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What Kit Marlowe Drank and Will Shakespeare Knew,
This review is from: A Compendium of Common Knowledge, 1558-1603: Elizabethan Commonplaces for Writers, Actors & Re-enactors (Paperback)
For several years, Renaissance re-enactors have been using Secara's online version of the "Compendium" to educate themselves about the everyday knowledge of the historical characters they portray. Just as 21st century people know that "text" is a verb and what a "blog" is, so did the people in the English Renaissance know the value of an "angel" and who the "recusants" were. From husbandmen to merchants to the nobility, these are the things all Elizabethans would have known.
What Daniel Pool's "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew" did for the nineteenth century, Secara's "Compendium" provides for the reader who wants to know more about the world of the English Renaissance. While the information contained within this accessible volume was originally designed for re-enactors, it would also be useful for actors, readers (and authors!) of historical fiction, students of literature (impress your English and History profs!) and armchair historians of every stripe.
A few caveats: the layout of the book is sporadic, reflecting its online origins. On the one hand, it feels less methodical (the devalued coinage of Scotland and Ireland is mentioned in the section on gambling), but on the other hand, the connection of diverse areas leads to some wonderful insights (so don't gamble with Scots unless you account for the difference in the coinage). Furthermore, there are both a topic index and a thorough general index in the back to help locate specific information.
The tone of the book is conversational and light, but the information is sound. While the author is upfront about her lack of footnotes and citations, she also provides notes about primary and secondary source materials for those who want to follow up on a detail or question. In consultation with other researchers in the re-enactment community, Secara is also continuing to update the online site with corrections and sources as they become available. Similarly, Secara doesn't pretend to more thorough examinations of the complex areas of religion, politics and economics than she provides. When she is giving a superficial, generalist description, she says so, and refers the reader to other sources for more complete information.
All in all, this is a very useful book for anyone interested in the everyday, common-man aspects of history. It can be read straight through from cover to cover, dipped into at random, or searched for specific details. Better still, it provides a portable version of an online reference that countless people have come to know and rely upon.