“Strangeness” (xii), “capricious,” “dreadful shock,” “transformation,” “startling assembly of incongruities”: theorists and scholars from the early nineteenth-century John Soane to, more recently, Mark Girouard have found themselves oddly perplexed as they examine Elizabethan architecture. It is a world, a society, and a set of ideas difficult to pin down, never stationary—“transforming” at a “capricious” and unpredictable whim. A building might seem an easily comprehensible block, yet suddenly a ray of sun reflects blindingly off a large window and repulses the viewer's eye. Symmetry might suggest regularly organized living spaces and so comprehensible patterns of daily life, but building plans can be puzzling symbols into which interior rooms are then compressed. Physically and intellectually, Elizabethan buildings slip from the viewer's grasp. Nineteenth-century authors time and again sought to codify an Elizabethan style, yet they could at best say what it was...

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