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A pastiche, but exceedingly well wrought of Elizabethan arts, manners, and mores: weddings, beddings, sports and games, food (England, by Continental standards, was eating a shocking amount and variety of meats), felicities and nut brown ale. Biographer of Shakespeare and Marlowe and a leading authority on Tudor England, Rowse is one of Queen Bess' most loyal courtiers -- the leader of the golden days school of historians who see the reign of the Faery Queen as an age of unblemished prosperity, sweetness and light. His blind spots -- e.g., the disdain and dismissal of the Puritans as noisy cranks -- are once again in evidence but here, in the third volume of his Elizabethan trilogy (others are The England of Elizabeth and The Expansion of Elizabethan England), he can indulge his favorite people -- the scholar-poet-scientist-aesthetes, lavishly and lovingly presented, best foot forward and mind m'lady's garter. Among the finds here is one Simon Forman, astrologer (""almost everyone believed in astrology""), who functioned as a psychiatrist-seer to a clientele which included servant wenches and bishops while enjoying in his more private moments erotic dreams of the Queen. Following the Queen on one of her summer ""progresses"" through her realm, Rowse is struck by the new standards of comfort for all but the lowest rank of society and the new preoccupation with visible monuments expressed in the extraordinary philanthropic efforts which built and endowed schools, hospitals, and almshouses. The basic themes -- from the pedigree craze which bespoke the efflorescence of family pride among the gentry to the growing awareness of topology and the physical contours of land -- are Jacob Burkhardt's. Rowse renders them in English garb muting the violence and lawlessness which accompanied, in the words of Sidney, ""all the magnificent magnificences of all these magnificos."" Divining social history from sonnets has its pitfalls and Rowse occasionally succumbs to the seductive but meretricious notion that people who wrote great poetry were great and noble at everything else. A benign and luxurious odyssey.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Scribners