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
Sales territories:

Buy this eBook

You can purchase this title from a number of online retailers:

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.

“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

“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

“Well deserving of a space on readers’ shelves” —Marisa R. Cull, American Historical Review

“[T]he scholarship on display is admirable, and the arguments clear and well-constructed.  Those with an interest in the political dynamics which drove Shakespeare to shape his plays as he did, and who wonder just how he managed to balance the expression on stage of radical ideas about kingship, the rule of law and the will of the people with living in the uncertain and often violent political reality of late Elizabethan England...will find this book deeply thought-provoking.”—Paul Flux, Albion Magazine

'An immensely learned and deeply insightful monograph disguised as a page-turner. Lake offers the most lucid and believable account to date of, as the title promises, how Shakespeare put politics on the stage. Required reading not only for all Shakespeareans but for anyone interested in how literature speaks to and is shaped by its historical moment.' - Debora Shuger, author of Political Theologies in Shakespeare's England

'Even as Shakespeare’s histories illuminate his times, his times cast light upon those plays. Peter Lake, whose grasp of the Elizabethan political scene is exceptional, illuminates both Shakespeare’s world and works. Historians and literary scholars alike will find this a deeply engaging and comprehensive study.'—James Shapiro, author of The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

'Peter Lake has written an astonishing book, even for Peter Lake. Learned, lively, provocative and often surprising, How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage is a brilliant account of Elizabethan politics and Shakespeare’s extraordinary mediation of them. It is a wonderfully sensitive and supple work of literary criticism as well as a deeply engaged account of how Shakespeare’s England (which only retrospectively became “his”) thought about the most urgent political issues of the day.' - David Scott Kastan, author of A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion