Shakespeare's love of words vastly enriched the English language. More than 1,700 words appeared for the first time in his works, including bedroom, lonely, generous, gloomy, heartsick, hurry, and sneak.
What Renaissance themes are explored in Shakespeare's works?
The great works of Renaissance literature reached a large audience. The reason for this was a crucial breakthrough in technology—the development of printing in Europe.
In 1456, Johannes Gutenberg (GOOT un burg) of Mainz, Germany, printed a complete edition of the Christian Bible using a printing press with movable metal type. With the Gutenberg Bible, the European age of printing had begun. Within a few years, printing presses using Gutenberg's technology sprang up in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and England.
The development of printing set off revolutionary changes that would transform Europe. Before the printing press, there had been only a few thousand books in all of Europe. These books had been slowly copied out by hand. By 1500, according to some estimates, 15 to 20 million volumes had been produced on new printing presses. In the next century, between 150 and 200 million books went into circulation.
The printing revolution ushered in a new era of mass production of books. It also affected the price of books. Books printed with movable type on rag paper were easier to produce and cheaper than hand-copied works. As books became readily available, more people learned to read and write. They thus gained access to a broad range of knowledge as presses churned out books on topics from medicine and law to astrology, mining, and geography.
Printing influenced both religious and secular, or nonreligious, thought. “The preaching of sermons is speaking to a few of mankind,” noted an English author, “but printing books is talking to the whole world.” With printed books, educated Europeans were exposed to new ideas that greatly expanded their horizons.
The new printing presses contributed to the religious turmoil that engulfed Europe in the 1500s. By then, many Christians could read the Bible for themselves. As a result, the ideas of religious reformers spread faster and to a larger audience than ever before.
Why was it hard for the general population to access books before the printing press?
The chart shows the effects of the printing press in Europe. Is it likely or unlikely that in 1500, only the largest European capital cities had printing presses?