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Agnes Bowker's Cat: Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England
by David Cressy
Cressy examines how the orderly, Protestant, and hierarchical society of post-Reformation England coped with the cultural challenges posed by beliefs and events outside the social norm. Drawing on local texts and narratives he reveals how a series of troubling and unorthodox happenings--bestiality and monstrous births, seduction and abortion, nakedness and cross-dressing, ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 10th 2001 by Oxford University Press, USA
(first published 1999)
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This is a macro-history; it is so weird and so interesting. The stories are just so wacky, like an Early Modern England Ripley's Believe It or Not. You have drunk townies baptizing horses and dogs. There are lay congregation members calling their ministers jackanapes, jackasses, knaves, rogues, and all the other brilliant English insults. There are rampant fears of a sect of Adamites, who run around naked to proclaim innocence. Of course, there is a woman who claimed to give birth to a black ...more
A micro-history that's a macro-history; Cressy's use of vignettes to insinuate greater issues and problems facing Tudor/Stuart England was inventive and interesting, although his semi- narrative approach sometimes left me wondering what his point was. I realize that that was part of the point, that the stories were supposed to speak for themselves, but it took a little getting used to before I could fully appreciate the book. Overall, a very fun and compelling read, and highly recommended!
Whilst this is a well written and well researched book it didn't cover what I needed it for ... and which it said it contained. Now I appreciate that publishers write stuff on the inside cover in an attempt to broaden the possible/probable market for the book, but 'man-on-animal' action had 4 references in the index meaning it was never really part of the text. Hey, that's a good point thought, why wasn't it?
I enjoy micro-histories and this is an interesting collection. Covering early modern England from reformation to revolution, it concentrates on bizarre incidents of monstrous births, cross-dressing etc. What intrigued me was that it showed what a time of extremes this was, compared to now. Conformity and transgression co-existed in this time of great change.
I envy Cressy's ability to mine archival sources for the most interesting stories. He can skillfully piece together bits of pieces of information to create a coherent narrative. He often has trouble convincing me that his stories aren't more reflective of the exception rather than the "norm." However, he successfully argues how understanding the "exception" can shed light on the "norm."
David Cressy is Humanities Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Ohio State University. His specialty is the a social history of early modern England, a topic on which he has published a number of monographs.More about David Cressy...