The Gothic in Shakespeare

Yesterday, April 23, was Shakespeare’s birthday—and also his death day! In honor of the Bard, I figured I would take this opportunity to discuss his connection with the Gothic tradition. William Shakespeare was writing his plays and poems two centuries before the advent of the Gothic novel. However, his influence on the genre has been much attested, and proto-Gothic elements can be seen in a number of his plays. In this post, I will highlight these aspects in three of his darkest plays:

Goth Shakespeare, courtesy of my excellent Photoshop skills

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Gothic Tropes: The Creepy Housekeeper

It goes without saying that one of the defining characteristics of Gothic fiction is a creepy setting—a castle falling into ruin, a haunted manor, or some mist-covered moors. But what’s a creepy setting without some creepy inhabitants? One of the most iconic of these, particularly in mansions and manors, is the creepy housekeeper. The creepy housekeeper is usually an older woman with personal ties to the manor itself or its previous inhabitants. Her primary role is generally to make the young female protagonist feel anxious and out of place as a newcomer and to provide either threats or warnings of danger.

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Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers looms behind the nameless narrator in Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

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Rebecca Review–A Haunting Tale

Rebecca CoverA couple months ago, I posted about some of the foundational female writers of gothic literature. There was one woman on that list whose works I had not read before, and so I decided to seek her out. Thus, I found myself downloading the audiobook of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca is essentially a Gothic novel in the traditional sense, though it was written much later than its 18th– and 19th-century fellows. Ambiguously set in the 1920s or ‘30s, Rebecca contains no elements of the supernatural, no true evil villain, and no attacks on the heroine’s life. Instead, what makes Rebecca a Gothic novel is its focus on the core Gothic trope: the present haunted by the past—although in Rebecca’s case, this haunting is purely psychological. Continue reading Rebecca Review–A Haunting Tale

The Roots of Gothic Literature

The term “Gothic” (with a capital G) refers to an era of literature and its accompanying trend in architecture during the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century. Both the literary and architectural movements were characterized by a return to medieval aesthetics. Fashionable English aristocrats, such as Horace Walpole, began to fill their estates with highly ornamented turrets and towers reminiscent of medieval churches.

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Cathedral of St. John the Divine–a church with Gothic elements

Meanwhile, many authors began to abandon the Enlightenment principles of rationality and reason in favor of exploring the pleasure that can be found in emotions like terror. The original Gothic stories featured Gothic castles, abbeys, and ruins of the sort that were now being recreated and were often set in a vaguely medieval past. They generally included elements of the supernatural in reaction against the recent trend of realism and were characterized by melodrama, mystery, and suspense. Listed below are some of the seminal works of early Gothic fiction. Continue reading The Roots of Gothic Literature