The Best Shakespeare Scenes for Halloween
Today’s the day, Halloween! It’s time for trick or treat and spooks and scares. What better way to celebrate than by reading some Shakespeare?! I know what you’re thinking “I have candy to eat. I don’t have time for Shakespeare.” Don’t be silly, of course you have time for Shakespeare and I have provided a few scenes to make your Halloween extra spooky!
What would Halloween be without some witches bent over a boiling cauldron, casting evil spells. Guess what?! That image, straight out of Shakespeare! Flip to Act IV, Scene 1 of Macbeth and prepare to cast your spell. The three witches call out their list of horrifying ingredients, which get creepier (and a little racist) as the spell goes on. In the end, they summon Hecate and a troupe of dark spirits for a little evil dance party. You can stop there or keep going to see what the conjured apparitions have to say to MacBeth.
Now, you may not think of witches when you think of Joan of Arc, but Shakespeare certainly did. Joan features prominently in Henry VI Part 1, and in Act V, Scene 3 she summons up a few demons. It’s clear that she’s seen these demons before, but this time they will not help her. She repeatedly offers blood sacrifices, but they will not be convinced. They stand there, silent, making her fate clear.
We’ll start with what I like to call the regret ghosts. These are the ghosts of people that were murdered and have returned to haunt their murderer. We’ll start with the ghost that is not as inherently creepy as the rest, Julius Caesar. After he is stabbed to death earlier in the play, Caesar returns to haunt Brutus, the man that he felt most betrayed by. At the very end of Act IV, Scene 2, Caesar briefly returns to tell Brutus he’s doomed. Pretty standard angry ghost stuff. It still could be pretty creepy in Caesar was all bloodied with stab wounds.
Now, we’ll move on to a man with many regret ghosts, Richard III. In Act IV, Scene 3, Richard tries to sleep on the eve of battle. As he rests his eyes, a parade of ghosts comes by to curse him and send blessings to his nemesis. We start with young Prince Edward, one of the famous Princes in the Tower and Richard’s nephew. He is followed by Henry VI, the Duke of Clarence (Richard’s brother), the trio of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughn (Queen Elizabeth’s family) visit next, followed by Lord Hastings, Lady Anne (Richard’s wife), and Buckingham brings up the rear. Each ghost recounts how he wronged them before cursing him to failure. Unfortunately, since Richard is asleep through the whole thing, we don’t get his reaction to the spooky ghosts.
MacBeth is a whole other story, though. His regret ghost, Banquo, shows up before him at a dinner party. This makes MacBeth look thoroughly insane as he references his departed friend. Lady MacBeth finds it simpler to pretend that MacBeth has always been prone to fits of insanity rather than acknowledge that this is a new development. The best part is Banquo doesn’t even need to do anything, he just has to sit in MacBeth’s chair.
Hamlet doesn’t really have a regret ghost, but he is tasked with avenging his father’s death by none other than his own ghost dad. Ghost Dad doesn’t go straight to Hamlet though. He has a little fun first scaring the pants off some guards, who tell Horatio. Horatio comes out in Act I, Scene 1 to prove this ghost things is nothing but nonsense. To his surprise, it is not and he is sufficiently frightened by Ghost Dad. Horatio decides he better tell Hamlet about his Ghost Dad. In Act I, Scene 5, Hamlet decides to go and see his Ghost Dad for himself. This is when the ghost reveals that he didn’t just die, he was MURDERED! Then Ghost Dad using his scary ghost voice to make everyone swear to secrecy.
Murder Most Foul
If you are looking to put some blood and guts into your Halloween, look no further than Titus Andronicus. If you don’t have time to read the entire play, the most violence happens in Act V, Scene 3. First, Titus kills his daughter who has already been raped and disfigured. Then, he reveals he killed the Queen’s sons and baked them into a pie. It is, in fact, the pie that she is eating. Chaos quickly ensues and pretty much everyone dies. It’s pretty great.
Titus may be a little too much for some of you, so you can tone it down with the torture scene from King Lear. In Act III, Scene 7, Goneril and her husband torture a Duke that is loyal to King Lear. When he isn’t particularly forthcoming, they gauge his eye out. But, why stop there? They decide to rip out the other eye as well. It is so heartless and gruesome that even the servants have to speak up to their master. A bold move considering the eye gouging they literally just witnessed.
But, of course, we can’t talk about murder most foul without talking about Macbeth. While the King’s murder happens offstage, the discussion around it is still enough to send a chill up your spine. Act II, Scene 2 is when they actually commit the murder offstage. First, they plot and then Lady MacBeth goes in to cover up the crime. This eventually gets to Lady MacBeth and she starts sleepwalking and talking about washing the blood off her hands in Act V, Scene 1. Again, these scenes are not straight up gory, but they are creepy enough to merit making the list.
So there you have it, the best scenes for putting a little Shakespeare into your holiday. What are your favorite scenes? Did I miss any? Let me know!