The Elizabethan Woman

The Elizabethan Woman

The Elizabethan Woman

The Elizabethan Woman

Excerpt

The nature of woman and her place in the scheme of things have fascinated writers in all generations. For those who try to understand the Elizabethan mind, a knowledge of this one half of mankind is indispensable, for woman is not just a peculiar variant in the formation of man. As the Elizabethans clearly recognized, woman's nature as well as her body differs greatly from that of the male of the species. The Elizabethan woman, moreover, was even a special representative of her sex. The rise of the middle-class, with its own culture, together with the changing attitudes implicit in the Reformation, brought forth a new kind of woman who could not be ticked off and classified in the same easy way as her medieval sister. Mere man was somewhat bewildered, and he did not like the sensation. The middle-class version of Renaissance erudition had taught him to expect all sorts of good results from the simplified directions of the learned, to be found in handbooks. But here close to hand was a subject which baffled him. The wealth of books on all phases of femininity must have been partially designed to satisfy man's curiosity concerning this new woman, just as the guides to knowledge were teaching him to partake of the new learning.

In this book, then, we endeavor to learn the nature of the Elizabethan woman, philosophically and actually. We try to discover what role she was intended to play and how her education prepared her for it. We follow her through her marriage and into her duties as a wife within the household; and we consider the Elizabethan version of the eternal feminine as she dresses herself, prepares her face, and relaxes in play. At the last we examine both sides of several controversies to discover their contributions to the problem of the Elizabethan woman. Throughout, we shall take a thoroughly sympathetic view of both the feminine and the Elizabethan ways. The time has passed, if it ever existed, when we could smile at the beliefs and practices of our Elizabethan ancestors; too often we have discovered, with the smug air of the scientific explorer, what the Elizabethans well knew.

Although the original spelling has been retained in the quotations, the general reader should have no difficulty with the passages. It may be well, however, for him to keep in mind two or three simple rules: an initial u was often written v (use: vse), and an internal v was often written u (every: euery); y and I are interchangeable; and sometimes the nasals m and n may be indicated by overscoring the preceding vowel woman: womā). Long titles have frequently been shortened, except where the full . . .

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