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Death by Shakespeare : Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts
by Kathryn Harkup




Overview -

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 William 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? Harkup investigates what actual events may have inspired Shakespeare, what the accepted scientific knowledge of the time was, and how Elizabethan audiences would have responded to these death scenes. Death by Shakespeare reveals this and more in a rollercoaster of Elizabethan carnage, poison, swordplay and bloodshed, with an occasional death by bear-mauling for good measure.
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 dozens of 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?

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More About Death by Shakespeare by Kathryn Harkup

 
 
 

Overview

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 William 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? Harkup investigates what actual events may have inspired Shakespeare, what the accepted scientific knowledge of the time was, and how Elizabethan audiences would have responded to these death scenes. Death by Shakespeare reveals this and more in a rollercoaster of Elizabethan carnage, poison, swordplay and bloodshed, with an occasional death by bear-mauling for good measure.
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 dozens of 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?


 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781472958228
  • ISBN-10: 1472958225
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury SIGMA
  • Publish Date: May 2020
  • Page Count: 368
  • Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

Death By Shakespeare

For fans of the Bard, Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings, and Broken Hearts is the book they didn’t know they always wanted to read. A chemist with a penchant for poisonings (as in her book A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie), Kathryn Harkup dives deep into the details behind everything Shakespeare—his plays, poems, biography and the English history that provides the scaffolding—and unearths the science and stagecraft behind the more than 250 deaths his characters experience or inflict.

For those who have found Will’s way with language difficult to digest, this is the book that may change all that, focused as it is on the action. Harkup quotes liberally from Shakespeare’s famous and obscure works alike, but these excerpts serve as more of a springboard for the blood, guts and gore that so enthralled Shakespeare’s first audiences in Elizabethan England. Murders, suicides, executions, swordplay, snakebites, poisons and poxes: They are all here and exquisitely detailed, even the ones that didn’t actually take place onstage. Beheadings, for example, were too messy to enact during performances; instead, the head would appear in the hands of an actor, as proof of death. (Theater companies kept plenty of spare heads.) Burning witches at the stake also would have been too dangerous for both theater and audience. Thus, in Henry VI, Part 1, Joan of Arc meets her fiery fate offstage.

Why did Claudius choose Old Hamlet’s ear as the vessel for his poisoning? What were the three witches in Macbeth throwing in that cauldron, exactly? As for the doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, what was in that stuff the sympathetic friar shared? Harkup has answers. Lady Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, Cleopatra—all have their moments, now embellished with the help of Harkup’s chemistry expertise.

Yet Harkup is much more than a chemist. Looking over Shakespeare’s shoulder at the history in the Henry and Richard plays, she fills in so many details about the battles, treacheries, debaucheries and inflictions of those days that the plays become more vibrant for it. She ends with a thoughtful look at the way Shakespeare touched on sensitive topics, like depression and suicide in Hamlet—a reminder that the Bard’s words stay with us because he was always ahead of his time.

 

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