Last night Jan and I watched a DVD of The Prince and the Pauper, 1937, Errol Flynn. The prince, having switched clothes with the pauper, now thrown out onto the street, hears that there’s a tax on windows, is shocked. The pauper comes from Offal Court, Pudding Lane: we see his father at home, bathed in light from a tesselation of small windows. I’m reminded of a cartoon from my childhood: a rich litte girl is given a school assignment to write about a poor little girl. She writes, “There once was a poor little girl. She was poor, her parents were poor, their butler was poor, their chauffeur was poor, the cook was poor, the gardener was poor, the upstairs maid was poor …”
(For style I’m picturing Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. It may have been a subplot of Nancy.)
The rich girl can’t imagine poverty, Hollywood can’t imagine Tudor England. Rich Americans can’t imagine medieval England, or Tudor England, or Elizabethan England: or Hoboken. In Elizabeth’s England her courtiers were indignant that Elizabeth didn’t have money for her wars. Men like Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Philip Sidney coughed up their own cash. Sindey showed how pissed off he was by arming himself with a quiver of stone-tipped arrows and breaking the windows in the homes of the rising middle class. What you got to know is glass-paned windows were very rare in the Sixteenth Century, very expensive, the feudal lords could barely afford them! Certainly no one in Offal Court could afford them. Liz’s courtiers were pissed because they couldn’t figure out how anybody could afford them! In their minds wealth accompanied land control. The warlords controlled the land, therefore the warlords were wealthy: that is, Liz, Sir Walter, Sir Philip … That’s the world that God made: how did these merchants come to have glass in their houses? How come well-lit merchants weren’t stepping forward to pay for Elizabeth’s wars? her navy, and so forth?
One generation makes money in land, some other generation makes money in trade, then in manufacturing: the seniors are bewildered, offended, belligerent. The nomad resents the farmer, the farmer resents the merchant … the cattleman resents GM, GM resents Steve Jobs …
Meantime, the movie also showed the pauper’s father with plenty of elbow room as he’s bathed in light from his panel of Tudor windows. Elbow room in Offal Court? A strong chair? A clear table? No, I don’t think so.