Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: The Elizabethan World

This book is by Lacey Baldwin Smith and has an interesting publication history. It was first published as the text accompanying a coffee table picture book on the Elizabethan era. Then it was issued as a trade paperback (I have the American Heritage Library edition); Smith wrote a new introduction but was not allowed to revise the text at all. Perhaps the bibliography was updated. He notes in the new introduction that there were updates he would like to make, but couldn't. More about that below. The contents:

Introduction: The Elizabethan Age
Medieval Twilight: The Odour of Despair
Medieval Twilight: The Scent of Optimism
Sin and Schism
The 'Calm and Quiet Season'
Rage in Heaven
Catherine de Medici and the Ordeal of France
Philip of Spain and God's Obvious Design
Plot and Counterplot
The Great Enterprise
A Decade of Heroes
New Horizons
Epilogue: 'Dead But Not Buried'

NOTA BENE: This book should not be confused with the classic by E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture.

Although Smith could not update it before this edition came out in 1991, I derived some great benefits from reading this book. Lacey Baldwin Smith certainly has his opinions and his interpretations: Elizabeth is his heroine, but he is as fair as he can be to Catherine de Medici and Philip II--not so for Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots. His scholarship is really behind the times on those two monarchs, as he condemns the latter of her husband's murder and claims the former was unbalanced mentally when she thought she was pregnant.

Smith provides a good overview of the structures of Elizabeth's Court, which were a modern corporate compliance officer's nightmare: all the side deals, "improper payments" and arrangements certainly provided a "near occasion" of corruption! His comparison and contrast of John Calvin and St. Ignatius Loyola is provocative and insightful and his analysis of the heroes of Elizabeth's Court (Drake, Raleigh, Essex, Sidney, et al) depicts their extremes of heroism and egoism, usually occurring at the same time!

The bibliography is extensive and the illustrations, while helpful, are of pretty poor quality.

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