Numbers 10, 9, and 8

Top 10 scariest moments in Shakespeare: Numbers 10, 9, and 8

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We asked an expert panel to name their favourite spine-tingling moments in Shakespeare. Today we begin the countdown with numbers ten, nine and eight.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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Which Shakespearean moments chill your blood the most? Do you agree or disagree with the experts? Share your view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.


(Richard III)

Shakespeare specialised in scaring the pants off his audiences but he really surpassed himself in Richard III. Whenever Richard finds anybody standing between him and the throne, he gleefully arranges their murder or execution. Stabbing, poisoning, drowning in a barrel of wine… it’s all the same to Richard. But he’s at his most cold-blooded in the moments after his coronation, when he quietly arranges the murder of his two young nephews, the princes. Even his evil henchman Buckingham balks at that one.

Reflecting on one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains, Pat Reid, Shakespeare Magazine’s editor, said: “Richard resembles a modern-day serial killer in that we know he’s going to keep on killing until he’s stopped. The whole issue of Richard’s physical deformity adds another dimension. I thought Benedict Cumberbatch played Richard superbly in The Hollow Crown 2 – he’s an arch-manipulator, but at times he seems horror-stricken to be possessed by forces beyond his control.”

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Listen to actor and writer, Kate Mulvany, discuss her experience playing Richard III in Bell Shakespeare’s Speak The Speech podcast.

In this interview, Bell Shakespeare Artistic Director, Peter Evans, reflects on the enduring power of Richard III.


(King Henry IV Part 1)

Nothing seems amiss when party animals Prince Hal and Falstaff start role-playing in The Boar’s Head pub. But when Hal pretends to be king, and Falstaff playfully entreats the king not to abandon him, the air turns cold when Hal responds: I do; I will.

The words turn out to be prophetic when Hal later does precisely that. But there’s more here than meets the eye. For the audience, that drunken moment is our first glimpse of what Hal is capable of. This is a young man who will later cling to power by manipulating the church and waging a war of invasion. He will execute his enemies (and even endorse the execution of his former drinking buddy Bardolph), threaten civilians with rape and murder, and order the slaughter of prisoners of war. And that fleeting moment in The Boar’s Head is where it all starts.

Watch John Bell perform an excerpt from King Henry IV Part 2, along with several others, in this intimate performance at Sydney Opera House.



With Halloween creeping towards us, there was only ever going to be one play picked by Robert O’Brien, emeritus professor of English Literature at California State University, Chico: “I’m going to choose a moment from a play that has not just a ghost, but witches too!”

For O’Brien, the most frightening moment in Macbeth (and scariest moment in Shakespeare) comes in Act 2, Scene 2, when Macbeth realises that by murdering Duncan he has damned himself. “When he overhears Donalbain and Malcolm praying, he can’t join in their prayer; like Claudius in Hamlet, he can’t pray for forgiveness and so can’t be forgiven,” explains O’Brien.

“His punishment is to live fully conscious of his crime. The enormity of it overwhelms him as he washes his hands, imagining Duncan’s blood turning the oceans red. Sleep will provide no relief from the torment of his guilt: a voice tells him, Macbeth shall sleep no more. From now on, he will live in a waking nightmare.”

Check out Robert O’Brien’s reflections on Shakespeare in popular culture at Shakespeare Flix.

Find out about 2021 in-school performances of Bell Shakespeare’s immersive and interactive Macbeth: The Rehearsal for Years 10-12.

To be continued…

Stay tuned on social media in the coming days as we continue the countdown of the Ten Scariest Moments In Shakespeare. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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