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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for understanding Shakespeare, 23 Mar 2006
By 
Johanna MacDonald "happeningfish" (Helsinki, Finland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Elizabethan World Picture (Paperback)
As an actor and director, I stumbled upon this book through a mention in a work about Shakespeare. Don't be fooled by the tiny amount of space its 100-or-so pages will take up on your bookshelf: never have I read a book so densely packed with information and yet so easy to read. The humours, the Great Chain of Being, correspondences and the cosmos are all covered in accessible arguments.
After having read Tillyard's study, I've gone back to several Shakespeare speeches and found dozens of references to everyday Elizabethan ideas. Speeches that were previously vague to me now have a much richer, more exact meaning. It's probably one of the most valuable books for the actor, director, or scholar who wants to take their reading of Shakespeare further.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a literary masterpiece on the Elizabethan world view, 4 Dec 2001
This review is from: The Elizabethan World Picture (Paperback)
This book sets out to explore the Elizabethan view of the universe taken very much from the Middle Ages and very biblical in origin, and shows how the picture differs very much from our views in the present day now that we have the advantages of science.
The book discusses how the Elizabethans' believed that creation was ranged in an unalterable order from the angels down to man and from the beasts to plants. Tillyard tells us that the universe was pictured under three main forms: a chain, a series of corresponding planes and a dance, which is how, the book is divided up.
For example, he begins with the Chain of Being which was a hierarchy of all existence broken down into classes with the inanimate class at the bottom, which was the elements leading to the top where the spiritually pure angels were placed, closely followed by man. In order for this chain to be whole, each class had to be linked to the next: hence the food chains.
Tillyard points out that that Elizabethans talked much about nature and that nature itself cannot be omitted from the world picture view. The Elizabethan's believed that there was a law of nature and that this was a direct and involuntary tool of God himself. Tillyard notes some of the most common beliefs were that of superstition and magic and a wide practice of astrology, during a time when Christianity was in its foetal stages.
Tillyard explains common beliefs thought of by most Elizabethans such as the normal working of the body being a balance of the four Humours, also common in the practice of medicine in the Middle Ages. This short study sets out a series of fairly familiar, and often mystifying concepts such as the celestial harmony of the "nine enfolded spheres", the four elements and macrocosm and microcosm. Such concepts were commonplace to the Elizabethans and Tillyard illuminates them, not by merely explaining them, but he renders clear the literature and thinking of the period.
One concept I found especially interesting was that of the negative implications of the notion the Elizabethans had about the cosmic order. If they believed in an ideal order, Tillard expresses how they would be terrified if this order were to be upset. This was commonly known as the fear of chaos, which is, illustrated wonderfully using a passage taken from Hooker. For the Elizabethans this chaos meant the undoing of this order, which may allow the law of nature to cease functioning. This is yet another common perception from the age and I think is one that many would find hard to relate to, unless of course we relate it to the destruction of today's environment.
This books promises to deliver the views from the period concisely and clearly and it certainly does that. The interesting way the book is written is quite unique to me, as Tillyard uses a massive amount of literature from the period to elucidate his thoughts. In particular he uses what seems to be two favourite writers, Hooker and Shakespeare. Shakespeare is also something that most of us can relate to so his use of examples taken from Shakespearean plays and Sonnets really brings some of these quite difficult concepts to light.
Tillard has extracted the most ordinary beliefs about the constitution of the world as it was seen in the Elizabethan age and through this short book he has been able to help the ordinary reader, such as myself, to understand these concepts and some of the literary marvels from that age.
He warns that some facts may only be approximate as there were many variations of how the universe was seen but as it is a short book he promises to have used the most usual opinion, which in all fairness still makes this a very valuable book in its genre.
In terms of his expertise, Tillyard is certainly highly respectable in this field of study. As a Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, for almost fifteen years and more generally, a university lecturer for nearly thirty, he is certainly ranked highly in the areas of Elizabethan literature and
Beliefs.
There are not really many books written on this subject that are easily readable as Tillyard has adapted some of the literary extracts to make this book easy to understand. As it short and to the point, this book comes with my highest recommendations to anyone with an interest in the topic, or to anyone studying any aspects within the book. The concepts are written in the shortest form possible using many wonderful illustrations of literature from the some of the greatest writers of the Elizabethan age. A must for any historian or history student's bookshelf!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars happy london customer, 28 Dec 2011
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great second hand book, arrived punctually in excellent second hand condition aas described. No complaints with v. efficient supplier and for all those learning about the 16th century mind-set this classic book is a must.
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The Elizabethan World Picture
The Elizabethan World Picture by E M W Tillyard (Paperback - 2 April 1998)
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