The Anatomy of Abuses by Philip Stubbes, 1583


In The Anatomie of Abuses, Philip Stubbes – a pamphleteer – rails against aspects of popular culture that he believes are immoral and in need of reform if his fellow countrymen and women are to escape punishment from God. The subjects that come under criticism include some we might expect – visiting prostitutes, lending money at interest, drunkenness and gluttony – and others we may find surprising – the wearing of fancy clothing, the variety of hats available, attending the theatre, playing sports and dancing.

The Anatomie of Abuses is presented as a dialogue between Philoponus and Spudeus that summarises ‘Notable Vices and Imperfections, as now raigne in many Countreyes of the World: but (especiallye) in a famous ILANDE called AILGNA’. ‘Ailgna’ is an anagram of ‘Anglia’, another name for England. As well as being an entertaining read, The Anatomie of Abuses is also a very useful source of information about Elizabethan culture and pastimes. For example, it gives a good description of the May festivities repeatedly alluded to in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Stubbes has been described as a Puritan (or at least puritanical), but although he was undoubtedly a pious Christian, he supported the established Church. Although modern readers may well consider some of his views to be excessively restrictive, The Anatomie of Abuses also has a positive side in its recurring interest in the plight of the poor.

Which extracts are digitised here?

  • On pride of apparel, i.e. clothing (pp. 6r–10v).
  • On women wearing doublets and jerkins, i.e. men’s clothes (pp. 37v–38r).
  • On whores and fornication (pp. 49v–51r)
    Spudeus suggests that sex between a man and a woman is a natural ‘badge of love’ (p. 50r). But Philoponus argues that all ‘mutuall copulation, except marriage, is unlawfull’ (p. 50v).
  • On the evils and punishment of whoredom (pp. 54r–58v)
    The physical evils of whoredom range from poor eyesight to baldness (p. 54r). Marriage is an antidote, but children marry too young (pp. 54v–55v). Harsher penalties for illicit sex are needed. Anyone who has committed ‘Whordome, Adulterie, Incest, or Fornication’ should be punished by ‘death’, or, if this is thought to be too ‘severe’, they should be ‘seared with a hot Iron’ to shame them in public (pp. 56v–57r).
  • On stage plays and their wickedness (pp. 87v–92r)
    Comedies are concerned with whoredom, adultery, lecherous old men and amorous young men (p. 90r).
  • On May games (pp. 94r–v).

Full title:
The Anatomie of Abuses
1583, London
Book / Octavo
Philip Stubbes
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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