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.