As a savvy and skilled showman who knew what Elizabethan audiences wanted, Shakespeare often put death center stage. Theatregoers at the Globe applauded the final exits of a long line of doomed characters who were stabbed, poisoned, smothered, hanged, cut to pieces (then baked into a pie), swallowed hot coals, and even died of shame.
Historian and Tudor scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger explores the way Shakespeare questioned the nature of the death itself: Was it inevitable (Othello and Much Ado about Nothing)? Permanent (Richard III and Hamlet)? A final way to get attention (Julius Caesar and Midsummer Night’s Dream)? Or even real (Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night)?
She shows clips of famous death scenes and describes the grisly special effects Shakespeare used to engage his audiences: swords that stopped just short of bloodshed to blood-soaked dummies to bladders filled with sheep’s blood hidden under costumes.
Whether the play was a history, tragedy, or comedy, Shakespeare’s death scenes were masterful—and his audiences always had a bloody good time.
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