Gothic in Shakespeare: Hamlet and Macbeth

For today’s post, I have decided to take a brief look at the concept of the Gothic as it is found in the works of Shakespeare.   In many ways, he is one of the first to truly inspire the Gothic Romance movement!  This is seen most obviously in his plays Hamlet and Macbeth.   These are tales of obsession and betrayal.   

Hamlet is the young prince of Denmark who learns from his father’s ghost that he was murdered.   This sends Hamlet on an obsessive journey to get revenge for his father’s death by defeating his uncle, who has become King in his father’s stead and married Hamlet’s mother.   Many people die in this quest to find his revenge, even Ophelia, who is often interpreted as Hamlet’s true love.   After Hamlet rejects her and the death of her own father, she goes mad and drowns.    This death of a beautiful maiden is a staple of Gothic works since in these works we see either a tortured young woman who must overcome her situation or a dead young woman being a major character in the tale.   Plus the inclusion of Hamlet’s father’s ghost adds to the traditional supernatural element so common within the Gothic Romance genre! 

In Macbeth, we begin by meeting the Wyrd Sisters, a trio of witches who famously give a prophecy that drives the plot forward.   Hecate, the Greek Goddess of Witches, even is a character in the play!   The plot is one of murder and betrayal.   Macbeth murdered the King of Scotland, Duncan, in order to become King himself.   The play takes a deep look at the psychological trauma that happens due to political ambition.   Once again it can be seen that this play features a lot of supernatural elements within its plot.   The play even has its own superstition in the theater world, as it is famously forbidden to use the name ‘Macbeth’ in a theater outside of a rehearsal or performance of the play.   Instead, when the play is talked about inside a theater, it is referred to as ‘The Scottish Play.’   I think that this superstition in the real world adds to the Gothic element of this particular work!

In conclusion, both of the works I have discussed have dark and eerie elements within them that would become staples of Gothic literature.   They feature a focus on the dead and dying that would be important for writers of the Gothic.    I hope you have enjoyed this short post about Gothic in the Works of Shakespeare.   What do you think about the idea of Shakespeare inspiring the Gothic Romance movement?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a painting of Ophelia by Waterhouse.   I found the image on

Further Reading

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare