This post first appeared on Shakespeare’s birthday two years ago at the Great Escapes site. But I thought it might be fun to repost it and wish another happy birthday to the Bard.
Considered the greatest playwright of all time and known for some of the most beautiful romances in literature, Shakespeare certainly knew how to let his dark side out to play. He would have made any thriller writer proud! He managed to kill off countless characters in unique, brutal and gory fashion, and in his time, his most popular plays were the most violent.
Here are a few highlights. (This is not for the faint-hearted.) Get ready for an orgy of poison, stabbing, suicide, bludgeoning, beheading and general rollicking mayhem.
In a jealous rage, Othello smothers his Desdemona. Overcome with guilt when he learns she had been faithful after all, he kills himself with a dagger. But don’t forget Emilia who is stabbed by her husband, Iago, when he learns of her part in the plot against Desdemona and Cassio. Oh, Rodrigo is stabbed to death too.
The body count is rising. Midsomer Parva can’t hold a candle to the seacoast of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale. King Leontes orders the death of his wife Hermione and their two children. Antigonus, ordered to take the King’s infant to the beach to be left to die, is dispatched by a bear! A bear? Say what?
Romeo upon hearing of Juliet’s (untrue) death, drinks the poison at the Capulet crypt When Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead beside her, she ends her own life by stabbing herself with a dagger. Oh, and let’s see, Mercutio, Tybalt, and Paris are stabbed, while Lady Montague dies of a broken heart.
In King Lear, Cornwall and Oswald are stabbed. Gloucester is blinded and dies of shock. Regan is poisoned by her sister, Goneril, after she sets her sights on Goneril’s lover. Cordelia is jailed and hanged in her cell. Finally, Goneril commits suicide when her plots are exposed and Lear dies of grief.
Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Cymbeline, Act IV, scene 2
For sheer blood and guts Titus Andronicus tops them all. Lavinia is raped by Demetrius and Chiron who then cut out her tongue and cut off her hands. When Titus, her father, learns of the rape, he murders her by breaking her neck and kills the two men. He hangs them upside down to drain their blood and bakes them in a pie which he feeds to their mother. Shades of Sweeney Todd! A veritable feast of gore (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Titus then stabs her in the face before being brought down by Saturninus, who in turn is also stabbed to death. Alarbus’s arms and legs are cut off and he is thrown into the fire, the nurse is stabbed, Tamora dies of indigestion, Mutius and Bassanius are stabbed, Martius and Quintus are beheaded, the clown is hanged and Aaron, is buried up to his neck in the sand and starves to death.
Macbeth kills Duncan, King of Scotland, while Duncan sleeps during a visit to Macbeth’s castle. Our protagonist is a busy man, dispatching Macduff’s wife and children, Duncan’s guards, Banquo and Seward. Macduff of course avenges himself by beheading the reckless Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth dies from . . . not really sure, maybe suicide, maybe lack of sleep.
Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it. Macbeth, Act I, scene 4
Hamlet learns from his father’s ghost that he was killed by poison poured into his ear while he slept, causing scabs over his entire body. Hebenon? What is that? Must have been henbane, also known as black nightshade or Jupiter’s bean. Ophelia, driven mad, falls from a tree branch and drowns. Okay, that’s a suicide. Queen Gertrude drinks from the poisoned chalice of wine intended for Hamlet. She dies exclaiming, “The drink, the drink! I am poison’d.”
Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned rapier and then forces him to drink from the poisoned goblet. Polonius, acting as a spy for King Claudius, dies when Hamlet strikes through the curtain and kills the eavesdropper. Before this piece of fluff is over, both Laertes and Hamlet are dead from sword wounds and poison.
Happy Birthday, Will. Thank you for all the thrills!