Shadowplay : Shakespeare as secret political rebel?

Here’s an interesting story for a Sunday morning. In her new book “Shadowplay”, author Clare Asquith presents the case that was writing coded political messages into his plays. Asquith claims to be the first person to have discovered the code, as well as crack it.

A little sample, from the article…


The sun represented divinity, and so sunburn denotes closeness to God. Shakespeare described himself as ‘tanned’ in Sonnet 62.

Turtle dove:

A traditional image for the apostles, used to signify those who remained faithful in the face of persecution.


The story of Philomela, who was turned into a nightingale, was an image of the desecrated church and its covert protests.

Red rose:

A term used by Catholics for their ‘old, beautiful’ religion.


The new, Protestant religion, associated with black print and sober dress.


Devotion to the five wounds of Christ led to patterned emblems on the banners borne against the new regime. Shakespeare uses it in the form of flowers, birthmarks or heraldic blazons as a marker of Catholicism.

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One thought on “Shadowplay : Shakespeare as secret political rebel?

  1. As a Catholic myself, I confess that I like the idea of WS’s presumed Catholicism. It gives me a feeling of distant kinship with WS. But as a reader, I don’t particularly see it. I believe WS to have harbored such ideas as a result of circumstance, and that his father was a devout Catholic. But much more manifest in the plays were WS’s true associations. He was more conversant with the double entendre and sexual punning. He was clearly familiar with the taverns and bawdy houses. These are much closer to the subtext than any religious concept. And how can it be known that references to tanning were not actually references to actors on stage, topical and humorous references to real life sun tans, for instance. The red rose could just as easily be a reference to the red rose of Lancaster, as has often been suggested. It will be interesting to see how others respond to this book. It makes me wonder if she’s a modern Delia Bacon.

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