Internet Shakespeare Editions


Treasonous plots

The Earl of Essex.

On 7 February 1601, a day before his failed rebellion, supporters of the Earl of Essex commissioned Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, to perform Richard II, a play which had been published in a censored form with the politically sensitive deposition scene suppressed.

The company was later investigated to determine its role in the uprising, but was cleared of any complicity. Ironically, the players also performed before the queen on the eve of Essex's execution.

A premature celebration

Before the collapse of Essex's rebellion, Shakespeare had expressed high hopes about his expedition to Ireland. In Henry V, the Chorus proclaims:

But now behold,
In the quick forge and working house of thought,
How London doth pour out her citizens!
The mayor and all his brethren in best sort--
Like to the senators of th' antique Rome,
With the plebeians swarming at their heels--
Go forth and fetch their conqu'ring Caesar in;
As, by a lower but by loving likelihood,
Were now the general of our gracious empress
(As in good time he may) from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broachèd on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit,
To welcome him!
(1. 22-34)