A brilliant and provocative reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s largely forgotten narrative poems, and the political controversy behind them.
As the year 1600 approached, unrest was stirring in post-Reformation England. Many of the elite pitted themselves against Queen Elizabeth’s regime, questioning the monarchy and exploring republicanism. Amidst this tension, William Shakespeare published a pair of narrative poems dedicated to the young Earl of Southampton, which would quickly become bestsellers: Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece one year later. Although wildly popular during Shakespeare’s lifetime, both works are rarely studied today.
To modern readers, they are meandering, dense and dull. But in her engaging new book, the Shakespearean scholar, Clare Asquith, reveals the provocative political message that would have absorbed Shakespeare’s original readers: just as Lucrece had been degraded, England had been violated by a turbulent and tyrannical monarchy. Henry VIII and his successors had stolen the property and possessions of the English people and their religious institutions–making away with thousands of square miles of land along with hundreds of buildings, almshouses, schools, hospitals, libraries and their precious and irreplaceable contents. A newly enriched administration was from now on ruthlessly determined to capitalise on their spoils.
At the heart of this cultural upheaval, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece gave England’s restless populace and disenfranchised nobility exactly what they were looking for: an authoritative historical analysis that justified–and even urged–direct action against the Tudor regime. A fascinating narrative history rooted in original scholarship and groundbreaking interpretations, Shakespeare and the Resistance is a compelling account of Shakespeare’s political poems, revealing a penetrating analysis of the crisis of allegiance which would shortly erupt in armed rebellion on the streets of London, and would eventually drag a divided country into civil war.