Hamlet's Choice Religion and Resistance in Shakespeare's Revenge Tragedies Peter Lake

Publication date:
09 Jun 2020
Yale University Press
224 pages: 235 x 156mm
18 color illus.
Sales territories:

An illuminating account of how Shakespeare worked through the tensions of Queen Elizabeth’s England in two canon-defining plays

Conspiracies and revolts simmered beneath the surface of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. England was riven with tensions created by religious conflict and the prospect of dynastic crisis and regime change.
In this rich, incisive account, Peter Lake reveals how in Titus Andronicus and Hamlet Shakespeare worked through a range of Tudor anxieties, including concerns about the nature of justice, resistance, and salvation. In both Hamlet and Titus the princes are faced with successions forged under questionable circumstances and they each have a choice: whether or not to resort to political violence. The unfolding action, Lake argues, is best understood in terms of contemporary debates about the legitimacy of resistance and the relation between religion and politics. Relating the plays to their broader political and polemical contexts, Lake sheds light on the nature of revenge, resistance, and religion in post-Reformation England.

Peter Lake is University Distinguished Professor of History and Martha Rivers Ingram Chair of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage, Bad Queen Bess?,and The Antichrist's Lewd Hat.

“[I]lluminates afresh two of the most popular plays of Shakespeare's own time...Lake's approach is primarily historical, but his admirable close reading engages thoroughly with literary contexts.”—Paul Edmondson, Church Times

“Taking Hamlet’s Choice together with How Shakespeare Put Politics on Stage, Peter Lake has established himself as one of the principal voices of the historical contextualization of Shakespeare."—Stephen Greenblatt

 “Compelling … A strikingly fresh and rich account of what religion and resistance meant in Elizabethan England, Hamlet’s Choice is required reading for historians, theologians and Shakespeareans.”—Tiffany Stern,  General Editor of the fourth series of Arden Shakespeare

“The depth of Peter Lake’s historical research shows just how these plays' urgent questions kept the audience on the edges of their seats.”—David Norbrook, author of Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance

"With great deftness, Lake startlingly and compellingly connects the worlds of stage revenge, religious conversion and political allegiance.  To read Hamlet’s Choice is as clarifying and cathartic as a great performance of a revenge play itself." Nigel Smith,  author of Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon