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A censored Second Folio from Valladolid

An official of the Spanish Inquisition crossed out passages from Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII that use imagery evocative of the Virgin Mary to describe Elizabeth I.

William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. London, Thos. Cotes, 1632. Folger call number STC 22274, Fo. 2, no. 7.

The Folger holds 58 copies of the Second Folio, the second edition of Shakespeare’s works that was printed in 1632. The Second Folio contains the same plays as the First Folio does, but with some textual emendations and corrections. Added to the preliminary poems is John Milton’s “An Epitaph on Shakespeare,” thought to be Milton’s first published poem.

This intriguing Second Folio is from the English college in Valladolid, Spain, and it bears the certificate of Guillermo Sánchez, a censor for the Holy Office, or Inquisition. Charged with the detection and punishment of heretics and those guilty of any offense against Catholic orthodoxy, the Holy Office also routinely expurgated books by blotting out offensive passages with printer’s ink. Words, phrases, and occasionally whole sections, such as this closing scene from the play Henry VIII, fell victim to the pen of the Inquisition.

Extolling the infant princess Elizabeth (later to become Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen), Cranmer’s praises in the blacked-out portion of the play echo biblical passages and employ images generally used to describe the Virgin Mary. The expurgated text at the end of this page reads:

She must, the saints must have her; yet a virgin
A most unsported lily shall she pass
To th’ ground and all the world shall mourn her.

See catalog record