Shakespeare and the Resistance
Poems that Challenged Tudor Tyranny
As the year 1600 approached, unrest was stirring in post-Reformation England as many of the elite questioned the monarchy and pitted themselves against Queen Elizabeth’s regime. Amidst the 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. However, Shakespearean scholar Clare Asquith, Countess of Oxford and Asquith, will reveal the provocative political message that would have been apparent to Shakespeare’s original readers. In her lecture she will discuss how anti-royalists would readily understand the parallels between Lucrece’s fate and contemporary history—from their viewpoint that England was being violated by a turbulent and tyrannical monarchy that had stolen thousands of square miles of land, schools, hospitals, and libraries from religious institutions and the English people. Lady Asquith will explain how Shakespeare’s political poems gave England’s restless populace and disenfranchised nobility a historical analysis that justified—and even urged— direct action against the Tudor regime. This crisis of allegiance would eventually erupt in armed rebellion on the streets of London, and eventually drag a divided country into civil war.