William Shakespeare and Elizabethan Politics

Picture of Robert Devereux
Earl of Essex

The Biography of William Shakespeare

  • Was William Shakespeare involved in Politics?
  • Were actors and playwrights involved in Politics?
  • Involvement with the Essex Rebellion?
  • Interesting information about the politics, life and times of William Shakespeare


  • Shakespeare was aware of the danger of dabbling in politics
  • Plays were censored
  • The Catholic religion was not approved of - Queen Elizabeth was constantly in fear of Catholic plots
  • Shakespeare knew people who had been arrested and tortured - friends and family members!
  • Relatives had been arrested and taken to the Tower of London
    • William Arden, was a second cousin of Mary Arden of Wilmcote, the mother of Shakespeare
    • In 1583 Arden was indicted for plotting against the life of the Queen
    • Arden protested his innocence only admitting to adhere to the Catholic faith but was executed at Smithfield on 30th December, 1583
  • Shakespeare knew of the strict laws prohibiting any explicitly religious or current political events being represented on stage

William Shakespeare and Elizabethan Politics

Comprehensive Facts and information about the Elizabethan Era


  • Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I
  • She heaped favours on the ambitious young man and appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1599
  • He signed an unauthorised truce with the leading Irish rebel, the Earl of Tyrone
  • The Queen was furious and ordered his arrest, stripping him of his titles
  • In January 1601, the rebel earl led an abortive raid against the Queen and London - he plotted to start a rebellion to overthrow the Queen
  • The supporters of Essex arranged for Richard II to be played at the Globe the day before the rebellion
  • The play, Richard II, tells the story of how Richard II was overthrown by Henry IV and how Richard the King, like Elizabeth the Queen, had abdicated many of her powers in favour of her advisors Cecil and Raleigh
  • The theme expressed in the play was hoped to generate support for the rebellion amongst Londoners
  • The Earl of Essex marched into the streets of London with his followers
  • But the play had failed to stir up support for Essex and Londoners stayed away from the trouble
  • The rebellion collapsed and Essex was captured and, on 25th February 1601 he was executed for treason
  • Did Shakespeare and his company realise the significance of playing Richard II? Did any of them know about the rebellion? Nothing was proved and no charges were made - the company were forgiven by the Queen and they performed for her in December of the same year as the rebellion

William Shakespeare Index

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