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Shakespeare and Violence

Violence in other words is human aggression. By definition, it means the “exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse“. It comes in different forms: murder, physical or mental torture, etc.

It’s been told that since the beginning of time, human beings have some sort of fascination with violence. It stems from the fact that violence resonates with our inner, subdued primal instincts. Without our conscience we are wild and free from any type of social or humane construct.

Cue the Elizabethan/Jacobean era. Shakespeare lived in a place outside the city walls, out where laws aren’t applicable, since anything related to theater weren’t really welcomed. This means that burglars, petty crimes, prostitution and the like are probably usual sights. With an environment like this, the idea of violence (or at least, the idea of a ‘dirty’ world) among the people then shouldn’t be so surprising. It could even be a source of entertainment, like how bears are baited and tormented, or put in a more ‘cultured’ way, say, in plays. With Shakespeare, we have:

1. Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s most controversial and most popular plays. It is also undoubtedly, one of his bloodiest and most brutal.
a. The rape and mutilation of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter by Tamora’s two sons and her death upon her father’s hands.

b. Titus’ sons are killed.
c. Titus dies by the end but not before operating a grand scheme against his enemy, Tamora.

Hmm. Tastes like human.

d. Tamora is stabbed with a butcher’s knife
e. Basically almost everyone’s killed or did the killing.


2. The Merchant of Venice is a comedy, yet it didn’t fail to give its share of  ‘what the hell’ moments.

a. Shylock wants a bag of flesh when Antonio fails to pay his debt in time.

Because a bag of money is too mainstream.

b. Antonio being a douche to Shylock – if that counts as violent. Antonio treats Shylock like dirt, just because Shylock is a Jew.

3. Hamlet is the tragic story of a prince out for revenge.
a. Polonius the rat. Hamlet kills the hiding Polonius when he confronts his mother.
b. Poison by the king. Claudius seem to have poisoning people as a hobby.

Claudius when he's not busy sleeping with Gertrude and being a king.

c. Death to all by the end of Act 5. Really, everyboody dies.

4. Macbeth
a. Murder of the King. Macbeth kills the king Duncan in his sleep.
b. Murder of the chamberlains/servants, and a lot more. In an attempt to establish a more believable lie, Macbeth kills the suspected murderers of the king. He sends assassins to kill Banquo and his son as well.

- Macbeth

d. The war. The play opens in a war setting. Couldn’t be more violent than that.

Listed above are some of the exhibitions of physical violence in Shakespearean plays. It is unknown what Shakespeare’s intentions were including them, though who would deny the fact that with it, experiencing the plays become more intense.


Mabillard, Amanda. Violence in Shakespeare’s Plays.Shakespeare Online. 2000. March 2012 < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/violenceinshakespeare.html >

Foakes, R.A. Shakespeare and Violence. Introduction: ‘Exterminate all the brutes’. Online sample. March 2012. <http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2002067610.pdf>

Pictures from: Google Images






Written By: Mara Agleham, for Eng 23, from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. 2012.


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