5 Goriest Scenes from Elizabethan Theatre

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Next time someone says modern horror is too violent, just remind them of these scenes from the likes of William Shakespeare and Chistopher Marlowe. Guest writer JON KANEKO-JAMES lists his top 5 goriest scenes from Elizabethan Theatre


There’s a lot more to Shakespeare than thees and thous. Shakespeare was a writer who wrote and dramatised the popular folk stories of his time, preserved the Elizabethan street language in a way that affects the way we talk to this day and wrote some pretty wrong and gory stories. Shakespeare was a fan of classical mythology: Ovid, Aescylus, Euripades and friends. That already gave him a fairly large amount of incest, torture, murder and deviancy to draw on, but the Elizabethan playwrights could always go one better. So, here’s the top five goriest moments in Elizabethan Theatre.

5. The Earl of Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out

Shakespeare’s King Lear

The Earl of Gloucester has remained loyal to the insane and egotistical King Lear, who, after making his daughters compete over how much they love him, is finding out that he backed the wrong ones. He is betrayed to the Duke of Cornwall, and Lear’s daughters. Cornwall, who might not be entirely sane himself, not only cuts out Gloucester’s eye, but makes him watch as he steps on it before cutting out the other one. Afterwards he hands Gloucester over to a random beggar and tells him to “Smell his way to Dover,” where he plans to commit suicide.

4. Lavinia’s hands and tongue are cut out

Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus

The play Titus Andronicus is one of the most bloodthirsty plays in the Shakespeare cannon, if not THE most bloody. Titus, the main contender for the title of Emperor of Rome, decides to back Saturnius for the throne, even going as far as to KILL HIS OWN SON so that Saturnius can marry Titus’ beautiful daughter, Lavinia.  What does Saturnius do? He takes a dump on the Andronicus family and marries Titus’ deadly enemy, the bitter Queen of the Goths, Tamora. Then, her sons find Lavinia with her boyfriend in the woods, kill the boyfriend and rape Lavinia. How do they cover up what they’ve done? They cut out her tongue and cut off her hands to stop her from telling anyone. Don’t worry, they get theirs. We’ll be hearing from them again.

3. Edward II gets a red-hot poker rammed up his butt

Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II

So, it’s medieval England and Edward II is gay, not an easy thing in those days. You have to get a wife: so he marries Isolbela, She Wolf of France. Now, it might seem obvious to me, but if you’re a gay man looking for a cover marriage to hide your (at that time socially unacceptable) preferences (like the fact that you live with your boyfriend,) MAYBE IT ISN’T THE BEST IDEA TO MARRY SOMEONE WITH THE NICKNAME ‘SHE-WOLF.’ Seriously, how does he think she got that name? This was before the internet, when everyone started calling themselves Ironcock Deathmachine. In those days a name like ‘She-Wolf’ meant something. Unsurprisingly, she finds a lover and decides that he’d make a better leader than Edward, so they decide to get rid of him. How? Well, at first they decide to lock him up, but when that doesn’t starve the homosexuality out of him they decide death is the only option: they get a red hot poker and a metal funnel, which they put where the sun doesn’t shine. Then it’s just a matter of playing hide-the-red-hot-metal sausage. They say his ghostly screams can be heard for miles around the castle to this day.

2. Giovanni cuts his incestuous lover Annabella’s heart out (and casually wanders into a party with still stuck on the end of his knife)

John Ford’s ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore

So, Giovanni has been away at university fighting unclean thoughts about his sister. When he returns home and confesses to her she immediately jumps into the sack with him. Naturally, this goes wrong. It’s only a matter of time before Annabella’s suitors want to know why she’s suddenly not interested in them, and they keep themselves amused by plotting and killing each other. When Annabella gets pregnant by this new mystery man, her nurse spills the beans (getting a good mutilating in the process.) Annabella sends a letter WRITTEN IN HER OWN BLOOD to Giovanni warning him of the danger, which he ignores. Instead, he shows us that maybe his desire to make love to his sister came from something approaching mental instability and visits her at their father’s house. Here, he engages her in one more brotherly kiss, before killing her and cutting her heart out. Not content with this, he saunters downstairs for dinner, waving the heart-on-a-knife around like a chicken leg as he gives them the details of how he and his sister ‘kept it in the family.’

1. Titus ‘plays the cook’

William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus

Remember those two guys who raped that girl and cut things off so that she couldn’t tell on them? Remember how, back in #4 I said we’d be hearing from them again? Well, she might not have hands anymore, but Lavinia can still grip a stick between her stumps, and she does just that to write their names in the dirt. Her Dad loses it a little bit at this point, and decides to get his revenge. Not just revenge on Demitrius and Chiron, though. He’s just as pissed with their Mom, Tamora. How to get revenge on all three at once? Obvious: he kills the boys and cooks them up in a pie. He cuts their throats and drains their blood into a bowl held between Lavinia’s stumps, before grinding their bones up (to, ummm, make his pie crust) and baking their heads. When he serves all this up to Tamora she enjoys it so much that she asks for the recipe, and he reveals that she’s eaten her first and second born son.


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