Today I am sharing my thoughts on DEATH BY SHAKESPEARE, an amazing analysis of Shakespeare’s unique methods of killing off his characters!
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(This blog post also contains a review copy that was sent to me by publishers. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)
An in-depth look at the science behind the creative methods Shakespeare used to kill off his characters.
In Death By Shakespeare, Kathryn Harkup, best-selling author of A is for Arsenic and expert on the more gruesome side of science, turns her expertise to Shakespeare and the creative methods he used to kill off his characters. Is death by snakebite really as serene as Cleopatra made it seem? How did Juliet appear dead for 72 hours only to be revived in perfect health? Can you really kill someone by pouring poison in their ear? How long would it take before Lady Macbeth died from lack of sleep? Readers will find out exactly how all the iconic death scenes that have thrilled audiences for centuries would play out in real life.
In the Bard’s day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theater was a fairly likely scenario. Death is one of the major themes that reoccurs constantly throughout Shakespeare’s canon, and he certainly didn’t shy away from portraying the bloody reality of death on the stage. He didn’t have to invent gruesome or novel ways to kill off his characters when everyday experience provided plenty of inspiration.
Shakespeare’s era was also a time of huge scientific advance. The human body, its construction and how it was affected by disease came under scrutiny, overturning more than a thousand years of received Greek wisdom, and Shakespeare himself hinted at these new scientific discoveries and medical advances in his writing, such as circulation of the blood and treatments for syphilis.
Shakespeare found 74 different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions–shock, sadness, fear–that they did over 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the science to back them up?
Death by Shakespeare was such an intriguing read! From the name itself, I knew that it had to obviously do with the deaths that occurred in Shakespeare’s plays – the hows mostly. And being a literature major with fair dabbling in the Shakespearean arts, I was of course very intrigued and my interest was piqued.
What was better though, was how the author built it up. England in those days was full of pestilence, and personal hygiene was an almost non-existent thing. So it was inevitable that various diseases flourished. Now all of these are facts. However, I have to applaud the author for the amazing fiction-like way in which she has given us a glimpse of this England. And it was a great build-up to the actual 74 ways Shakespeare used to kill if the famous (well, mostly infamous) characters from his various plays.
The historical context in regards to the wholeness of death was the most intriguing factor to me. England then was not like today – many people today go on for years without witnessing a death happen in front of their eyes (I haven’t, touchwood) but then, it was pretty much an everyday happening. Public executions were common, plagues often plagued the people (wordplay there), and wars, battles, uprisings were common, sudden street fights (as one sees in Romeo and Juliet) were also common happenings. As such, death was one of the threads that weaved the everydays of the people. And so, Shakespeare did not have to look far for inspiration.
There is also a lot of conjecture in this book, too. And in a way, it again only imbibed in me the scientific temperament and I would think and think if it was possible, coming up with ways in which it was, and counter-ways in which it was not possible. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun reading this book and I hope you all read it too and moreover, take your time with it!
I rate it 4/5 stars!
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