While Shakespeare isn’t renowned for writing horror, he certainly understood the power of a macabre scene and the dramatic impact of horror when portraying just how evil a character could be.
He created a number of beautifully creepy and macabre scenes that hold definite appeal for horror fans, and which make great reading for October and Halloween.
Of all the scenes written by Shakespeare, this is the most Halloween-worthy. What is more appropriate for All Hallow’s Eve than a haunting, right?
Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ portrays Richard as an evil, conniving, murderous villain who plots and murders his way onto the throne of England. His deeds are ruthless and his victims are many.
In Act 5, Scene 3, the ghosts of all of Richard’s victims haunt him in his tent the night before the battle. Each of them bids him to “despair and die”, which becomes a powerful refrain that haunts him as he sleeps. This kind of regular repetition of a phrase is called epimone (uh-pim-o-nee): it compounds and gives power to an idea by dwelling on it.
Each of the ghosts also visits Richard’s opponent, Richmond, as he sleeps, bidding him to live, conquer and flourish. It is significant that their words to him are not so distinctly and deliberately repeated and echoed as they are to Richard. They are content to give him their various blessings, while they are intent on cursing Richard in no uncertain terms.
This is a beautifully crafted and deliciously vindictive sequence of indictment and cursing, in which the eloquence of the language only adds to the darkness of the scene.
The haunting definitely disturbs Richard, who responds to his troubled dreams with a soliloquy that uses strong imagery of guilt and judgement, and of fear and cowardice, revealing the disquiet of his conscience and his mind. He, too, uses the words “despair” and “die” immediately before referencing the visitation of the ghosts, showing that even though he thought it was a dream, they have had a profound effect on his spirit.
You can read the whole scene, or the entire play, here.