Cover image for Shakespeare's England : life in Elizabethan and Jacobean times
Shakespeare's England : life in Elizabethan and Jacobean times
Pritchard, R. E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Stroud : Sutton, 1999.
Physical Description:
252 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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PR2910 .P75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PR2910 .P75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR2910 .P75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PR2910 .P75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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What was life like in Shakespeare's time - or, what did people then say it was like? This volume provides a picture of the age, with a selection of accounts of Elizabethan and Jacobean life taken from books, plays, poems, letters, diaries and pamphlets by and about Shakespeare's contemporaries. Extracts have been taken from a wide range of writers, including William Harrison and Fynes Moryson (providing descriptions of England), Nicholas Breton (on country life), Isabella Whitney and Thomas Dekker (on London life), Nashe (on struggling writers), Stubbs (with a Puritan's view of Elizabethan enjoyments), Harsnet and Burton (on witches and spirits), John Donne (meditations on prayer and death), King James I (on tobacco) and Shakespeare himself. Also included are accounts of theatre-going, May Day celebrations, Queen Elizabeth at court, the place of women, education, garden books and herbals, clothes, food, drink and religion. The extracts are organized thematically, each section having an introduction reflecting modern historical research.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Where might a knave find a loose lady in the time of Queen Elizabeth? What vegetable did Jacobean doctors prescribe for a scorpion bite? And what manner of man was described as "an intelligible ass, or a silly fellow in black, that speaks sentences more familiarly than sense"? (Answers below.) These amusing vignettes, collected by British historian Pritchard from 16th- and 17th-century writing, presents us with a riotously complex, compellingly vile and invariably colorful world. With its Morisco gowns, tight French breeches and elegantly bare-breasted Faerie Queene, this was a vibrant age with a craze for fashion. But the Elizabethans could puncture pretension as easily as conjure beauty or majesty: witness the glorious, hideous picture of "The Sonneteer's Beloved," which illustrates the clich‚s of lyric love poetry in an alarming collage of a woman with lips of pink coral and teeth of pearls. The age's joie de vivre is heightened by the backdrop of plague and poverty, and despite the ominously hackneyed decision to open the book with the invocation of "This earth, this realm, this England," the editor recognizes that the merriment of the royal court was always accompanied elsewhere by Third World levels of suffering. Thematic selections on "Women and Men," "London," "Poverty, Crime and Punishment," etc., are prefaced by brief, sensible introductions. But with documents headed "Teach Yourself Rogue's Cant" or "Amaze Your Friends with Home Magic," the book gravitates inexorably toward the coffee-table. (Answers: the theater; a beetroot; a scholar.) History Book Club selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Pritchard (Keele Univ., UK) offers a view of Elizabethan and Jacobean England based on accounts taken from a variety of contemporary documents written by both well-known and obscure authors. Pritchard has arranged these according to topic--the country, education, beliefs, arts and pleasures, poverty, crime and punishment, etc.--a range and choice of selections comparable to the range of Shakespeare's own concerns. From the diversity a shared worldview emerges. Most of the documents were written by men from the upper and middle classes, which is consistent with the fact that men from the lower classes and women were often illiterate. Thus, the culture speaks through them, and the editor's introduction to each section provides context. Valuable in large libraries serving general readers and undergraduates interested in Renaissance literature and/or social history. M. H. Kealy; Immaculata College