.
Act 4, Scene 5: Popup Note Index Item: "Rush-Candle". myShakespeare. (2021, February 15). Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https://myshakespeare.com/taming-of-the-shrew/act-4-scene-5-popup-note-index-item-rush-candle.
Hamling, T. (2011, July 26). Shakespeare in 100 Objects: Candlestick. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/shakespeare-100-objects-candlestick/.
Naked Handmade Beeswax Candles. Prairie Fire Herbal. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https://www.prairiefireherbal.com/shop/naked-beeswax-taper-candles.