How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage Power and Succession in the History Plays Peter Lake

Publication date:
15 Nov 2016
Yale University Press
688 pages: 235 x 156mm

A masterful, highly engaging analysis of how Shakespeare’s plays intersected with the politics and culture of Elizabethan England  

With an ageing, childless monarch, lingering divisions due to the Reformation, and the threat of foreign enemies, Shakespeare’s England was fraught with unparalleled anxiety and complicated problems. In this monumental work, Peter Lake reveals, more than any previous critic, the extent to which Shakespeare’s plays speak to the depth and sophistication of Elizabethan political culture and the Elizabethan imagination. Lake reveals the complex ways in which Shakespeare’s major plays engaged with the events of his day, particularly regarding the uncertain royal succession, theological and doctrinal debates, and virtue and virtù in politics. Through his plays, Lake demonstrates, Shakespeare was boldly in conversation with his audience about a range of contemporary issues. This remarkable literary and historical analysis pulls the curtain back on what Shakespeare was really telling his audience and what his plays tell us today about the times in which they were written.

Peter Lake is university distinguished professor of history, professor of the history of Christianity, and Martha Rivers Ingram Chair of History at Vanderbilt University. He divides his time between Nashville, TN, and London.

“The most detailed, insightful study of [this] topic yet . . . masterful . . . invites readers to a renewed appreciation for Shakespeare’s work—and the intricacies of the dramatist’s mind.”—Dana Huntley, British Heritage

“In this huge chronologically ordered study, Peter Lake coalesces the English Histories with Shakespeare’s Roman plays to argue that the history plays reflect a distinct trace left by the real political manoeuvrings of the period, and provides a wealth of historical information to underpin his case.”—Rene Weis, BBC History

“Subtle and insightful readings . . . The high point of Mr. Lake’s book is his masterly analysis of Henry V. . . . Anyone interested in Shakespeare should make the effort to read this book. Even someone intimately familiar with the plays will discover much that is new, from details of historical background to interpretations of specific passages.”—Paul A. Cantor, Wall Street Journal