Two features of sixteenth-century schooling made it more attractive to the masses: increased access through endowed schools lowered the economic barriers to education, and changes in the curriculum reflected the move towards a humanist model of education offering a program of classical studies based more on civic ideals for daily life than on the traditional pedagogical literature of didactic commentary. (1) At the forefront of this new learning was Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose program of studies for St Paul’s School became a model for many later English grammar schools. Erasmus was a prolific author of pedagogical material and his writings, together with those of his fellow humanist Juan Luis Vives, provide many insights into the prevailing debate on public education. The treatises of such authors as Thomas Elyot, Roger Ascham, Richard Mulcaster, and John Brinsley further reflect the issues as they related to the English context. From this body of published, vernacular material we can discern some of the social tensions attached to a grammar school education, such as the paradox of promoting literacy as a means to social mobility for the poorer and middling sort, yet simultaneously having to defend writing skills and scholarship as socially acceptable for the gentry and aristocracy. School statutes and school texts (some of which stem from the same pens as the treatises) give further evidence of these tensions, as does Tudor popular drama. Early modern dramatists were well positioned to comment on education, as Darryl Grantley has so convincingly demonstrated in his analysis of the relationship between early modern university drama and social behaviour. (2) Most dramatists learned their art through the grammar-school curriculum, with its extraordinary focus on rhetorical and performance skills, and probably cut their teeth on school drama. Much of the drama written in the 1500s was written for use as school drama or for performance by the children’s troupes, which characterized popular theatre in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. (3) What these various sources have to say about Tudor schooling broadens our understanding of the major role endowed schools played in bringing education to poor and middle class families. I. Background to Sixteenth-Century Endowed Schooling
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