Shakespeare’s works have inspired and angered some of history’s most infamous terrorists, including the conspirators behind 9/11 and the Gunpowder Plot, new research has revealed.
New studies from Dr Islam Issa, professor of literature and history at Birmingham City University, examined how terrorists through the centuries reacted to Shakespeare’s writings and why the iconic playwright’s work has been linked to acts of terror or influenced terrorists.
Among those who have been influenced by the work of the bard are some of the most infamous terrorists in history, including Osama Bin Laden, Guy Fawkes and the Nazis.
Research reveals how bin Laden made weekly visits to Shakespeare’s birthplace as a teenager, which he saw as a symbol of the West and its political ideology, and details how gunpowder plotters understood friends of Shakespeare’s family and had close ties to Stratford-upon-Avon.
It also shows how Shakespeare’s writing was used to justify terrorism, including how the Nazis used the Venetian Merchant and Hamlet to support their ideology, as the swastika was previously flown over Stratford for the celebrations of the Shakespeare’s birthday, and how the murderers of Private Lee Rigby cited Shakespearean symbolism. following their attack on Woolwich in 2013.
The results were published in a new book titled Shakespeare and terrorism, written by Dr Issa and published by Routledge.
Literature and history reader Dr Islam Issa said: “Since his time and all over the world, Shakespeare’s work has been interpreted in different ways and with different agendas.
“There are extremists who hated Shakespeare and what he stands for, so they used it to advance their ideologies or, in some cases, attacked theaters and actors. Then you have extremists who found Shakespeare’s violent and usurping characters inspiring and used that admiration as a direct justification for their terrible ideologies or actions.
“The book chronicles many of these events and anecdotes, but writing them also forced me to ask important questions about the role of the arts in how we build identities and opinions. Fiction in all its forms also serves as a type of release, so that people turn to violence in theater and movies because they get something out of it.
Studies also shed light on how terrorist attacks took place during Shakespearean performances, including attacks by the Taliban in response to a performance of Love’s Labor’s Lost in Afghanistan – the first performance of Shakespeare in the country since the Soviet invasion.
Links between the Bard’s plays and the assassinations are also uncovered, including an assassination attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler in 1944 influenced by Julius Caesar. Led by three prominent figures from the German military, the unsuccessful attempt led to arrests and revelations that one of the figures had a copy of the play on the assassination of the Roman statesman on his desk with lines of the key antagonist Brutus underlined.
The play is also shown to have influenced John Wilkes Booth who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln during a theatrical performance in 1865.
The research was gathered from travels around the world to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare’s readings and his influence, including in Stratford-upon-Avon, the United States, Denmark, Algeria, Palestine, and Qatar.