Shakespeare’s work has infiltrated our language; lines from his thirty nine plays and 154 poems and sonnets have become popular sayings. As with Coronavirus of this century, large numbers of people were dying from the plague in Shakespeare’s time resulting in all sorts of public gatherings, including theatres being banned.
Disease didn’t just shape his profession it was a very intimate part of his life. In order to compete with the violent entertainment on offer to Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences, a struggling playwright needed to include death when theatres were open, thus Shakespeare utilized a multitude of methods to kill off his characters.
In her comprehensive, extensively research book “Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts” chemist and author, Kathryn Harkup investigates not only the science behind these deaths, but also many other aspects of Elizabethan/Jacobean life.
Covering each manner of death from a scientific perspective the author addresses a multitude of 16th and 17th century methods of extinguishing someone’s life: hanging, poisoning, burning at the stake, beheadings, sword fights, etc. This thoroughly entertaining book is filled with intrigue and information; it is also packed with morbid curiosities.
To further engage the reader the author has used a variety of quotes and character examples from the Bard’s plays. As Shakespeare’s plays are full of characters dying both off and on stage, the author has provided an appendix at the end of the book, which summarizes each death occurring in his plays and poems.
Although parts of her book are morbid and gruesome, as Ms Harper analyses the gory details of death, her book is highly readable and it provides a clear, captivating scientific analysis of all forms of human demise. This is not only a fascinating book for Shakespeare devotees but also for true crime and fictional crime readers whom will also find this a captivating read.