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Book Review: Daily Life in Elizabethan England by Jeffrey L. SIngman

Daily Life in Elizabethan England

This is the second book I have read in this series and it certainly won’t be the last. Part of the “living history” movement, this volume seeks to really immerse the lay reader in and provide them with the basic tools for reimagining what it would have been like to live in Elizabethan times. As Singman writes in the introduction, “If history only touches the historians, it is truly a lifeless form of knowledge.” Hear. Hear.

Daily Life in Elizabethan England seeks to correct the notion that history might be lifeless by first creating a context for understanding the times (which were fraught with religious tensions, espionage, plots and amazing discoveries) and then describing the daily life of people from different classes and professions – from the highest to the lowest and back and forth. Focusing on such things as religion and religious practices, literacy, education, clothes (patterns for various garments are included), music (there are lyrics and some basic sheet music), entertainment (there are various card and board games as well as others described at the end in detail), including jousting, bear and cock-baiting and other sports, relationships, family, trades, Singman beautifully sets the Elizabethan scene. Allowing us to imagine wandering crowded streets, entering a crofter’s or gentleman’s house, travelling across the country or abroad, he endows with the rudimentary knowledge to make our way. Warning us of diseases like the plague (which struck England many times throughout this period), the “sweating sickness” and other ailments, and to be wary of pickpockets, cut-purses and highwaymen, he also urges us to enjoy the delights of the theatre because of course, this was the era of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson and many other wonderful creative souls.

Reminiscent of Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide series, this one functions as a compliment rather than replicating the information and I found it provided information Mortimer’s didn’t and vice-a-versa.

Written in an easily accessible and always fascinating style, this is a must-read for teachers or students of history, a fabulous reference for writers and a great read for those curious about a resplendent, violent, rapidly changing, and extraordinarily inventive milieu.

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