Everyday Life in Elizabethan London
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From the Thames to witchcraft, from petty schools to bear-baiting, from Shakespeare to small beer—a succinct guide to the sights, sounds, and smells of the London of the Virgin Queen.

This is Picard’s third stroll through the history of London’s evolving streets (Dr. Johnson’s London, 2001, etc.), and like her other accounts, this one features the arresting detail, the perfect anecdote, the apt quotation. We learn that Elizabeth’s Thames barge had glass windows, that London Bridge, crowded with houses and business, had three gaps for sightseers, that kites and pigs took care of much of the street refuse (while supplying some more), that an Elizabethan woman was old at 40, that the Queen’s touch might well cure what ailed you, that codpieces gradually diminished in size during her reign, and that men wore no underpants but got along tolerably well with long shirt tails. Picard offers a stunning account of an impromptu brain surgery one afternoon at the Bear Garden, detailed instructions on how to erect a timber-frame house and how to put together a ruff collar (some had 600 pleats). She teaches us about medical care (so very primitive), childbirth (how any woman survived it is a mystery), and burial practices. She describes the various levels of ecclesiastical and civic organization in the city (parish, ward); she shows us what went on in taverns and on tennis courts, in Bethlehem Hospital (“Bedlam”) and the Globe Theatre (she advises a visit to the New Globe); she explains the workings of the 12 great livery companies (grocers, drapers, salters, etc.). She reminds us that educated men were expected to be able to sight-sing in parts—and to play the lute (barbers kept one handy for waiting customers to strum). She reminds us, as well, that children and women were little more than property. Punishments were public and harsh (hanging for buggery and hawk-stealing).

The detail is rich and remarkable; the prose sometimes more pedestrian than one expects from Picard. (32 pp. color illustrations)

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-32565-7
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004


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