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Asquith, Clare. Shadowplay; the hidden beliefs and coded politics of William Shakespeare.

ASQUITH, Clare. Shadowplay; the hidden beliefs and coded politics of William Shakespeare. Public Affairs. 348p. notes, bibliog. index, c2005. 1-58648-387-0. $14.95. A

I found this book fascinating. Scholars say anything written about Shakespeare's life is speculation; Asquith's speculation, as The Spectator says in a review, "is a small earthquake in our understanding"; "another way of reading Shakespeare." Asquith got the basic idea for this book when she was living in the USSR under Communism. She knew, when attending the theatre there, that playwrights were using coded language the audience understood to be critical of the government. She then wondered if Shakespeare, writing during a time of great oppression and persecution, with his country divided bitterly into religious factions, could have used language that referred to the events of the day in a way his audience would have understood, but which would have protected him from treason by having double meanings--deniability. Her premise is that Shakespeare was a humanist Catholic who believed in religious tolerance. Through his plays and sonnets, he communicated his opinion to Elizabeth, and then to James I and to James's sons when they were young princes, and to his audiences, many who would also be Catholic sympathizers. Asquith brilliantly describes the plight of those in England who longed for the Catholic rites but were fiercely patriotic, and she believes Shakespeare was such a man.

There is not room here to describe the many instances she describes from the sonnets and plays that make her point. Let me just say that you will never see Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet in the same way after reading her decoding. Because I'm no scholar of Shakespeare, and because Asquith is not officially a scholar of Shakespeare, I felt I had to read other reviews (and Asquith's response to one particularly critical review) before recommending this book. I stick by my initial reaction, my fascination with her theories and my certainty that all who love Shakespeare will enjoy considering his work using Asquith's suggestions.

We may never know who Shakespeare was, but it seems logical to me that the brilliant person who gave us the plays and poetry we know as Shakespeare's work surely must have found a way to express his opinion about the turmoil of his own world. Claire Rosser, KLIATT

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Author:Rosser, Claire
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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