Culturally-significant texts – Across genres, across the ages


Sixteenth Century

On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church

On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
Martin Luther

There are really three books that together mark the advent of the Protestant Reformation and usher in a profoundly new approach to religion, the state, and the individual in western thought. They are all Martin Luther, they were all published in 1520, and they all represent the moment of his excommunication from the Catholic Church and a massive schism within Christendom. To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation and On the Freedom of a Christian are books 1 and 3; the one we’ve chosen here to represent that moment, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, comes between the others, and reconsiders the Catholic Church’s 7 holy sacraments in the light of Luther’s own interpretation of scripture. Continue reading “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church”


The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene
Edmund Spenser
1590 – 1596

Friend to Walter Raleigh and participant in English military campaigns to crush revolt in Ireland, Edmund Spenser is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential of English poets, and this in no small part due to one formidable poem – The Faerie Queene. Never completed, it includes 3 books published together in 1590 and another 3 published six years later, all presented in honour of Queen Elizabeth the 1st. Continue reading “The Faerie Queene”

Gargantua and Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel
Francois Rabelais

Blood, sex, vomit and shit. Repeat. Gargantua and Pantagruel is sixteenth century violent, scatalogical satire about the lives of two Giants. Actually a series of five separate tales published between 1532 and 1564, it is the definitive text of what is called grotesque realism – a reduction of the abstract to not only the material but the base, and the discussion of general social and political dynamics by analogy with bodily functions. Eat, drink, shit, piss, fuck, fight – this is the world of Pantagruel and Gargantua, and also the world of politics, of religion, of civilization.

Human nature, law, education, marriage, religion, economics – Gargantua and Pantagruel tackles all of these, providing a sharp and insightful critique of all that western philosophy holds dear, and celebrating the animal of our humanity, the leveling impulse of revolt, the wildness of passion and drunkenness, the freedom of all that is bawdy.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet
William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet – perhaps the most famous of love stories in the western canon. The classic tragic play about two young lovers whose families are engaged in a bitter and longstanding feud. No need to justify its inclusion on this list, to be sure, the play being second only perhaps to Hamlet as Shakespeare’s best-known, and the source of such now-common turns of phrase as “what light through yonder window breaks”, “parting is such sweet sorrow”, and “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, Romeo and Juliet was likely written in the early 1590s and first published in 1597. And you don’t last as long as this without getting your share of praise and your share of critics and detractors. This, however, is not the place to enter that debate. It is the place to simply say this: if you haven’t seen it, see it – live; and if you haven’t read it, read it – preferably aloud.

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