She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die. –Sonnet 11
Shakespeare said it best, copies should be made. "Typographia conservatrix" or Printing's cultural impression during the Renaissance could not be stressed enough. We have the Bible being printed, classical works being kept and preserved by studious monks, and Shakespeare to name a few highly influential works that have shaped our history. With the advent of the word press the mass production of literary works was possible…but who would read it?
Looking at the example of Shakespeare, he obtained his education from the Stratford grammar school. His years of attendance are estimated to have occurred in 1575 to 1579 (Mabillard). This school had been chartered by King Edward VI. The political and social turmoil of the times made the need for public education more apparent and with more printed works being made available it was more desired for. A question I had with my research here was to determine how the literacy rate moved during this decorated time of history.
Not everyone was as lucky as Shakespeare. Literacy depended largely on your class and geographical location. If you were rich and lived in the city, chances were that you were literate. In an online resource, Diane Jakacki wrote, “Unlike modern-day interpretations, literacy in this time period implied an ability to read, not write, English. As Protestant religions expanded, they placed importance on direct reading and devotion of the Bible and other religious texts as a moral duty. Historians face a dilemma in accurately analyzing literacy rates, and insight into this is still in its primitive stages. Professor David Cressy took an interesting approach to the material by evaluating public documents such as court documents, marriage licenses, and wills to define literacy rates in his book Literacy and the Social Order. Englishmen lacking the ability to read signed these with a signature mark instead of their actual name.”
While today we are working mostly on conjecture, it can be seen that a shift in the political and economic atmosphere changed society and the necessity of reading rose. Further work done on this subject was done by Charles Scribner's Sons in an online article which says, “Many factors contributed to the growth of literacy during the Renaissance. Books became
more widely available, and the number of schools, universities, and libraries increased. In
addition, it became increasingly common to use vernacular languages, rather than Latin,
for business and legal purposes.” They would continue to say how it was political and economic changes that would have had a larger effect on the printed word rather than religious or humanistic purposes, though they acknowledge that both of these provided the teaching and curriculum for the guidance of literature for future generations.
If you couldn’t attend these schools and were in the poorer classes, self-teaching was the way to go. As previously stated, the Reformation created several sects of religions. Several of them encouraged their members to have their children educated to become literate so as to be better followers of the word. Though my research into this subject is in the preliminary stages at best, I’m astounded at how much literacy spread as it did. My imagination takes me to a world of the dark ages where the common folk just listened to their priests and listened to the well-voiced street preachers of the day and were entertained. At the end of the day, there is much to be said about how the success of the written word is indebted to the other themes of the renaissance such as Ad Fontes, Bible influence, and Humanism.
Shakespeare. "Shakespeare's Sonnets." Sonnet 11. Oxquarry Books Ltd, 2001. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. <http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/11>.
Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Education and Childhood. Shakespeare Online. 12 Sept. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespeareeducation.html >.
Jakacki, Diane. "Literacy in England (1575-1625)." London City Comedy. Diane Jakacki, 7 Aug. 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. <http://iron.lmc.gatech.edu/classes/djakacki3/jakackiwikif11/index.php/Literacy_in_England_(1575-1625)>.
Scribner, Charles. "Literacy." (n.d.): n. pag. Http://www.philiplaberge.com. Visual Education Corporation, 2004. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. <http://www.philiplaberge.com/FamilyHistory/LaBergeInfo/Literacy.pdf>.