Shakespeare was a political rebel who wrote in code, claims author

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A CODE-BREAKING book which aims to change the image of William Shakespeare and reveal him as a subversive who embedded dangerous political messages in his work is to be published in Britain. Far from being an ambitious entertainer who played down his Catholic roots under a repressive Elizabethan regime, Shakespeare took deliberate risks each time he took up his quill, according to Clare Asquith's new book Shadowplay.

She argues that the plays and poems are a network of crossword puzzle-like clues to his strong Catholic beliefs and his fears for England's future. Aside from being the first to spot this daring Shakespearean code, Asquith also claims to be the first to have cracked it.

'It has not been picked up on before because people have not had the complete context,' she explained this weekend. 'I am braced for flak, but we now know we have had the history from that period wrong for a long time because we have seen it through the eyes of the Protestant, Whig ascendancy who, after all, have written the history.'

It is now widely accepted that the era was not a period of political consensus, says Asquith. Instead, it was a time in which opposition voices were banished and censorship meant the burning of illegal pamphlets and printed works.

As a result the Catholic resistance, which had been going for 70 years by the time Shakespeare was writing, had already developed its own secret code words; a subversive communication system which the playwright developed further in his work.

'They inevitably had a hidden language, and Shakespeare used it rather like the composer Shostakovich used political codes in the 20th century,' she said.

Asquith, the wife of a British diplomat who was posted to Moscow and Kiev during the Cold War, says that while she was living in the Soviet Union she began to understand how 'dissident meanings' worked in live theatre.

Shakespeare, she claims, adopted some of the more general Catholic code terms that were current, such as the use of the words 'tempest' or 'storm' to signify England's troubles, but he also used new cyphers. Asquith argues, for example, that his obsession with the theme of romantic love was much more than a crowd pleaser.

Constancy in love was Shakespeare's way of alluding to the importance of a true faith in the 'old religion', she says.

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