In the Elizabethan Era, society was divided into two groups- as were crime and punishment. There was the nobility and then the rest of the population.5.gif The nobility were often wealthy, having friends in royalty or high clergy. The significance of this social division is that punishment for crimes often went according to class.

The upper class most often committed crimes like
  • High Treason
  • Blasphemy
  • Sedition
  • Spying
  • Rebellion
  • Murder
  • Witchcraft
  • Alchemy


Many wealthy nobles were able to get out of punishment, but those who couldn’t - faced such tortuous items as the rack. The commoners had a very different system.

It was illegal for them to
  • poach
  • take bird eggs
  • steal
  • be in debt
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If any commoner was caught doing one of these he could be
  • burned at the stake
  • hanged
  • pressed
  • whipped
  • branded


If a poisoner was caught, he boiled in a cauldron of oil or lead. Quartering was a punishment used most often against murder. Below, a man describes the punishment of ‘quartering.’


"The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose”
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Another outrageous rule was that begging was illegal. Those who begged were mercilessly beaten and chased until they reached the stones that marked the boundary of the town line. If found continually begging, it was not uncommon to be hung.


Also, in order to control the spread of the plague, it was made law that persons could not travel without a license. In order to travel, a license needed to be obtained from the Bailiff in the Guild Hall.
Because actors need to travel so often in order to earn their money, society looked down upon them almost as if they were beggars. They had low social status and were often accused of committing crimes. However, wealthier nobles began to sponsor certain acting troupes- and their status rose.