How did it feel to hear Macbeth's witches chant of "double, double toil and trouble" at a time when magic and witchcraft were as real as anything science had to offer? How were justice and forgiveness understood by the audience who first watched King Lear; how were love and romance viewed by those who first saw Romeo and Juliet? In England in the Age of Shakespeare, Jeremy Black takes readers on a tour of life in the streets, homes, farms, churches, and palaces of the Bard's era. Panning from play to audience and back again, Black shows how Shakespeare's plays would have been experienced and interpreted by those who paid to see them. From the dangers of travel to the indignities of everyday life in teeming London, Black explores the jokes, political and economic references, and small asides that Shakespeare's audiences would have recognized. These moments of recognition often reflected the audience's own experiences of what it was to, as Hamlet says, "grunt and sweat under a weary life." Black's clear and sweeping approach seeks to reclaim Shakespeare from the ivory tower and make the plays' histories more accessible to the public for whom the plays were always intended.
1. The Imagination of the Age
2. The World of the Plays
3. A Dynamic Country
5. Narrating the Past: The History Plays
6. The Narrative of Politics
7. The Political Imagination
8. Social Conditions, Structures, and Assumptions
9. Health and Medicine
10. Cultural Trends
11. England and Europe
12. The Wider World: Locating Prospero
13. As We Like Him
Selected Further Reading
JEREMY BLACK is Professor of History at the University of Exet, UK. He is an authority on early modern British and continental European history, with special interest in international relations, military history, the press, and historical atlases. A prolific historian, he is the author of over sixty books in addition to over a dozen edited volumes. Among his most recently published books are The English Seaborne Empire (Yale University Press, 2004); Rethinking Military History (Routledge, 2004); The Hanoverians: The History of the Dynasty (Hambledon & London, 2004); Using History (Hodder Arnold, 2005); and George III: Americas Last King (Yale University Press, 2006).
"The traces of the past are everywhere visible in the England of Jeremy Black's compendious new guide, England in the Age of Shakespeare. . . . Black attempts to capture a sense of early modern mentality: the average English person's worldview, the religious leanings of a multiply converted populace, the extent of the continuing faith in white and black magic. It is an inevitably fractured and overlapping picture, and Black is right to point out that the 'tensions and rift lines' visible in Elizabethan and Jacobean popular culture 'reflected the ambiguities and confusions of contemporary thought' (12–13). . . . This is a work of history not dramatic criticism, and . . . Black makes up for it with his richness of detail about the sights and sounds of early modern England."—Will Tosh, Shakespeare's Globe, Journal of British Studies, reviewing a previous edition or volume