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Write till your ink be dry

A Hornbook and The Scholemaster (by Roger Ascham)


The Scholemaster (1571) and Hornbook (17th Century)

About the Items

Just like today, books played an important role in learning when Shakespeare went to school. However, some of the books looked a bit different to the ones we use in school now. 

This is a hornbook, which isn’t really a book at all. Hornbooks were small items made for little hands - ranging from the size of a credit card to a smartphone! The name comes from its construction. An alphabet (and other simple text) was written on a sheet (of paper or animal skin) and attached to a wooden paddle. The text was then often covered with a piece of transparent animal horn to provide extra durability.

Hornbooks were used by school children to learn to read in Shakespeare’s time as books were expensive and precious items that were shared in the classroom. Look at the hornbook. Can you see the alphabet and simple letter combinations? This example also includes the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, which would have been very familiar to Tudor school children.  The hornbook text would have been read and copied (over and over again!). Once the child had enough confidence in ‘reading’ the hornbook they might progress on to real books. How were things different when you learnt to read?

Tutors also used books to help them teach. This book was written by Roger Ascham (c.1515-1568), the scholar and tutor to Princess Elizabeth (who later became Queen Elizabeth I). In The Scholemaster Ascham describes a method for teaching Latin to schoolboys. From books like this we can find out about how people were taught in the past. As well as learning school subjects it was also considered important to learn about being ‘moral’. Can you think of examples from your learning today that help you to think about right and wrong or the best way to behave?

Watch this!

Watch this video to find out more about the precious and fragile hornbook that is in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's collection.

You can also watch this video to see Librarian, Emily Green, talk about the book The Scholemaster.


CC-BY-NC-ND Images Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust