Numbers 4, 3 and 2

Top 10 scariest moments in Shakespeare: numbers 4, 3 and 2



Our expert panel relived the most terrifying moments in Shakespeare to select the ten most frightening. Today, we peek between our fingers at three more classics.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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4. Macduff’s family fall victim to Macbeth’s bloodlust


To cling to power, Macbeth is prepared to go to any lengths – but the murder of Macduff’s family is extreme even by his standards. The witches’ warning (Beware Macduff) is still ringing in Macbeth’s ears when he learns Macduff is plotting against him. So Macbeth sends a warning of his own – having Macduff’s wife and children killed.

This is the moment in Shakespeare that strikes fear into the heart of bestselling novelist Craig Silvey: “Torn between his loyalty to Scotland and protecting his wife and children, Macduff triages the former and it has brutal, devastating consequences. This play is really The Tragedy of Macduff, and I wholeheartedly support his efforts to avenge his family and take a sword to tyranny. Macbeth totally got what was coming to him – and headlessness was an apt end, because, you know, maybe don’t predicate a murderous coup on the advice of witches, you absolute parrot.”

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

3. Iago poisons Othello’s mind irrevocably


Shakespeare mastered the art of mental torture when he created Iago in Othello. Reflecting on Iago’s villainy, Dr Rebecca Huntley said: “He’s an evil genius and extremely good at identifying people’s weaknesses and turning them against each other.”

With Iago, there’s no shortage of scary moments to choose from. He’s a murderer, after all. But in Act 3, Scene 3 he simply uses words as his weapon to bring the mighty Othello to his knees. Not only does he infect Othello’s heart with doubts about the loyal Desdemona, but Iago takes the audience hostage too – we know what he’s up to but must sit as silent (complicit?) witnesses to his villainy.

Iago uses inuendo and denial to lead Othello to all the wrong conclusions. By the end of the scene, Iago has got Othello doubting everyone (I think my wife be honest and think she is not./I think that thou art just and think thou art not.) including himself. He asks Iago to arrange for Desdemona to be spied upon. From this terrible moment onwards, everyone is doomed.

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In this article, Andy Mclean delves inside the mind of Iago to find out what motivates this most despicable of villains.

2. Titus and Lavinia torment their prisoners

(Titus Andronicus)

Titus Andronicus is well known as Shakespeare’s biggest gore-fest, says Dr Anna Kamaralli, “but the rule for scary moments is always that it’s not the overt acts of violence that create the fear, it’s the foreshadowing, the waiting, and the feeling of being helpless to reach out and prevent the disaster you know is coming.

“Thus, the scariest moment in this blood-addled play is just before Titus slits the throats of the two men who raped his daughter, Lavinia. At this point he has captured, tied up and gagged the two villains, then we have the ominous stage direction: Enter Titus with a knife, and Lavinia with a basin.

“The frightening part is not when Titus slits their throats, but rather as he describes what he intends to do to them, while Lavinia shows the bowl in which she will, in a few moments, catch their blood, and they hear in detail all about how, shortly, their dismembered bodies will be fed by Titus to their unwitting mother.”

So – to get you in the mood for Halloween – let’s leave the last words to Titus himself:

Come, come, Lavinia; look, thy foes are bound.
Sirs, stop their mouths, let them not speak to me;
But let them hear what fearful words I utter.

This one hand yet is left to cut your throats,
Whilst that Lavinia ‘tween her stumps doth hold
The basin that receives your guilty blood.
You know your mother means to feast with me,
And calls herself Revenge, and thinks me mad:
Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust
And with your blood and it I’ll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallow’d dam,
Like to the earth swallow her own increase.
This is the feast that I have bid her to,
And this the banquet she shall surfeit on.

Dr Anna Kamaralli is the author of Shakespeare and the Shrew and the editor of the Arden Performance Edition of Much Ado About Nothing.

To be continued…

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Read more

Read about numbers 10, 9 and 8 in our countdown of Scariest Moments in Shakespeare

Read about numbers 7, 6 and 4 in our countdown of Scariest Moments in Shakespeare

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