74 Ways Characters Die in Shakespeare’s Plays Shown in a Handy Infographic: From Snakebites to Lack of Sleep

In the grad­u­ate depart­ment where I once taught fresh­men and sopho­mores the rudi­ments of col­lege Eng­lish, it became com­mon prac­tice  to include Shakespeare’s Titus Andron­i­cus on many an Intro to Lit syl­labus, along with a view­ing of Julie Taymor’s flam­boy­ant film adap­ta­tion. The ear­ly work is thought to be Shakespeare’s first tragedy, cob­bled togeth­er from pop­u­lar Roman his­to­ries and Eliz­a­bethan revenge plays. And it is a tru­ly bizarre play, swing­ing wild­ly in tone from clas­si­cal tragedy, to satir­i­cal dark humor, to com­ic farce, and back to tragedy again. Crit­ic Harold Bloom called Titus “an exploita­tive par­o­dy” of the very pop­u­lar revenge tragedies of the time—its mur­ders, maim­ings, rapes, and muti­la­tions pile up, scene upon scene, and leave char­ac­ters and readers/audiences reel­ing in grief and dis­be­lief from the shock­ing body count.

Part of the fun of teach­ing Titus is in watch­ing stu­dents’ jaws drop as they real­ize just how bloody-mind­ed the Bard is. While Taymor’s adap­ta­tion takes many mod­ern lib­er­ties in cos­tum­ing, music, and set design, its hor­ror-show depic­tion of Titus’ unre­lent­ing may­hem is faith­ful to the text. Lat­er, more mature plays rein in the exces­sive black com­e­dy and shock fac­tor, but the bod­ies still stack up. As accus­tomed as we are to think­ing of con­tem­po­rary enter­tain­ments like Game of Thrones as espe­cial­ly gra­tu­itous, the whole of Shakespeare’s cor­pus, writes Alice Vin­cent at The Tele­graph is “more gory” than even HBO’s squirm-wor­thy fan­ta­sy epic, fea­tur­ing a total of 74 deaths in 37 plays to Game of Thrones’ 61 in 50 episodes.

All of those var­i­ous demis­es will now come togeth­er in a com­pendi­um play being staged at The Globe (in Lon­don) called The Com­plete Deaths. It will include every­thing “from ear­ly rapi­er thrusts to the more elab­o­rate viper-breast appli­ca­tion adopt­ed by Cleopa­tra.” The only death direc­tor Tim Crouch has exclud­ed is “that of a fly that meets a sticky end in Titus Andron­i­cus.” In the info­graph­ic above, see all of the caus­es of those deaths, includ­ing Antony and Cleopa­tra’s snakebite and Titus Andron­i­cus’ piece-de-resis­tance, “baked in a pie.”

Part of the rea­son so many of my for­mer under­grad­u­ate stu­dents found Shakespeare’s bru­tal­i­ty shock­ing and unex­pect­ed has to do with the way his work was tamed by lat­er 17th and 18th cen­tu­ry crit­ics, who “didn’t approve of the on-stage gore.” The Tele­graph quotes direc­tor of the Shake­speare Insti­tute Michael Dob­son, who points out that Eliz­a­bethan dra­ma was espe­cial­ly grue­some; “the Eng­lish dra­ma was noto­ri­ous for on-stage deaths,” and all of Shakespeare’s con­tem­po­raries, includ­ing Christo­pher Mar­lowe and Ben Jon­son, wrote vio­lent scenes that can still turn our stom­achs.

Recent pro­duc­tions like a bloody stag­ing of Titus at The Globe in 2014 are restor­ing the gore in Shakespeare’s work, and The Com­plete Deaths will leave audi­ences with lit­tle doubt that Shakespeare’s cul­ture was as per­me­at­ed with rep­re­sen­ta­tions of vio­lence as our own—and it was as much, if not more so, plagued by the real thing.

via The Tele­graph/Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Shake­speare Cours­es: Primers on the Bard from Oxford, Har­vard, Berke­ley & More

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

Shakespeare’s Rest­less World: A Por­trait of the Bard’s Era in 20 Pod­casts

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (36)
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  • Liz says:

    What about Por­tia from Julius Cae­sar? She swal­lowed hot coals. Yet it’s not on the chart!

  • Jamianette sauer says:

    On the graph on the left side I noticed right after lack of sleep there is an orange per­cent­age slot that was not indi­cat ed. I’m curi­ous if this was an error or was it per­haps on pur­pose. Just felt like let­ting you know about it.

  • Cheryl says:

    There are actu­al­ly 5 unla­beled sec­tors on the pie chart.

  • Ernest says:

    Ophe­lia — drowned
    Des­de­mona — suf­fo­cat­ed

  • James says:

    You can hov­er or click on the unla­belled pie seg­ments to see what they denote.
    Per­haps swal­low­ing hot coals falls under death by indi­ges­tion?

  • Keith Lawson says:

    I assume all death by blade come under “stab­bing”, e.g Cori­olanus, Mac­beth

  • Michael Crisp says:

    Malm­sey wine?

  • Susan says:

    The chart is incom­plete, as some oth­ers have point­ed out. Per­haps the title should be qual­i­fied: ‘A Sam­pling of Deaths Depict­ed by the Bard’? What about lit­tle Mam­mil­ius in The Win­ters Tale who dies from sep­a­ra­tion from his mom? He can’t be the only ‘drops dead’. There are plen­ty of oth­ers who, like Fal­staff, pass away from con­sump­tion or oth­er ambigu­ous caus­es.

  • Leo Leo says:

    Is the death of Eno­bar­bus under “dropped dead” or “threw him­self away”? If not, it is oft said that he may indeed have died of “a bro­ken heart”. Per­haps that’s yet anoth­er cat­e­go­ry? Just a thought!

  • Nate Hoffelder says:

    Where’s the info­graph­ic? All i see is an incom­plete pie chart.

  • Florence McFarlane says:

    alco­holic poi­son­ing deserves a slice of pie. Fal­staff was lucky to die of con­sump­tion ahead of over con­sump­tion of both food and alco­hol.

  • Rechan says:

    Is the Duke in Richard III drowned in a butt of wine not con­sid­ered drown­ing?

  • The Black Smurf says:

    “Hav­ing to read Shake­speare” not among the choic­es.

  • ILUNGA says:

    well alco­hol can bite like a poi­so­nious snake

  • N. says:

    Update it. Ophe­lia isn’t rep­re­sent­ed.

  • Conor says:

    ” Lat­er, more mature plays reign in the exces­sive black com­e­dy and shock fac­tor, […]”

    That would be “rein in” then?

    When (if?) Prince Charles accedes to the British throne he will need to be reigned in.

  • John mitchell says:

    Who died by being blind­ed

  • Jubally Property Tax Solutions says:

    The Pie death are my favorite lol.

  • steven says:

    you are so right nan gay lol sub 2 Will­TEG

  • Paula says:

    oh, my, how neg­a­tive you are to point out one omis­sion

  • K.C. says:

    If you hov­er over the “slice” it shows the head­ing. I saw every label.

  • scoopernicus says:

    Stabbed then drowned.

  • Harlan Bieley says:

    This sounds like a Louis Marder dilem­ma. He taught Shake­sphere when I was a stu­dent at the Univ. of Mia­mi. He claimed to have writ­ten the plays in one of his pre­vi­ous exis­tances. He was a phe­nom­e­nal teacher.

  • Digital Humanities says:

    Is the dataset avail­able?

  • Duckie says:

    For jamiean­nete… just allud­ed to expi­ra­tions 😉

  • Dazed & Confused says:

    Why is a piece of the pie not account­ed for? There is clear­ly a piece that is unac­count­ed for and has no lable next to it…!

  • Tom says:

    You for­got drown­ing (Ophe­lia).

  • Paul Sugarman says:

    There is also no list­ing for shot, and there are 2 who die that way in 1 Hen­ry 6, Sal­is­bury and SIr Thomas Gar­grave.

  • Mike, NJ says:

    There are still 3 unla­beled slices on the chart, all on the right side (i.e. Bro­ken Heart, Drowned, & Smoth­ered by Pil­low).

  • sflyons says:

    I don’t think the num­ber of Mac­Duff chil­dren is ever spec­i­fied in the play, so 30 stab­bings has to be an approx­i­ma­tion.

  • Flurbius says:

    For those peo­ple car­ry­ing on about this or that wedge isn’t labelled — click on the wedge, it tells you how many and how.

  • Sarah says:

    Love­ly chart!! Could you put sui­cide in? Maybe I missed
    it… thanks.

  • Martha C. Snowden says:

    Great job! I saw that by hov­er­ing over the pie chart one can see every death, includ­ing Ophe­lia and Des­de­mona. My under­grad­u­ate degree is in Dra­ma and I tru­ly appre­ci­ate the work that went into the mak­ing of this chart. I love it when A char­ac­ter dies of more than one thing. Also, so much is bio­graph­i­cal, so it’s not gra­tu­itous.

  • Tessa says:

    I’d like to know if any­one was burned alive, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the sstake and if so, who?

  • Carolyn L Zaremba says:

    Yes, I won­dered what hap­pened to that famous death.

  • Carolyn L Zaremba says:

    Yes, Ophe­lia comes under drown­ing.

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