A Frisson in the Auditorium

Blair Worden

  • How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays by Peter Lake
    Yale, 666 pp, £25.00, November 2016, ISBN 978 0 300 22271 5

Does Peter Lake ever sleep? Even at 666 pages this is not the longest of his books, which descend on the study of the decades around 1600 like a great waterfall. There are no signs of fatigue, no inanimate sentences. Behind the loosely conversational manner of his prose lies a precision of thought and structure. How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage, an amiably but inherently contentious book, is easier to dissent from than to put down. Lake has the bravest and most problematic of subjects. By ‘politics’ he means the politics of Shakespeare’s time: the struggles of power and principle he sees reflected in the plays Shakespeare wrote under Queen Elizabeth. The greater part of the book explores the plays about English history: the six King Henry plays and two King Richard plays, which relate the origins and course of the Wars of the Roses, and King John. But there are also extensive discussions of the contemporary political pertinence of Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and even The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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[*] Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I was reviewed by Stephen Alford in the LRB of 17 November 2016.