Magna Carta has often been hailed as a statement of fundamental law, the basis of the English constitution, a defense of individual liberty, the establishment of the rule of law, and even the foundation of English democracy. Actually, it was none of these.
Political and religious discord, disease, famine, fire, and death afflicted the lives of the English population between 1500 and 1700. While alcohol and tobacco provided an escape, Keith Thomas argues that astrology, magic, and religion offered all levels of society a way to make sense of human misfortune.
For Shakespeare and contemporaries on page and stage like Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, and Thomas Middleton, “the Spanish vein” ran rich and deep, “even as the political situation between the two nations deteriorated in the wake of the Reformation and imperial rivalries.”
Has any single author had as massive an impact on history as William Shakespeare? For over four centuries, the works of the Bard have been read, analyzed, and performed all around the world. Keeping track of that massive history, let alone the history of Elizabethan/Jacobian England, is a monumental ambition. Luckily, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., has taken up the task. And even better: they’ve digitized their collection for the world to see.