History of the World According to the Movies: Part 94 – General History: Daily Life

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If you think Barry Lyndon is too boring or depressing outlook on life in the 18th century, here is the 1963 Oscar winning film Tom Jones which is based on the 1749 comic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding. Though it doesn’t really provide an ideal portrait of life at the time, it nevertheless shows an accurate one. Still, even so, it continues to remind us that people living in the 18th century (or any other time in history) were just like everyone else, whores, bad table manners, and all.

Of course, I couldn’t end my movie history series without doing a post on daily life. Let’s just say while movies could show our perception of history, this doesn’t mean it played out like it actually did. Let’s just say if we used Smell-O-Vision in the historical film standpoint, you’d probably wouldn’t be able to see the movie since you’d be out of the theater by then. Still, we all know that those living in the past weren’t nearly as attractive as the actors we see onscreen as I’ve written on my previous posts and they probably didn’t talk the same either. Yet, we kind of let that slide for spectacle purposes. Nevertheless, sometimes the past  is seen as a more ideal time than it actually was, especially for those who grew up at that time. In movie history, we tend to remember some of the warm and fuzzy things about the past (though we don’t tend to ignore some parts though) like how great the clothes were, how exciting the battles were like, and how people seemed to be so polite and formal to each other. Yet, we tend to forget that sometimes the outfits were uncomfortable and not weather accommodating, how wars weren’t really that much fun for the soldiers involved, and that people could be quite vicious toward each other and didn’t always have such concept as equality. Still, there are things movies get wrong about daily life in the past which I shall list.

Health:

No matter the time and place and regardless of social class, everyone was able to receive adequate dental care and retain a full set of teeth even if your dentist was the local blacksmith with no formal dental training and there was no one in sight for miles. (Of course, every American knows the story of Washington’s teeth.)

Infant mortality was almost nonexistent. (Despite the fact that childbirth was considered a dangerous part of a woman’s life and infancy was the most dangerous time in a child’s life before modern medicine. Also, half of all children in Victorian England didn’t see their fifth birthday.)

Diseases never altered appearances despite the fact that many of them were untreatable.

Constant coughing always meant tuberculosis or some deadly respiratory disease.

Most people aged faster and died at a young age. (Of course, average lifespans were low but this was mostly due to the fact that there were so many infant and childhood deaths. Not only that but people of any age often fell victim to now-treatable injuries and illnesses {such as complications from childbirth}. Sure a life of hard work and poor diet took its toll, aging progressed as much as it does today. While living past 80 was rather rare, it wasn’t unheard of. After all, Ramses II lived to be 90 and was Pharaoh for 66 years, which was about two thousand years before Christ.)

Tar and feathering didn’t cause that much damage and could be easily overcome. (Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character in Little Big Man, being tarred and feathered either resulted in death or if he survived not looking the same way again. In tarring and feathering, the subject would tend to have perhaps severe burns as well as hair ripped out. I mean everyone would remember what was done to you and it was never easy to overcome, if it was ever possible.)

No one worried about catching tuberculosis even around people who hung around them on a regular basis. (TB is a highly contagious disease which was considered untreatable. Then again, according to The Magic Mountain, sometimes it affect some worse than others.)

Cat o’ nine tails flogging didn’t leave any permanent scars on people’s backs. (This flogging could scar a person’s back for life as evidence by the photos of slaves.)

Women:

Women always shaved their legs and still looked well made up with perfect hair after a whole day of housework and child rearing. They also gave birth to big babies and usually lost the pregnancy weight very quickly. (Actually the last part I was making fun of how most babies in films look no less than 3 months old, even if portrayed as a newborn.)

Women of European descent had bones of steel since they could wear a huge dress with a tightly lace corset without suffocating and little damage to their body. (Wearing a huge dress was no fun and many women couldn’t breathe in a corset. Also, did damage to their internal organs.)

Women had long hair that they let flowing free. (Unless they were Ancient Roman prostitutes, but most women in history usually bound their hair to keep it clean from the elements they’d come in contact with or while doing housework.)

Women usually wore white at their wedding. (This was not standard until the Victorian Era and started by Queen Victoria herself.

Before then, it was usually blue, red, purple, or any other color embroidered and brocaded with white and silver thread for rich girls. Not to mention, well off girls did have many white outfits during the 1800s. In Sweden before the 1920s, brides wore black. For poor girls, it was usually their Sunday best. Not to mention, white easily stained and before there were better cleaning methods, wearing white was usually reserved for the upper classes.)

Women were expected to be virgins until marriage. (In some eras and cultures, yes, but for most of history, most guys would be just as happy if she was pretty, rich, young, and healthy enough to have children, strong enough to tend house, and not closely related. And even when a girl’s virginity was emphasized, so was the guy’s as well at times and usually among aristocratic circles. Not to mention, it wasn’t uncommon for a widowed mother to remarry soon after her husband’s death mostly for financial security. Not only that, but marrying a master’s widow was usually how a journeyman tradesman landed his own shop.)

Women between the 16th and the early 20th century wore their hair down in public. (Long tresses in public were considered risqué at the time. Women’s hair was usually pinned up at all times except bedtime or sickness.)

All women were expected to be housewives. (Well, this is a bit complicated but a woman’s role in life depended on her social status, especially in a pre-industrial society. Yet, in the Western World, the idea of women being solely mothers and wives didn’t come to be until the Victorian era. Sure women were expected to be wives and mothers as well as do housework {yet not always in their own house} but they also had to work, too, or at least assist their husband in their jobs. Wives of craftsmen often helped their husbands and could keep running his business in widowhood. Women who were poor or working class either worked in the factories or on the farms like their families did because they simply couldn’t afford to stay home.)

Sex:

Everyone married as teenagers until very recent times. (Ancient times, maybe. Modern times, not so much except maybe in Third-World countries. Though there were marriages that involved teenagers, most of them were concentrated among the upper classes and even then, consummation had to wait until the bride could safely deliver a child {since the teenager involved would almost always be the girl}. Still, though 13 year old mothers did exist in those days, 13 year old brides usually didn’t sleep with their husbands until they were 16 at least {or older depending on the age of the husband}. Everyone else worked and saved money, trained as apprentices or journeymen, or waited for the old man to die until they got married in their mid-twenties when they could afford to. Thus, despite that people didn’t live as long then as we do now, the average marrying age has seldom changed at least as the western world since the Middle Ages is concerned. )

Almost every historical figure was straight or asexual unless hinted otherwise. (There may not be much evidence to determine a person’s sexual orientation but there has been more evidence when it came to historical figures engaging in homosexual acts.)

Until recent times, everyone was conceived and born in wedlock unless stated otherwise. (Actually, the definition of wedlock has been loosely defined ranging from being married in the modern sense to just shacking up. Also, St. Paul says nothing in his letters about cohabitation before marriage because such a concept didn’t even exist. And until recent times, the notion of “common law” marriage was legal and widely practiced. Until recently, even when a couple did cohabit, most of the time they referred to each other “husband and wife” or “roommates” depending on sexual orientation. Not to mention, shotgun weddings in history were very common, since there was a popular saying that the first baby could come at any time after the wedding while the second always took 9 months.)

Children remained innocent and didn’t know anything about the birds and the bees. (Despite the fact that families tended to sleep in one room and at one time, most kids lived on subsistence farms for much of history. Not to mention, most ancient and medieval kids didn’t know anything about privacy. Sex education wasn’t needed then.)

Cousin marriage occurred quite frequently. (Sure there were famous people who married their first cousins like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Sure first cousin marriage was accepted and happened more often to some degree but not to that kind of extent. Also, unlike today, it wasn’t uncommon for people to view even distant cousins as “cousins” as long as it was known they had a traceable common ancestor. And marriages between distant cousins happened much more frequently since they were more likely to occupy the same social status {this explains Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt who were 5th cousins}, especially if the marriage was arranged.)

Cousin marriages led to birth defects. (Cousin marriages may double the risk of birth defects but that’s only an increase from 2% to 4% as long as it is a one-time thing in the gene pool and there hasn’t been much family intermarriage in previous generations. Now in families in which the members only marry their cousins and have only done so over generation, then you may end up having a child who looks like Charles II of Spain. But then again, there were plenty of Hapsburgs who married their nieces or nephews as well, which doesn’t do their children’s genes any favors. Not to mention, notice by “cousin” I’m only talking about first cousins since first cousin marriage is pretty much illegal in most states while most old time aristocrats married their second cousins, and most people don’t know who their third cousins are.)

Contraception didn’t exist until the 20th century. (Maybe as we know it but people have always tried to find ways to control their fertility and avoid pregnancy since they knew about the basics of sex and procreation. Yet, you don’t want to know what your ancestors used as contraception. Still, what I can say is that the idea of safe sex and STD prevention is new since until the advent of latex condoms and sanitation, the only STD protection was abstinence.)

There were no gay people until recent times. (Gay people have always existed in every culture throughout history yet sometimes it depended how openly.)

City Life:

Urban waterways were always clean and crystal clear before cities had modern municipal sanitation. (Then why did a lot of European children drink alcohol for centuries then? I mean modern water treatment was invented for a reason because you wouldn’t want to drink whatever was in those shit infested waterways at the time.)

City roads were always clean. (Except the fact that horses normally took a crap in the streets and people dumped their bodily waste out the window for centuries {during a tour of the Confederate White House, I found out that Jefferson Davis and his family flushed their bodily contents out into the street}. Sometimes people went to the bathroom out into the street.)

The city air was always clean and breathable. (From the 19th century to the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon for Pittsburgh’s street lights to come on at noon. Also, there have been notable smog attacks in history.)
Landscapes:

Cemeteries were perfectly pleasant places to walk in during the 18th early 19th century. (By this time churchyard burial crowds grew so crowded that it proved challenging to find fresh spots to dig for fear of previous corpses’ body parts coming up when the gravedigger stuck in the shovel. Not to mention the smell of churchyards filling up with layer after layer of corpses became so unpleasant if not dangerous that the tradition of the bereaved attending grave-side services was often abandoned. Then there’s the fact that gravediggers had to drill a hole into a coffin to make room for new arrivals. They would then install a tube to draw off the gases from purification which would be burned off to make the coffin safe for handling {which could take 20 minutes}. One report said, “to inhale the gas, undiluted with atmospheric air, is instant death.” Until later in the 19th century, urban churchyards were actually environmental disaster areas you wouldn’t want to visit and this wasn’t due to people believing in ghosts. I mean 18th and early 19th century graveyards were places you’d want to avoid.)

Farm villages had nice gravel paths.

Estate lawns were always well manicured. (Despite that most of the landscaping would be done by animals like goats and sheep. However, they didn’t do as well as having a regular tractor or lawn mower would.)

Prostitution was seen as immoral. (Yes, but it was actually tolerated for much of history such as in the Middle Ages. Not only that, but there was much more prostitution {and certainly a lot more prostitutes since it was one of the few opportunities for poor women at the time} in the past than nowadays. Still, it’s no wonder that prostitution is seen as “The World’s Oldest Profession” since almost all ancient civilizations had practiced some kind of sex for currency. There’s a mention of it in Herodotus and in the Code of Hammurabi. Not only that, but it might even be older than humanity itself since Bonobos have been observed trading sexual favors for food, meaning it might go back for millions of years.)

Buildings:

Archaeological monuments were always riddled with booby-traps to protect their treasures from being stolen by robbers and future archaeologists.

No matter how much a building is bombed, you can bet it will still have running water and electricity if available.

No matter what time and place, almost everyone had houses with glass windows. (For a long time in history, window glass was expensive, especially in the 18th century. Also, many people who planned to emigrate to America were advised to take their windows with them. In early America, it wasn’t uncommon for people to remove and store their windows for safekeeping while they were away from home.)

Since the early 1800s, people used modern turning doorknobs. (These were rare during most of the 1800s and weren’t patented until 1878.)

No matter what time and place, most buildings had glass windows. (Since window glass was expensive before industrialization, only the rich can afford them. And even then, they would only put glass windows in certain buildings like their houses. Not sure about public buildings though but I know churches had them.)

Infrastructure:

Roads were always clean and navigable.

Animals:

Horses never took a dump in the street.

Hygiene:

Nobody used a bathroom or discussed bodily functions in any way, shape, or form. (Even though jokes about bodily functions are probably among the oldest on record.)

Urine wasn’t used for anything. (Let’s just say people in history had a lot of uses for urine such as tanning leather, laundry detergent, gun powder, teeth whitener, medicine {18th century doctors used it for almost anything}, and other things.)

No matter what time and place people always managed to wash their hair. (Maybe, but there are so many movies with people having clean hair when they shouldn’t, especially if it’s set during the Age of Sail.)

Communication:

Despite the cultural divides, people were able to communicate with each other without the use of a translator. (If this was true in real life, George Washington wouldn’t have fucked up in Fort Necessity.)

No matter what time or place, everyone wrote on paper. (This partly true because people in ancient and medieval times in the western world did write on a kind of paper like papyrus, parchment, and vellum. However, paper as we know was invented by the Chinese in the second century and didn’t come to Europe until the 13th century.)

All languages always had a formal spelling system.

Printing wasn’t used until the time of Johannes Gutenberg. (Monks actually used some type of printing by carving a whole page on wood during the Middle Ages while the Chinese had printing blocks. Gutenberg only came up with the notion of moveable type which was much more efficient and set off a revolution.)

British people always spoke in modern British accents. (Let’s just say if the movie takes place in England before 1800 and one of the characters is played by an American actor who can’t master an accent {say, Humphrey Bogart}, it probably won’t make much difference. I mean we don’t know how people sounded like before sound recording anyway.)

Quill pens could be used over and over again without having to be redipped in the same inkwell. (Quill pens need to be redipped into the inkwell frequently.)

Quill pens could be used in any temperature setting. (Thomas Jefferson once noted he had to stop writing one night because the ink from his pen kept freezing.)

Messengers had an easy time doing their job. (Sorry, but messengers didn’t have it easy since they had to travel miles {either running or horseback} and their lives were often at risk. Have you ever heard the phrase Don’t Shoot the Messenger?)

Dress:

Everyone dressed in modest clothes. (For the time, maybe but we did have codpieces in the 1500s and cleavage and pushed up boobs were all the rage in 17th and 18th century Europe. Also, when women wore long drawers in the 19th century, they opened at the crotch {so the woman wouldn’t have to lift her hoop skirts up to go to the bathroom}, which explains why the can-can was considered obscene. Ancient Greek athletes participated in the Olympic Games naked. Ancient Egyptian children ran around nude and seeing a topless woman in Minoan Crete was a rather common sight as well as in Egypt. Actually almost anything the Egyptians wore would be considered overly skimpy by today’s standards. Also, there was no such thing as underwear or pajamas until the Industrial Revolution.)

The Dutch wore wooden shoes. (Wooden shoes were worn by the poorer classes of Europe.)

From the Middle Ages on, women always wore underwear. (Well, to a point. But when it comes to underwear as we know it, not really. Female convicts were burned at the stake to preserve modesty, especially in the Middle Ages when most people didn’t really wear any. Not to mention, wearing billowing skirts with underwear sometimes made things difficult to go to the bathroom {but it made it perfectly acceptable for women to pee standing up}. So for a medieval woman, lifting her skirt could result in exposing her genitalia. And even when women had underwear, they still ran the risk of exposing their genitals in public because such garments were designed with a split crotch to allow them to go to the bathroom without having to reach through her skirt and pull down their drawers. So you might as well say that modern women’s underwear didn’t come out until at least the early 20th century.)

No one appeared naked in public. (Have you ever seen ancient artworks?)

Only women wore corsets. (Men wore them during special occasions, too, especially in the 19th century.)

Makeup was always safe to use and didn’t cause any disfigurement, health problems, or death whatsoever. (Despite that lead was a makeup base for hundreds of years which actually caused those three things.)

Women’s clothes never limited physical mobility or caused any health problems whatsoever. (Corsets, hoop skirts, and other old women’s fashions caused their share of health issues for women.)

People always wore left and right oriented shoes. (Such footwear was invented in 1850.)

It wasn’t unusual for clothes to have zippers attached on them. (Zippers were invented in 1891 so much of its attachment on clothing on many historical films before the 20th century is anachronistic.)

Clothing was of regular size. (Well, sometimes, but from many outfits I’ve seen in a museum, much of the clothing looks incredibly tiny.)

Diamond engagement rings were a long standing tradition. (Contrary to a lot of movies, this is only a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century after World War I usually as a way for a man to tell his girlfriend that he actually meant to marry her and wasn’t just proposing to get sex, which was a big deal considering that the early part of the interwar era was the 1920s {a period when pre-marital sex wasn’t as much taboo but birth control wasn’t widely available and slut shaming single mothers was common}. The DeBeers ran with it from there. Yet, the diamond engagement ring tradition did evolve from the notion of common engagement gifts as acrostic jewelry with the initial of the set gems spelling out words or names, and the piece didn’t always have to be a ring. As for wedding bands, well, they’ve been around since the Middle Ages or earlier {yet only for women for rather obvious reasons}, but the idea of men wearing wedding rings is a relatively newer idea.)

Bell-bottom pants appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. (They were invented in the 1920s.)

Kilts were a traditional Scottish garment. (They were around in Scotland in the 1500s which is too late for Braveheart and tartan didn’t develop until that time either and the idea that there was a particular tartan associated with the clans of Scotland stems back to the 19th century in Victorian England, not Scotland. Yet, they were worn by upper class men in Ancient Egypt. They were also seen as the default male garment in many ancient societies like in Ancient Greece except for those with a tradition of horseback riding {they wore pants since they offered a greater protection from chafing}. Still, as with kilts, you’re more likely to see Ramses II in one than William Wallace.)

Pants and jackets were relatively new clothing items. (People were wearing both of these during the Ice Age. Also, the sewing needle is 40,000 years old.)

Children:

Orphanages were usually homes to orphans. (Also to kids who were abandoned for being born out of wedlock as well as kids whose parents were too poor to feed them and kids who were homeless.)

Getting over loss of children was easier back in the day because child mortality was common. (It wasn’t any easier.)

Teddy bears had been toys for children for hundreds of years. (Teddy Bears have been around since 1902.)

Impoverished children could walk as well as possess all four limbs with all their digits. (Many children who were living in poverty during the 19th century would’ve been working in the factories, mines, or other facilities under very unsafe conditions for very long hours and a pittance. Add to that diseases, poor hygiene and malnutrition.)

Family:

Almost everyone lived in nuclear families unless specified otherwise. (Blended families and multiple generations living under one roof were a very common sight. Not to mention, people who lost a spouse usually remarried mostly due to necessity. Also, most Chinese and Indian children today are usually looked after by their grandparents.)

Fathers were always the head of their family. (It actually depended on the culture and who the most senior member of the household. In many Native American societies, descent and family allegiance came from the mother and many times the head of the family was Grandma. Not only that, but in these types of societies it wasn’t uncommon for the kids to be subject to the male authority of their maternal uncle, not their dad. In some Native American cultures, tribal headship was often passed on between brothers or from maternal uncle to nephew. In certain patrilineal societies with multi-generational households, the head of the family was usually the most senior male whether it be Grandpa or a paternal uncle such as in China.)

Teenage children often lived with their parents. (Well, most of the time in history. Yet, this doesn’t apply to those in the craft professions and the noble classes between the Middle Ages and the 19th century since they were usually sent to a foster family, master craftsman, or a boarding school once they hit a certain age. If not, then they usually started working under their parents or at another household.This was because it was popularly held that parents shouldn’t teach their own kids.)

Children were encouraged to read. (Thanks to the popularity of television and video games, yet before that reading was a primary form of entertainment with parents viewing “excessive reading” as more of an issue than “not reading enough.”)

Food and Drink:

People used sugar lumps in their tea from the 17th century. (Sugar cubes were invented in 1840.)

Food products were always genuine, edible, safe, and organic. (The 19th century was a time when food producers were notorious for adulterating their products with anything they could get their hands on which would be remotely similar to the real thing. Here are a few examples of some foods and what kind of fillers they used:

Sugar and flour: Makers of each would pad these products with “daft” with fillers including dirt, sand, plaster of Paris and gypsum.

Tea: There was one Victorian-era shipment of tea inspected by a suspicious buyer which turned out to be almost half dirt and sand.
Coffee: In the 1870s, it was common for what was sold as coffee to contain mostly roasted peas and beans {not coffee beans} flavored with chicory.

Horseradish: Part of Henry J. Heinz’s success in 1869 was initially due to him selling his mother’s grated horseradish in a clear glass jar to show that he was selling the real thing. Unlike his competitors, his product contained no turnip filler, leaves, or wood pulp.

Fruit: Since tainted fruit was blamed for the cholera epidemic of 1832, New York City briefly banned its sale in the aftermath.

Ice Cream: One sample tested from 1881 was found to contain cotton, insects, human hair, and cat hair. Also, it wasn’t unusual for ice cream shop owners to stir their concoctions with their bare hands.

Around the turn of the 20th century, 80% of the samples tested in Philadelphia was found to contain streptococci bacteria.

Butter: “Bogus butter” was sold to unsuspecting customers in the 1890s which was a concoction of bleached hog fat and animal parts.

Meat: See Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and you can see why. Then there’s the Chicago slaughterhouses sending soldiers in the Spanish American War low quality, spoiled, and adulterated beef products. Naturally meat reaching soldiers caused an unprecedented toll of illnesses and deaths.

And food adulteration hasn’t been limited to the 19th century either.

Bread: A 1757 book claimed that bakers added sacks of old bones to their bread with other additives including chalk, white lead, ash, and slaked lime.

Baked goods: Before food and drug laws, some bakers gave their products a wash of lead chromate said to give their bread and pies a golden glow.

Cherries: One 18th century author claimed that cherry vendors rolled the fruit around their mouths to make it glisten before being displayed.

Milk: One picaresque account in 1771 described how milk was carried in open pails where it could fall prey to “spittle, snot, and tobacco squids….spatterings from coach wheels…the spewings of infants, and vermin plopping into the milk pail.”

In the Ohio River Valley, there was a perennial herb called snakeroot containing the poison tremetol which was safe for cows and passed along in their milk. Though tremetol tainted milk didn’t taste or smell any differently from other milk, thousands are said to have died from the mysterious milk sickness, especially children until frontier physician Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby figured out the cause supposedly with the help of a Shawnee medicine woman. Still, Nancy Lincoln is said to have died from milk sickness when her son Abraham was nine years old.

Then there’s “swill milk” that came from the distillery cows fed waste mash and “whiskey slops.” Kids given swill milk were said to exhibit signs of drunkenness. Also, distillery dairy cows were so old and sick that they had to be pulled up by cranes in order to be milked.

Butter: Dairies were said to adulterate their butter with anything they could get their hands on including gypsum, gelatin, and mashed potatoes.)

Home:

No matter what time or place, people always kept their clothes in wardrobes, closets, and chests of drawers. (Until the 1600s, most people kept their clothes in trunks along with everything else that belonged to them.)

Maritime:

It wasn’t unusual to have women on board submarines. (Though you may see this a lot in movies, until perhaps a few years ago {if then}, women weren’t allowed to serve on a submarine, at least in the United States.)

Steamboats were a safe mode for transportation. (Steamboats had a lot of hazards on them in an age when these weren’t inspected or insured. By the 1850s, 500 steamboats would be involved in accidents which would kill about 4,000 people. A big cause of accidents was racing with captains ignoring safety precautions in favor of winning making them susceptible to underwater obstacles, boiler explosions, collisions, snags, and fires {it didn’t help that they were made out of wood and coated with flammable paint and varnish}. Mark Twain would lose a brother in a slow and painful death in a steamboat accident in 1858 and wouldn’t be the same after that. And in 1865, the boiler explosion on the Sultana would result in fire and kill between 1400-2200 people and become the worst maritime disaster in US history. Also, there’s a reason why the average steamboat lifespan was 4 to 5 years and let’s just say that the descriptions in accounts pertaining to steamboat accidents are horrifying. Now think about that whenever you see Showboat.)

Transportation:

Train travel was perfectly safe. (Trains and railways were rolling death traps that claimed more lives than some wars in much of the 19th and early 20th centuries whether by derailments, collisions, bridge failures, and others. And that’s for those riding the train. Plenty of people died crossing the railroads as well, especially in the United States.)

Horse transportation was relatively safe. (Horses and horse drawn vehicles brought constant carnage. According to the National Safety Council, transportation fatalities in the 19th century were 10 times the rate of today’s car traffic deaths.)

Old timey cars were perfectly safe. (Despite going 20 mph or less, they didn’t have seat belts or airbags like cars do today. Cue to Matthew’s car wreck in Downton Abbey.)

Etiquette:

Crying in public was considered shameful or as a sign of weakness. (Actually the idea of seeing crying as this was only common within the past few centuries. Before that, grieving openly was actually quite common and was more acceptable as it is today. However, don’t bet on seeing anyone crying in sword and sandal movies except at a highly dramatic moment.)

During a classical music concert most people usually sat quiet in their seats. (Not until the mid-19th century which was started when Richard Wagner {yes, Hitler’s favorite composer} requested that the audience not applaud between some key dramatic points of one of his operas. Yet, even he was alarmed when it was interpreted as an instruction of silence throughout. Still, before then, while people thought it rude to sneeze or cough during a soft section, talking and eating moving were rather common {Josef Haydn’s “Surprise” and “Joke” Symphonies were written because of his annoyance to such activities just to mess around with his audiences}. Opera audiences were even more boisterous than in the modern day {especially in Italy} with fans yelling at the characters onstage or singing along to their favorite choruses with magnetic virtuoso perform making ladies swoon in their seats like an early 1960s Beatles concert. A particular novel set piece that broke expected conventions might be booed or hissed at in the middle of a performance {sometimes riots would erupt, yes, you hear me}. Also, what we refer to as classical music was referred to back in the day as “pop music” or just “music.”)

Entertainment:

Concert venues would darken before the show would start. (Actually this is another invention by Richard Wagner {the composer with the Nazi fans}. Before then, the theater would be well lit during the performance because theatrical events were seen as social occasions and members of the audience would be in their most spectacular clothes for they were there to be seen. The early opera was more of a cabaret affair with only the diehard music fans giving it their full attention. This is partly the reason why early operas have characters repeat their important lyrics over and over again. Still, in the theater, not only was it usual to talk {or heckle} during performances, until the late 18th century, audience members could freely move around the auditorium, into the backstage area, the wings, and even onto the stage itself.)

Theaters were usually safe venues. (Yeah, safe. A series of deadly and horrifying fires {mostly in the lower culture music halls which were very crowded} caused changes in the rules which put an end to the open, cabaret style auditoriums with tables and loose seats, at least at such large venues. 19th century lime lights {yes, a real thing made with burning lime with gases} had the unfortunate tendency to start fires very quickly and because there were no fire safety regulations, these venues weren’t possible to evacuate quickly. During one decade alone, more than 400 US theaters were destroyed by fire.)

Circus tents were perfectly safe. (Canvas circus tents were often treated with paraffin and gasoline which made them an inferno waiting to happen.)

Sawing a woman in half was an old timey magic trick. (It was invented in 1921 by Percy J. Selbit which he debuted at at the Finsbury Park Empire theatre in London. Yet, this wasn’t a presentation you’d want to take your kids to since it had a strong element of graphic amoral entertainment with buckets of fake blood and a realistic spine-sawing effect, which would make Quentin Tarantino and slasher horror filmmakers everywhere cheer in sadistic glee.)

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