Shakespeare. The Bard. His name evokes poetry, love and the terror of memorizing 10 whole lines of "To be, or not to be" for your high school English class. Sure, his plays have some action, but it's mostly tragic romance like Romeo and Juliet, or boring history like Henry VI, right?
Wrong. In addition to being the "greatest English writer in history," Billy Shakes was also one of the most insane, violent, out of left-field wackos who ever picked up a pen. For example ...
#6. Out of Nowhere, a Bear Eats a Guy
In A Winter's Tale, King Leontes orders the death of his own wife Hermione and the couple's two children. His subject, Antigonus, is given the unsavory job of taking the King's infant to the beach to leave her there to die. Seems like typical Shakespeare so far.
"Wait, so do I get brutally disemboweled now, or do a soliloquy?"
While Antigonus is standing on the shore, wishing he'd put his resume up on Monster.com sooner, he is dispatched with Shakespeare's most famous stage direction:
"Antigonus exits, pursued by a bear"
-- The Winter's Tale, Act III Scene iii, Line 58
Seriously, that's all we get in the way of setup or explanation. One second, our buddy Antigonus is giving a soliloquy; the next, he's chased into the wings by a gigantic ursine beast, never to be heard from again. Shakespeare abandons his minor characters without explanation all the time, but for whatever reason, Antigonus went out with a little more of a bang.
Shakespeare's Mad Libs period.
It also makes one wonder how exactly they accomplished the whole "get a bear to pursue someone off the stage" thing back in Shakespearean times. Maybe they just put out a casting call for "really hairy guy." It's not like they had CGI they could whip up, and we're assuming that even back then, you could be sued if a real-life bear ran loose in your venue and ate the audience. That's just not the sort of thing that happened back in Elizabethan England. Well, unless you count Queen Elizabeth's favorite form of entertainment: bear baiting.
Probably not The Winter's Tale, Act III Scene iii, Line 58. Probably.
#5. Shakespeare Goes Full Hostel
Titus Andronicus revolves around a revenge cycle between Titus and Tamora, who decide to take turns killing each other's children.
Throw a six to start!
In the second act, Tamora surprises Titus' daughter Lavinia and her fiance, Bassianus, in the forest. Tamora has her sons kill the fiance and throw him in a pit. Then they drag Lavinia offstage to violently rape her. And that's when the mutilation starts.
Tamora only wants to kill Bassianus to get back at Titus and has nothing against Lavinia -- but, hey, she's a professed virgin, so she figures, "As long as she's around, why not encourage my sons to gang-rape and mutilate her too? It's early in the day."
Lavinia: O, keep me from their worse than killing lust
And tumble me into some loathsome pit,
Where never man's eye may behold my body:
Do this, and be a charitable murderer.
Tamora: So should I rob my sweet sons of their fee?
No, let them satisfy their lust on thee.
-- Titus Andronicus, Act II Scene ii, Lines 175-180
"Bye now! Don't be a stranger!"
To be clear, Lavinia begs Tamora to kill her and keep her much-valued chastity intact -- but Tamora doesn't want to gyp her sons for the great job they just did of stabbing her fiance to death and throwing him in a pit, so she gives them the OK to rape her. Remind us not to hire Tamora and Sons Contractors anytime soon.
"OK, so the total comes out to the flayed corpse of your first-born, and a three way with your mother."
And that's just the beginning. The sons (Demetrius and Chiron) drag her offstage to her horrendous fate, and in the next scene they reveal how they're going to keep her quiet. If you guessed "cut off her hands and tongue and leave her alone in the middle of the woods, then engage in a pun-battle about what they just did to her," you guessed right!
Demetrius: So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,
Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravish'd thee.
Chiron: Write down thy mind, betray thy meaning so,
An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.
Demetrius: See, how with signs and tokens she can scrowl.
Chiron: Go home, call for sweet water, wash thy hands.
Demetrius: She hath no tongue to call, nor hands to wash;
And so let's leave her to her silent walks.
Chiron: An 'twere my cause, I should go hang myself.
Demetrius: If thou hadst hands to help thee knit the cord.
-- Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene iii, Lines 1-10
Via The Guardian
Shakespeare's gift lay in pointing out the humor in everyday life.
But it turns out the Bard had a thing for mutilation ...
#4. Cornwall Goes Reservoir Dogs on Gloucester
The title character in King Lear is a man who has grown senile in his old age, and splits his kingdom amongst his two oldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. But corrupted by power, the two daughters decide to go after the old man.
"I'm a terrible father! Woo!"
At this point, Regan's husband (Cornwall) gets a hold of one of Lear's friends (Gloucester). He then ties Gloucester to a chair and plucks out his eyes with his bare hands.
Later productions would do it with a ballpoint pen, as hands are so old fashioned.
As if this wasn't bad enough, Cornwall and Regan are guests in Gloucester's house when they do this, making every time your brother crashed on your couch and ate all your Hot Pockets seem like Christmas morning.
Though Cornwall might not have even gone this far if his wife and her sister weren't standing on the sidelines egging him on like a couple of deranged cheerleaders:
Regan: Hang him instantly!
Goneril: Pluck out his eyes!
-- King Lear, Act III Scene vii, Lines 4-5
Cornwall takes one out, but this is only half a job for Regan.
Regan: One side will mock another, t'other too!
-- King Lear, Act III Scene vii, Line 70
"Well thank God they took both out, Lear, or I'd really regret what I was seeing right now."
In the end, Cornwall finishes Gloucester's amateur optometry session by plucking out his other eye, untying him and sending him out into the English countryside where a huge storm is brewing, effectively ending Gloucester's plans of opening a bed and breakfast in the East Wing.
"We were going to have a CHAMPAGNE BRUUuuunnnch ..."