A brisk, informative, and startling look at Shakespeare.

Chemist, journalist, and blogger Harkup examines the many ways Shakespeare chose to kill off his characters—something that happens in most of his plays.

“Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories,” writes the author, “are littered with the bodies of characters who got in the way of someone’s ambition or were cut down because of some perceived insult.” Readers will need a strong stomach to get through many of Harkup’s descriptions: of the process of hanging, drawing, and quartering, for example, where convicted individuals were cut down from the scaffold before death “and were still able to watch as their entrails and heart were drawn out of their abdomen and burnt on a fire in front of them.” Or consider the visceral effects of various poisons: Cyanide, for one, causes “massive cell death,” resulting in “headache, dizziness and convulsions, as well as vomiting and rapid pulse, before collapse and death.” Cleopatra’s snake bite was not likely to have been “soft as air,” as Shakespeare described it, since Egyptian cobra bites are very painful, especially on the breast, which is where Cleopatra placed the snake. Most of Shakespeare’s victims die in sword fights; Harkup notes that his actors were expected to be skilled at swordsmanship, and many trained at fencing schools. With battles an important feature in Shakespeare’s histories, it’s no wonder that death by sword recurred, but there were other causes, too, including smothering, beheading, drowning, and suicide. In an appendix, the author provides a chart listing all of the plays’ victims and the means by which they died. A few, like Othello, took their own lives out of guilt; others, like Lady Montague in Romeo and Juliet, died of grief. Besides investigating the plays, Harkup gives historical background about Elizabethan perils, such as executions, plague, syphilis, death in childbirth, tuberculosis, and infected wounds. She speculates about what Shakespeare knew about causes of death; like other contemporary playwrights, he did know that audiences loved violence.

A brisk, informative, and startling look at Shakespeare.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4729-5822-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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