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ENGL 3000 Shakespeare for Non-Majors, an Introduction to Shakespearean Works Held in the Rare Books Collection

This guide highlights works Shakespearean and related early modern works held by the Rare Books Collection, Rare and Distinctive Collections.

Martin Luther and the Papacy

Born in 1564, William Shakespeare was raised in an England that had seen successive Protestant and Catholic Reformations within three short decades.  Beginning with the reign of Elizabeth I in 1559, a hard-fought religious compromise was adopted with the queen's version of a Protestantism that 'looked Catholic' but was in fact doctrinally very Protestant.  Shakespeare's family may have, in fact, remained Catholic during a time in which the practice of the traditional faith was becoming increasingly dangerous.  

The works below, most held in the Rare Books Collection, outline religious change in sixteenth-century Europe. 


Martin Luther, Ain Sermon von dem Sacrament der Puss (1520); Bulla Contra Errores Martini Luther (15 June 1521).
Rare Books Collection, CU Boulder Libraries

In a sermon written three years after he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on 31 October 1517 to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, Martin Luther's Ain Sermon von dem Sacrament der Puss addresses one of his prime concerns:  the Sacraments.  In response, the Catholic Church issued Bulla contra errores Martini Luther & sequatium, dated 15 June, 1521, a papal bull threatening Luther with excommunication. 

Rulers throughout Europe took sides, including Henry VIII of England, whose Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Mart. Lutherum, which took issue with Luther's pronouncement that there were only two sacraments instituted by Christ rather than the seven asserted by the Church, was first published in the summer of 1521. 

Assertio septem sacramentorum earned Henry VIII the title 'Fidei Defensor' (Defender of the Faith), despite his role just a few years later in breaking from the Roman Church. The Rare Books Collection copy was published in Paris in 1562, a timely reprint as the French Wars of Religion heated up.  

For access to Luther's Ain Sermon von dem Sacrament der Puss, see Google Books

For access to a range of post-Reformation works, see the Post-Reformation Digital Library

Protestant and Catholic Reformations

John Foxe, Actes and Monuments, Henry VIII and the Roman Church
Huntington Library

John Foxe, Actes and Monuments, [1641?].
View of Windsor Castle, with Anthony Person, Testwood and Filmer being burned alive in a pyre.

British Museum 1613664273

Written during perhaps the most contentious years of the English Reformation, John Foxes' Acts and Monuments records Christian history from a distinctly Protestant perspective.  Beginning with the early Church and ending during the reign of Elizabeth I, Foxes' Actes and Monuments provided a highly polemical Protestant account.  Commonly referred to as the Book of Martyrs, Foxes' work included views of persecutions and executions, with a focus on those that took place under the Catholic Queen Mary (r. 1553-8).  John Foxe was among a number of other Protestants to leave England for Protestant regions of Continental Europe when Mary Tudor came to the throne. 

The Rare Books Collection edition of Actes and Monuments, which dates from 1596, was heavily used by the Puritan Samuel Bull family, who carried the volume with them in their emigration from Britain to North America.  Many woodcuts are partially damaged and the volume is lacking substantial portions of the beginning and the end.   

For select hand-colored woodcuts from of Foxes' Actes and Monuments, see the University of Cambridge Digital Library.

For access to the text of the 1563, 1570, 1576, and 1583 editions that is keyword searchable, see The Acts and Monuments Online

William Dugdale, A Short View of the Late Troubles in England (1681)
Rare Books Collection,  Rare and Distinctive Collections

Writing in the mid-seventeenth century, William Dugdale described the roots of the English Civil War (1642-1651) as originating in the English Reformation of the preceding century.  Here, Elizabeth I's moderate approach has taken the place of the implementation of more extreme measures in religion adopted under her predecessors and half-siblings, Edward II (Protestant) and Mary I (Catholic).  This link will take you to a full text edition published by Early English Books Online (you may need to login with identikey and password. 

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B