While I was working on my book review master list, I came across this post about a book that, four years later, remains a family favorite. I read it to our Shakespeare Club, too, last year when I was launching the group, and that bunch of nine- to twelve-year-olds (at the time) guffawed all the way through it.
One day in Elizabethan England by G. B. Kirtland, illustrated by Jerome Snyder.
Zounds! It’s a pity this book, originally published in 1962, went out of print. I’m writing about it anyway because many libraries carry it, and a quick Google search turned up a number of online booksellers that have used copies in stock. My family’s copy was a library discard, and this is definitely a case of one person’s (or library’s) trash being another person’s treasure.
The title page proclaims that the place is England, the time is 1590, and the characters are: “You.” You wake up one morning, and a busy day begins as “you pull open your velvet bed curtains and pull off the cap of lettuce leaves you wore to help you sleep.”
The chambermaid comes in to draw your bath, despite your protests that you “already had a bath just this past winter”—for this is an important day, a majestical day, a fantastical day, a day which calls for special preparations. This explains why your father has dyed his beard purple to match his breeches and your sister has donned her new popinjay-blue kirtle and her pease-porridge tawny gown. Everyone is all in a dither, anxious for this important festivity, whatever it is, to begin.
“Oh, Madame,” you say; “Oh, Sir,” says your sister. “Will it soon be time to go?”
“Nay,” says your mother; “Nay, says your father.”
“Alas!” says your sister. “Alack!” says she. “I cannot hardly wait. I wonder what she will be wearing?”
“I wonder,” you say, “will there be tumblers tumbling for her?”
“I wonder,” says your mother, “will there be mummers mumming for her?”
“And I wonder,” says your father, “I wonder will you remember your grandiloquent speech for her?”
Ah, there’s the question, and it haunts you throughout the book until at last the great moment arrives. So wrought up are you that when dinnertime comes, “you are not very hungry and so you eat rather pinglingly, having only: a sip of soup, a snip of snipe, a smidgeon of stag, a munch of mutton, a bite of boar, a pinch of pheasant, and a little lark.”
I love what author G. B. Kirtland has done in this whimsical little book. The language is delicious, the style unique, and the peek at Elizabethan life is fascinating. My kids giggle the whole way through, every time (for this is a book that demands repeated readings). By my troth, ’tis the perfect compliment to a study of Shakespeare—and a majestical, fantastical, grandiloquent remedy for a humdrum afternoon.
If your local library lacks a copy (alas and alack), try this website to see what other libraries in your area carry it.