‘Drinking and Good Fellowship’: Alehouse Communities and the Anxiety of Social Dislocation in Broadside Ballads of the 1620s and 1630s

Stella Achilleos


This essay examines the alehouse and alehouse communities as these are represented in the black-letter broadside ballad. In particular, concentrating on the texts found under the category ‘Drinking and Good Fellowship’ in the Pepys collection of ballads, this essay sets out to explore how the broadside ballad registers an often ambivalent set of attitudes both towards the practice of communal drinking, as well as towards the element of ‘good fellowship’. Importantly, these texts often celebrate the alehouse as a space of companionship that strengthens male homosocial bonds through the element of communal drinking. The alehouse community may thus be seen to provide an affirmation of the enduring significance of communal values, social stability and cohesion. However, any attempt to affirm or celebrate the element of social stability through communal drinking is often heavily fraught with anxiety about the exact opposites: alienation, fragmentation and social displacement. Adding to the challenging work of Peter Clark and, more recently, Patricia Fumerton, my discussion concentrates, in particular, on the ways in which alehouse communities register the anxiety of social dislocation, by looking at various gestures of social self-definition in the broadside ballad. As I will argue, alehouse communities are here defined through various gestures of social exclusion that serve to dissociate them, both from an upper-class ethos of idleness, but also from the idleness often associated during this period with vagrancy. As these gestures of social self-definition suggest, vagrancy is often countenanced with a considerable amount of horror and abhorrence, not merely because of the alleged idleness and deceit of those who ‘basely loyter up and downe’, but because of the susceptibility of the ‘good fellowes’ themselves to that condition.

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