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A Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603 [Paperback]

Maggie Secara
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 10 2008
The Compendium of Common Knowedge (1558-1603) offers insight into ordinary lives-both common and noble-in the England of Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare. In this little book you'll find notes on Elizabethan food, occupations, games, and pastimes, also religion, manners, attitudes, and education-the little details that make up daily life, that everyone knows without thinking. The Compendium, used on-line by Renaissance fairs and schools all over the world, provides a unique reference for writers, students, actors, re-enactors, and Elizabethan enthusiasts of all kinds.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new resource for students and teachers Aug. 28 2008
Maggie Secara's new book should prove an invaluable resource for all students (and--especially--teachers) of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Everything you always wanted to know about life in Elizabethan England--but didn't know where to look. Now you do.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Kit Marlowe Drank and Will Shakespeare Knew July 13 2008
By R. S. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable tool for actors and re-enactors, and a fascinating window into the past for the general reader Sept. 7 2008
By Jennifer Franson - Published on Amazon.com
For the actor or re-enactor interested in Elizabethan England, this book is a practical, look-it-up-now tool for checking historical facts or correct linguistic usage (the term for a barrel-maker or the pronunciation of "Southwark, for instance). For those with a general interest in the Elizabethan era or the history of day-to-day life, the book provides a compelling view of a bygone era, ranging as it does from the broad structures of Elizabethan society to the details of weights and measures, foods and fabrics. (In this sense, it resembles Daniel Pool's What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew; readers who enjoyed that book will almost certainly enjoy this one as well.) It is full of both basic information (such as a list of the Elizabethan peerages) and fascinating details (we learn that a seven-pound quantity of wool is a "clove," that Southwark prostitutes are nicknamed "Winchester Geese," and that one of the favorites of the bear-baiting pit is a bruin named Sackerson.) An especial strength of the book is the author's ability to describe differences between the Elizabethan and modern worlds clearly and succinctly. (A longer and more detailed version of this review can be found at the Troynovant review website.)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Comprehensive, but Quite Useful Feb. 21 2013
By J. R. Trtek - Published on Amazon.com
I'm not a re-enactor, and I shun Renaissance faires like the plague, but I have an interest in the Elizabeth period, among other historic eras, and this is an interesting, enlightening and easy to read book detailing some aspects of life during that time. By everyone's admission, it's not exhaustive -- I doubt a single volume could be and still be manageable, but I heartily recommend it as a volume that should be included in any small library of references on 16th Century life, mores and the like. There has been some criticism from at least one other reviewer about a lack of organization, a view I don't completely share. There is in, fact, some organization, though the text itself reads somewhat like a person gossiping in your ear. Still, there is a purposeful flow to it as the author segues from one topic to the next. Diehards should note that there are no patterns to guide in the making of clothing. Recommended.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Awesome Elizabethan Resource Dec 3 2008
By Pamela Duncan - Published on Amazon.com
This is a lovely read about the Elizabethan era, and at the same a serious source for knowledge about the everyday life in 16th Century England.

Maggies book is easy bed table reading. But at the same time has an index at the back to look up a specific reference or issue.

If you just saw a movie or play set in the 16th century this is the book for you! Unless you are already a devotee of the time period, a lot that is presented in a film or play may perplex you.

This book will "un-perplex" most.

Do you love rennaissance faires? Then this again is a great resource. If you are a participant, then it is filled with the tidbits that you either forgot or eluded you ( there is so much to know!).

If you are new to the fair experience, this can give context and meaning to what you see and hear.

Three hearty cheers for The Compendium!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neat little guide to daily life written with re-enactors in mind. Jan. 16 2013
By Cas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Written with the Renaissance-faire re-enactor or historical writer in mind, this book is a goldmine of those little cultural touches that mark a well-developed persona. As much history as someone knows, without those markers it can be hard to communicate one's knowledge. An off-handed mention of a farthingale or dice game can go far toward establishing authority.

The author doesn't pretend to be giving an authoritative or exhaustive history of Tudor England, but neither does she pretend that the "Tudor era" is an all-encompassing entity. What was slang or customary in Ireland didn't work the same way in, say, London, and she makes that very clear. She doesn't cite her sources for absolutely everything, either, but instead gives a few main source books for each section. Much like a stage costumer's sewing guide doesn't replace actual textile histories, this book makes learning flavor slang easier but won't substitute for actually learning the era's fascinating history. By the time you're finished studying this book, you'll have a good idea of how to talk and act at the next SCA event or Renfaire, or else how to give the impression you know what you're talking about in your writing. It covers from soup to nuts, with extensive attention given to religious customs and occupations. Appendices at the end include extras like a list of questions that readers can answer to help develop their characters.

You could get these details from a few dozen history books, yes, but what the author's done here is assemble them all in one place. I do think it was a little disorganized-seeming, as well as a bit short in some sections that I'd have loved to have seen be larger. It also maintains a narrow focus on the British Isles. But overall this book achieves its goals. It is definitely recommended for those seeking to learn how to add flavor to an English/Irish/Scottish (or "Scotch," as the book recommends) persona. Younger readers will likely find the book especially fascinating as I don't think they get exposed to much stuff like this in their schooling.
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