The 1590s were black years for England. The queen was old, the succession unclear, and the treasury empty after decades of war. Amid the rising tension, William Shakespeare published a pair of poems dedicated to the young Earl of Southampton: Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece a year later. Although wildly popular during Shakespeare's lifetime, to modern readers both works are almost impenetrable. But in her enthralling new book, the Shakespearean scholar Clare Asquith reveals their hidden contents: two politically charged allegories of Tudor tyranny that justified--and even urged--direct action against an unpopular regime. The poems were Shakespeare's bestselling works in his lifetime, evidence that they spoke clearly to England's wounded populace and disaffected nobility, and especially to their champion, the Earl of Essex. Shakespeare and the Resistance unearths Shakespeare's own analysis of a political and religious crisis which would shortly erupt in armed rebellion on the streets of London. Using the latest historical research, it resurrects the story of a bold bid for freedom of conscience and an end to corruption which was erased from history by the men who suppressed it. This compelling reading situates Shakespeare at the heart of the resistance movement, and sees him correctly identifying the factors that would before long plunge the country into civil war.
Another distinguished achievement ... among other things, an excellent narrative of the last poignant months of Essex and his importance to Shakespeare and Southampton. Asquith leads the way in impressing on our culture the power of the Catholic presence in Shakespeare and in England. --Dennis Taylor, emeritus professor of English at Boston College, editor of Religion and the Arts Continuing her learned and provocative account of Shakespeare's religion and politics in Shadowplay, Clare Asquith turns her attention, in this beautifully written and informative book, to the narrative poems ... demonstrating that Shakespeare would have been as gripped by such events as Russian writers were by the communist terror, and as unable as they to express his thoughts directly. If you love Shakespeare, England, and our Christian heritage, you will want this book by your bedside and that of your guests. Buy the book now, and prepare for long evenings of fertile argument. --Sir Roger Scruton, editor of The Salisbury Review Compelling ... written with lovely clarity and verve. --Emma J. Smith, professor of English, Oxford University Insightful and enjoyable.... A vivid and persuasive argument that we can and should renew our enquiry into Shakespeare's complex and disguised responses, under strict censorship, to the fraught and dangerous cultural politics of post-Reformation England. --Sir Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, 2003-2012 A wonderful book and an important contribution to Shakespeare studies. It flows like a good novel, taking the reader into the argument and illuminating the neglected poems with scholarship and infectious enthusiasm. --Michael Scott, author of Shakespeare: A Complete Introduction; Honorary Senior Provost of the University of Wales Trinity St David