On BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Clare Asquith was talking about her new book Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare (PublicAffairs).

The subtitle says it all: Ms Asquith belives that the virulent anti-Catholicism of the times was opposed by many of Shakespeare's audience members and that Shakespeare himself embedded into his plays coded political statements indicating his pro-Catholic beliefs.

I'm no expert, but I'm rather sceptical that after years and years of Shakespeare scholarship Ms Asquith should be the first one to spot (and break) the code. More interesting to me was the author's assertion that the received opinion about the Reformation was beginning to crumble and that, for her, Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,1400-1580 (Yale University Press) was the key text. This is a book I've only dipped into, but Ms Asquith isn't the first to praise it so wholeheartedly.

Coming later this month, Yale have G.W. Bernard's The King's Reformation Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church which looks equally fascinating.

Readers Comments

  1. Yes, teasing out the significance of the words Catholic and Protestant into their political meanings is quite a task. I've always thought that 'King Lear' offers a picture of an old style Catholic traditionalist in Lear and one of the 'new men', Protestant, materialist, go-getter in Edmund. And the play seems to say that the only way forward is for old arrogant Catholic, divine rule types to learn/relearn humility. Edmund and gang seem to be manifestations of all that the old traditionalists were saying about Cecil and the Privy Council lot. A great read on this area is Curtis Breight, Drama and Surveillance in...something something. (sorry can't remember exact title) and Lawrence Stone's analysis of England pre-revolution in his book about the causes of the Civil War.

  2. Thanks for this Michael. Curtis Breight's book is Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era - which looks, sadly, out of print. In her introduction, Clare Asquith mentions that this book has helped her thinking too ...

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