Halloween Reads: Shakespeare and Murder

Get into the Halloween spirit with mysteries that combine Shakespeare and murder. It’s a winning combination!

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A bust of the Bard at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC (photo by Colleen Sehy)

Murder is a key plot point in Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Titus Andronicus, and many other Shakespeare plays. Maybe that’s why so many authors have discovered that the Bard and murder are a winning combination. If you’re in the mood for some murderous mayhem and Shakespeare this Halloween, here are some ideas to get you started.

“Ring the alarum-bell. Murder and treason!”
Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

Shakespeare Solves Some Murders

Simon Hawke’s engaging Shakespeare and Smythe series follows the lives of William Shakespeare and his friend, Symington “Tuck” Smythe. The two men meet on the road to London, both intent on seeking fame and fortune in the big city (Shakespeare as a playwright and Smythe as an actor). They soon pool their resources and end up sharing some unexpected adventures — adventures that often include murder. There are four books in the series: A Mystery of Errors (2000); The Slaying of the Shrew (2001); Much Ado About Murder (2002); and The Merchant of Vengeance (2003).

“Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile…”
King Henry VI, Part III, Act 3, Scene 2

One of Shakespeare’s Players Solves Some Murders

Philip Gooden’s series of six Shakespearean mysteries feature Nick Revill, an actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the company formed by William Shakespeare and his partners). In the first book, Sleep of Death (2000), the fledgling actor investigates the death of a wealthy nobleman. There are suspicious parallels to the Bard’s new play, Hamlet, but is it just a tragic coincidence or is something more sinister afoot? The clues lead Nick to wonder if Shakespeare could be a murderer.

“My mistress here lies murder’d in her bed…” Othello, Act 5, Scene 2

Shakespeare is Accused of Murder

When the Bard finds himself accused of killing an old friend in Murder in Stratford (2005) by Audrey Peterson, his wife, Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, decides to investigate in the hope of clearing his name. We don’t know much about Shakespeare’s marriage, but Peterson creates a convincing picture of William and Anne’s life in Stratford. She also comes up with creative answers to several enduring questions about their relationship, including the circumstances surrounding their marriage, the effect his years in London had on the marriage, and the reason the Bard famously left his “second best bed” to Anne in his will. Ultimately, hearing Anne’s side of the story about life with the famous playwright is just as much fun as watching her solve the mystery.

“Now does he feel his secret murders sticking on his hands…”
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 2

Shakespeare is Murdered

Shakespeare No More by Tony Hays offers a compelling twist on the theme of Shakespeare and murder. The year is April 1616, and the Bard is on his deathbed. Knowing he only has hours to live, he calls for his old friend Simon Saddler, the Constable of Stratford. Shakespeare tells Simon he’s been poisoned and implores him to find out who’s responsible, but Simon is reluctant to investigate — not because the claim seems so improbable, but because Shakespeare once had an affair with his wife. Eventually, Simon agrees to hunt for the killer, a journey he hopes will help explain why the Bard betrayed their friendship.

“For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ…” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Shakespeare and Murder Across the Ages

Interred with Their Bones (2007) and Haunt Me Still (2009) by Jennifer Lee Carrell feature Shakespearean scholar and theater director Kate Stanley, who simultaneously manages to solve both 17th and 21st century mysteries. In addition to the requisite murders, the books are brimming with tributes to the Bard’s plays and tantalizing Shakespearean relics and puzzles that are sure to please fans of the Bard and the mystery genre alike.

“O wondrous thing! How easily murder is discovered!”
Titus Andronicus, Act 2, Scene 3

And for Something a Bit Different: Queen Elizabeth I Solves Some Murders

Karen Harper’s riveting Queen Elizabeth I series is set in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. Each book weaves a clever storyline with people and events that were central to her life. Harper populates the books with an intriguing cast of characters from all walks of life, providing readers with an evocative, 360˚ view of 16th century England. There are nine books in the series, beginning with The Poyson Garden (1999) and concluding with The Hooded Hawke (2007).

“Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long…”
The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 2

This is just a small sampling of the many novels that combine Shakespeare and murder. Have you enjoyed others? I would love to hear your favorites!

Are you ready for more close encounters with the Bard? My book, Finding Shakespeare in America, highlights hundreds of festivals, theaters, gardens, museums, and other places across the United States where you can connect with the Bard. It’s great for armchair travel and for planning future trips.

Written by

Writer, speaker, traveler & Anglophile (www.colleensehy.com). Author of Finding Shakespeare in America and Eating British in America columnist at Anglotopia.net

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