Violence and Sexuality in Shakespeare

I came to startling revelation as I completed my 11 page outline for what will be the research paper proposing this program. I did not address violence and sexuality! How could I ignore that fact when there is death and sex teeming in nearly every Shakespeare play? Then I thought longer about Shakespeare and some of the individuals I have contacted about these issues and I came to a couple conclusions.

1) Shakespeare was very subtle about the presence of violence or sex. It is alluded to, but never seen. For instance, in Much Ado About Nothing, the play I most recently read, it is established that Claudio and Don Pedro see who they think to be Hero being intimate with another man in the window of her bed chamber. However, that act in and of itself is never seen or even explicitly stated. Even I, who am very familiar with the play, was surprised and had to reread the text because the intimate sexual encounter is never even truly established. A line in the text reads, during Borachio’s confession to a friend “she leans me out at her mistress’ chamber window, bids me a thousand times good night.”

Upon viewing MacBeth I realized that although there is a significant amount of murder, the act itself is never seen. In Hamlet, although they are fencing, each victim really dies of poisoning (much less gory).

So, from these multiple selections, and my own long-term education, I was able to conclude that brutal violence and blatant sexuality is never seen in the text of Shakespeare’s Plays and so can be easily worked around during adaptation for children.


2) The professionals I have spoken to who work with children also confirmed that it was not typically an issue. They expressed that as long as the children have a proper preface to the play and are prepared for the dramatization of such acts, the children are less inclined to focus on the issue.

The program I am proposing would itself establish this education and would avoid making any displays, which allude to violence and sex, explicit in any way. With children as the target audience and performance art as the outlet, the program would be able to more abstractly dramatize the presence of blood, so it could be rendered a non-issue.


What do you think? Have you had any experiences with children viewing Shakespeare and how did they do with the presence of blood and violence? Do you think with proper instruction this would even have to be thought of as an issue for instructors and parents?

2 thoughts on “Violence and Sexuality in Shakespeare

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  1. Have you thought about “Othello” at all? It seems that if you want to discuss sex and violence, that is a play that climaxes at a violent sexual encounter on a bed in full view of the audience. While I agree that a lot of gore is done offstage, there are a few really gruesome examples of Shakespeare including it (eye gouging in “King Lear”, hand-chopping in “Titus Andronicus”).
    I absolutely agree with your conclusion, however. As long as the gore is toned down, most sexual or violent references go over kids’ heads so it should be very viewable for a younger audience!

    1. That is an excellent point. I had not considered those plays. Sometimes the problem is I can not possibly remember all the plays while I try to focus my research. This is why I love having more input!

      The great thing about theater is that it can be easily dramatized in a wonderfully artistic manner. I have seen red fabric or ribbon used. Also, by combining the nature of theater with the nature video, actions such as the removal of hands in Titus Andronicus can be cut away from as the action happens and then the dramatized aftermath seen. The challenge now is to draft this idea into a policy that the developers of the program could follow.

      You have such a full understanding of Shakespeare it is helpful to have another to discuss with. Please help promote my blog to your followers and I will do the same 🙂

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