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Shakepeare and the Inquisition

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JournalShakespeare Survey
DatePublished - 2012
Issue numbern/a
Volume65
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)306-322
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

One of the oddest single surviving copies of the works of William Shakespeare is a Second Folio of 1632, which once belonged to the library of the Real Colegio Seminario de los Ingleses (or English Seminary College) at Valladolid. The copy was first described by Sir Sidney Lee in an article in The Times in April 1922. The questions to which Lee sought an answer were glaring enough. First, why were young Jesuits, training for the mission in Spain, reading an English dramatist in the mid-seventeenth century? A second issue was why the book bears inside its front end-papers the certificate of Guillermo Sánchez, a censor for the Holy Office, or in other words, the Spanish Inquisition:

Opus auctoritate Sancti officii permissum et expurgatum eadem auctoritate per Guilielmum Sanchaeum e Socte Jesu.

A third question, obviously related closely to the second, was why the entirety of just one play, Measure for Measure, had been neatly cut out using a sharp instrument.
Like so many objects in the Shakespearian archive, the Valladolid Shakespeare has become both a fetish and a shibboleth. It can hardly be said to be unknown. Its discoverer was the author of the article on Shakespeare in the first Dictionary of National Biography. Lee himself supposed the copy would return for ever to the English College, but it was shortly afterwards acquired by the Folger Library. It could not be in a more prominent place; yet despite discussion by Roland Frye in Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine in 1963, and more recent dissemination at the Folger Institute, many Shakespearians and Catholic historians have never heard of it. What can explain the widespread indifference to such a sensational object, placing Shakespeare face to face with the Inquisition?

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