Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village
Laura Amy Schlitz
illustrated by Robert Byrd
Interests: history, medieval history, British history, theatre, theatrical plays
Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2007
81 pages; 21 monologues
Also by this author: The Night Fairy, Splendors and Glooms, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama, The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug Up Troy, The Bear-Skinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm
For a dramatic performance or simply for pleasurable reading, this collection of monologues provides a vibrant vision of the lives of young people in an English village in 1255. From the daughter of the lord right down to Giles the beggar, we see the trials and worries of all strata of medieval life, and how the paths of these young people cross in the course of their days. The falconer’s son lets a trained sparrowhawk go free rather than entrust it to the careless son of the knight. The lord’s nephew is kind to a lowly blacksmith’s daughter. The glassblower’s two daughters fret over which of them must marry their father’s apprentice. And a Jewish boy and a Christian girl meet by chance at the river and discover to their amazement that the other seems more like a friend than a demon. Particularly interesting is the way that questionable morality is a way of life for many – the beggar Giles admits freely of faking infirmity and cheating people out of their money, the doctor’s son tells how one must speak to patients to maximize the payment of medical bills, the miller’s son says the peasants “think we pick their pockets – and they’re not far wrong.” The recurring motif is one of scrabbling a living by any means possible, and the moral dilemmas are heartfelt and real.
By letting the characters speak with their own voices about their lives, the author has painted an extremely engaging portrait of medieval life. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the margins, and there are several sections set out with extra background information on topics like pilgrimages, the crusades, falconry, and the persecution of Jews.
There is no shortage of books on medieval life for young readers, and this is a particularly valuable addition. The pieces are short and terrifically accessible, and I doubt there is anyone who won’t come away from this book having learned something. (For example, I now know that a “sniggler” is someone who catches eels.) The illustrations, reminiscent of art of the period, are wonderful as well.
If you are looking for a way to get children thinking and imagining what life was like in other historical periods, this is a brilliant book to turn to.