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6th Jul, 2022

New book examines Shakespeare's killing spree

Editorial Correspondent 2nd Feb, 2022 Updated: 2nd Feb, 2022

SHAKESPEARE certainly found plenty of ways to kill off his characters.

And in Death by Shakespeare – Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts, author Kathryn Harkup takes an in-depth look at the science behind the Bard’s creative methods.

Shakespeare certainly didn’t shy away from portraying the reality of death on stage, from the brutal to the mundane, and the spectacular to the silly.

But he was well-versed in death and included the latest scientific ideas in his work from circulation of the blood to treatments for syphilis

The dangerous and violent times of Elizabethan London provide the backdrop for Death by Shakespeare, as Kathryn, a chemist as well as an author, turns her own discerning scientific eye to the Bard and the varied methods he used to his see off characters.

Could lack of sleep have killed Lady Macbeth? Can you really murder someone by pouring poison in their ear? Kathryn 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.

Shakespeare found dozens of different ways to kill off his characters.

Audiences today still enjoy the same reactions – shock, sadness, fear – that they did over 400 years ago when the plays were first performed.

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 theatre was high. It was

also a time of important scientific advance – one Shakespeare kept pace with.

By the end readers learn exactly how Shakespeare’s iconic death scenes would play out in real life.

Kathryn completed a doctorate on her favourite chemicals, phosphines, and went on She is now a science communicator, giving regular public talks on the disgusting and dangerous side of science.

Kathryn’s first book was the international best-seller A is for Arsenic, which was

shortlisted for both the International Macavity Award and the BMA Book Award.

Death by Shakespeare – Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts is available in paperback priced £10.99.

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