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Shakespeare and the Resistance: The Earl of Southampton, the Essex Rebellion, and the Poems that Challenged Tudor Tyranny

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A brilliant and provocative reinterpretation of Shakespeare's largely forgotten epic poems, and the political controversy they incited. As the year 1600 approached, unrest was stirring in post-Reformation England. The people pitted themselves against Queen Elizabeth, questioning the monarchy and exploring republicanism. Amidst this tension, William Shakespeare published a p A brilliant and provocative reinterpretation of Shakespeare's largely forgotten epic poems, and the political controversy they incited. As the year 1600 approached, unrest was stirring in post-Reformation England. The people pitted themselves against Queen Elizabeth, questioning the monarchy and exploring republicanism. Amidst this tension, William Shakespeare published a pair of epic poems dedicated to his patron, the Earl of Southampton, which would quickly become bestsellers: Venus of 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, the epics are meandering, dense, and seemingly uneventful. But in her engaging new book, leading Shakespearean scholar Clare Asquith reveals the provocative political message that would have been obvious and compelling to Shakespeare's contemporaneous 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 25,000 square miles of land and countless priceless pieces of art, jewelry, books, and more. At the heart of this cultural upheaval, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece gave England's restless and disenfranchised populous exactly what it was looking for: an authoritative historical analysis that justified--and even urged--direct action against the Tudors. A fascinating narrative history rooted in original scholarship and groundbreaking interpretations, Shakespeare and the Resistance is the definitive account of Shakespeare's political poems and the dramatic reactions they incited.


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A brilliant and provocative reinterpretation of Shakespeare's largely forgotten epic poems, and the political controversy they incited. As the year 1600 approached, unrest was stirring in post-Reformation England. The people pitted themselves against Queen Elizabeth, questioning the monarchy and exploring republicanism. Amidst this tension, William Shakespeare published a p A brilliant and provocative reinterpretation of Shakespeare's largely forgotten epic poems, and the political controversy they incited. As the year 1600 approached, unrest was stirring in post-Reformation England. The people pitted themselves against Queen Elizabeth, questioning the monarchy and exploring republicanism. Amidst this tension, William Shakespeare published a pair of epic poems dedicated to his patron, the Earl of Southampton, which would quickly become bestsellers: Venus of 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, the epics are meandering, dense, and seemingly uneventful. But in her engaging new book, leading Shakespearean scholar Clare Asquith reveals the provocative political message that would have been obvious and compelling to Shakespeare's contemporaneous 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 25,000 square miles of land and countless priceless pieces of art, jewelry, books, and more. At the heart of this cultural upheaval, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece gave England's restless and disenfranchised populous exactly what it was looking for: an authoritative historical analysis that justified--and even urged--direct action against the Tudors. A fascinating narrative history rooted in original scholarship and groundbreaking interpretations, Shakespeare and the Resistance is the definitive account of Shakespeare's political poems and the dramatic reactions they incited.

41 review for Shakespeare and the Resistance: The Earl of Southampton, the Essex Rebellion, and the Poems that Challenged Tudor Tyranny

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dee Arr

    In most countries in today’s world, those who comment on current events rarely use the tools that were employed centuries ago by poets and creators of literature. The specters of exile and death were ever-present, and those who wished to express their rebellious thoughts were forced to mask them within their creative works. William Shakespeare was no different. Author Clare Asquith presents the question why two of Shakespeare’s sonnets were some of this bestselling works at the time of his death, In most countries in today’s world, those who comment on current events rarely use the tools that were employed centuries ago by poets and creators of literature. The specters of exile and death were ever-present, and those who wished to express their rebellious thoughts were forced to mask them within their creative works. William Shakespeare was no different. Author Clare Asquith presents the question why two of Shakespeare’s sonnets were some of this bestselling works at the time of his death, yet over time have fallen so far as to be considered some of his most boring. The answer takes into account that over the last twenty years opinions hve changed, and it is now believed that English citizens considered Tudor Kings and Queens to be tyrannical. Ms. Asquith offers a lively presentation of the political pushback in art and written works previous to and during William Shakespeare’s time, exposing the cleverness necessary to be able to present ideas that would have meant death if spoken openly. History lovers, along with students of Shakespeare, should find this book fascinating and illuminative. The author explains why Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Venus and Adonis” were not merely poems, but bold comments attacking Tudor tyranny. At the same time, she shares an intimate glimpse into the political history of England over 400 years ago. Entertaining and enlightening. Five stars. My thanks to NetGalley and Perseus Books for an advance complimentary copy of this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kevin. Mckernan

    It was a great book very insightful. I have to go back and re=read the Bard again in a different like

  3. 5 out of 5

    Desirae

    This was absolutely fascinating. Definitely going into my re-read list. The book mainly focuses on drawing parallels between Shakespeare's mostly forgotten The Rape of Lucrece with the social and economic upheaval of the English Reformation, and the later rebellion of Essex over Elizabeth I. There was lots of interesting points of focus, and I'm not as familiar with The Rape of Lucrece as I am with Shakespeare's plays, but I will definitely be revisiting this work for future study.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    The two poems -- Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece -- are certainly obscure today; I don't remember it even after a semester of Shakespeare at university, and the author does take pains to explain some of their more arcane wording. The author does a good job at showing Shakespeare's topical references, which were, she tells us, distortions of his usual poetic form in order to say them. Shakespeare's actual connection to the Essex conspiracy is a bit more tenuous -- "W.H.", the young man to whom The two poems -- Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece -- are certainly obscure today; I don't remember it even after a semester of Shakespeare at university, and the author does take pains to explain some of their more arcane wording. The author does a good job at showing Shakespeare's topical references, which were, she tells us, distortions of his usual poetic form in order to say them. Shakespeare's actual connection to the Essex conspiracy is a bit more tenuous -- "W.H.", the young man to whom he dedicated the two poems, and possibly the fair youth in the Sonnets, may have been Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Southampton was a friend and patron of Shakespeare, and mixed up in the Earl of Essex's mad 1601 plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth's government, Southampton being involved enough to get a death sentence (commuted). Lady Asquith does make a considerable effort to show that the poems may very well make references to Essex, Queen Elizabeth and other major figures of the 1590s, as the Queen aged and her courtiers, notably Essex, Walter Raleigh, and her chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Shakespeare did, in his poems and plays, make topical allusions, but it is difficult to make them into a call for revolt. She admits that Essex was a flamboyant figure that Shakespeare would have found difficult to take seriously, "Icarus-like", she says. Still, Elizabeth and Essex were figures that the English public would have recognized in metaphor, and both Shakespeare poems were popular at the time. And it was a time of uncertainty and change. The deaths of Elizabeth's mainstay courtiers, Walsingham in 1590 and Burghley himself in 1598 left voids in her court, the country was hard up from decades of religious wars on the Continent, and intrigues between Anglican, Catholic and Puritan groups were ongoing. England in the 1590s and early 1600s was something of a police state, she says. The book is good at placing context; the connection from Shakespeare to Southampton to Essex is a bit thinner. Still, the book's value, at least to students of Shakespeare and English history, especially literary, is helpful. It revives interest in two otherwise-neglected Shakespeare poems that could be re-read with more understanding. And she does note, no spoiler, that after Elizabeth's death in 1603 and the accession of King James I and the Stuart dynasty, that Shakespeare's literary tone would shift, with more tragic material and deeper reflection. Being on the periphery of court crises -- the Essex conspiracy, the Gunpowder Plot, the coming of a new dynasty -- would have affected Shakespeare, at a time of change nationally and personally. (Clare Asquith, Lady Oxford, née Mary Clare Pollen, is a descendant by marriage from the former prime minister H.H. Asquith. This, apparently, isn't her first work on coded language in Shakespeare).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brian Bigelow

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marjan Slaats

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andy Adkins

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I've never been much of a student of Shakespeare, but one thing I do remember from my grad school seminars is the discussion on his social commentary. I would have loved this as a reference book in those seminars--Clare Asquith explores the ways in which Shakespeare used his writing to comment upon, explore, and exploit the social and political structures of his day. Digging deep into the narrative interpretation and historical research, Asquith provides a new tome of reference material for curr I've never been much of a student of Shakespeare, but one thing I do remember from my grad school seminars is the discussion on his social commentary. I would have loved this as a reference book in those seminars--Clare Asquith explores the ways in which Shakespeare used his writing to comment upon, explore, and exploit the social and political structures of his day. Digging deep into the narrative interpretation and historical research, Asquith provides a new tome of reference material for current and future Shakespeare scholars to draw upon. This book gives scholars and enthusiasts insight into the ways in which the playwright and poet hid highly politicized thoughts in his work and how we can use that work to gain another perspective on 16th century England society.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

    How do books like this get published? Asquith's newest foray into Shakespeare and history is a bumbling, self-contradictory mess in which she cherry-picks from some, often dated, aspects of the scholarly literature on the topic while ignoring the bulk of it. Her claims about how scholars think about Shakespeare are utterly false and twisted to promote her own inane agendas. In addition, she seems to think that rape is erotic, that the identity of Shakespeare dedicatee "Mr W. H." is fully and fir How do books like this get published? Asquith's newest foray into Shakespeare and history is a bumbling, self-contradictory mess in which she cherry-picks from some, often dated, aspects of the scholarly literature on the topic while ignoring the bulk of it. Her claims about how scholars think about Shakespeare are utterly false and twisted to promote her own inane agendas. In addition, she seems to think that rape is erotic, that the identity of Shakespeare dedicatee "Mr W. H." is fully and firmly decided, and that printed poems and plays were distributed, printed, and sold in identical ways. She cites no relevant studies on readership, audience, or reception, preferring to make assumptions and guesses as she goes along. Can I give it negative stars as a review?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  13. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  14. 4 out of 5

    Fleet Sparrow

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kim Friant

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shomeret

  17. 4 out of 5

    Douglass Abramson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Buxton

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joan

  20. 4 out of 5

    amy

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Shaw

  22. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melly Mel

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Wagner

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  27. 5 out of 5

    Janet

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chrissy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Haley

  31. 5 out of 5

    Dayna

  32. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  33. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Pick

  34. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  35. 4 out of 5

    Donna Smith

  36. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

  37. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Matos

  38. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

  39. 4 out of 5

    Annie M

  40. 5 out of 5

    Carly

  41. 4 out of 5

    Amy

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