Book Review: “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England” by Ruth Goodman

38212150._SY475_In many books about the different mannerisms and routines of different dynasties, we tend to see how the average person lived in the most prim and proper manner. How they avoided trouble at all costs to provide the best life that they could for their families. Yet, we know that there were those who did not adhere to the rules. They chose to rebel against the natural way of life. Every social echelon had their own rule-breakers, but what were these rules that they chose to break? How are these troublemakers of the past similar and different from our modern-day rebels? Famed experimental archeologist and historian Ruth Goodman takes her readers on a journey through the Elizabethan and the early Stuart eras to show how the drunkards, thieves, and knaves made a name for themselves. The name of this rather imaginative book is “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves, and Braggarts”.

I have enjoyed Ruth Goodman’s books in the past and her knowledge about how those from different periods of history lived. When I saw this particular title on the shelf at my local bookstore, I knew I wanted to read it. The title was so compelling to me as it seems to break the mold of what normal “How to Live in (certain time period)” books are supposed to be like.

Goodman’s structure for this book is very unique. She takes a look at different aspects which made a person a lawbreaker in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras. Things like insulting language, gestures that could be taken out of context, the way someone mimicked their betters in society, drinking too much or too little, and their cleanliness. To understand why certain behaviors were considered bad during these times, Goodman examines what was deemed acceptable in every level of society. Some of the rules and regulations seem rather self-explanatory, while others will be a bit foreign for modern readers.

What makes this book truly special is Goodman’s experiences with the different mannerisms. As an experimental archeologist, Goodman has practiced as much as she could to give the readers a bit more depth to what they are studying. It is one thing to study the actions of those who lived the past, but to act out those actions gives you a new appreciation of the time period you are studying. I actually took my time to copy the different bows and walks that Goodman outlined, which felt a bit awkward at first, but it gave me a different level of respect for the past.

The one problem that I had with this book is with the US title of this book. It is a bit misleading since it is not solely about Elizabethan England. It does dive into the complex nature of the Stuart dynasty, including the English Civil War between the Roundheads (the Parliamentarians) and the Cavaliers (the Royalists). As someone who mainly stays with medieval and Tudor England, I did have to take my time when Goodman mentioned the Stuarts to make sure I understood fully the transition from the Elizabethans in the way of mannerisms.

I found this book quirky, educational, and just pure fun to read. It’s one of those books that you can tell Goodman has wanted to write for a very long time. Goodman captures her audience’s attention with such an engaging writing style and vivid details. It is a wonderfully imaginative read for academics and novices alike. If you want to know what could get you into trouble in the past, check out Ruth Goodman’s latest nonfiction triumph, “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England”.

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