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What's More Violent: Shakespeare or 'Game of Thrones'?
The stories in Shakespeare's plays and 'Game of Thrones' are often bloody, but which are ultimately more violent?
Since its 2011 debut, Game of Thrones has sparked controversy over its graphic depictions of violence.
The show is notorious for killing off characters in savagely medieval ways — by sword, lance, knife, poison, molten gold, rats, dogs, crossbow, defenestration — while leaving little to imagination. Some critics have condemned the show’s violence, particularly the scenes involving rape. But others have praised the show for accurately portraying the brutal realities of medieval life.
“First, Game of Thrones has always seemed a TV show, at its core, about presenting a more brutal and realistic vision than similar sword and sorcery epics like Lord of the Rings,” wrote Eric Deggans for NPR. “This is a series which tries to marry the most realistic vision of Medieval-era life with a fantasy world where dragons are real.”
Critics might be split about the show's creative decisions, like including explicit rape scenes, having characters discuss key plot elements in the nude (sexposition, as coined by a critic of the show), or showing a pregnant woman getting stabbed in the belly five times. But what's uncontroversial is the fact that this kind of violence in popular culture is nothing new.
Violence in the works of Shakespeare
For some context, take a look at the history of what’s considered Shakespeare’s most graphic play, Titus Andronicus. The tragedy, loosely based on Roman history, is a vicious cycle of revenge between a queen, Tamora, and a general, Titus, both of whom are bent on killing and torturing each other’s children.
In one scene, Tamora’s sons take Titus’ daughter Lavinia deep into the woods where they rape her, chop off her hands, and cut out her tongue so she won’t be able to reveal what’s happened. Here’s Lavinia begging for a quick death before the scene:
Lavinia: O, keep me from their worse than killing lust
And tumble me into some loathsome pit,
Where never man's eye may behold my body:
Do this, and be a charitable murderer.
Tamora: So should I rob my sweet sons of their fee?
No, let them satisfy their lust on thee.
-- Titus Andronicus, Act II Scene ii, Lines 175-180
Sweet sons, indeed.
Titus Andronicus is traditionally considered one of Shakespeare’s worst plays, with violence so gratuitous that it borders on farce. But Titus was extremely popular when it came out in the late 16th century.
Audiences of this time, between the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, seemed to have a penchant for tales of revenge, and it was common for productions to feature extreme violence. And this preference wasn't arbitrary. These plays reflected, at least in exaggeration, what life and society were really like, as theater scholar Jonas Barish wrote in his 1991 essay Shakespearean Violence: A Preliminary Survey:
“As long ago as 1940 (in Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, 1587-1642) Fredson Bowers cited numerous instances of violent behavior in society at large—of private duels fought in disregard of the laws forbidding them, of grudge assassinations performed by hired ruffians, of the use of lingering poison and other stealthy forms of murder for disposing of one's enemies—to demonstrate that the playwrights who brought violence onto the stage were not being merely melodramatic, not merely catering to the appetite of their audiences for bloody deeds remote from their experience, but realistic as well.”
Titus eventually fell out of fashion, and it would go largely ignored by production companies for generations. Two centuries later, in 1765, the English writer Samuel Johnson doubted whether a contemporary audience could even stomach the play:
“...the barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience.”
Then in 2006, decades after the play fell somewhat back in favor with critics and historians, a production of Titus at Shakespeare’s Globe theater in the U.K. made headlines after causing some audience members to faint, feel sick and suffer sleepless nights.
Shakespeare’s other plays contain brutal scenes, too. There's the eye-gouging in King Lear, the beheading in Macbeth, and the stabbing in Julius Caesar.
But how exactly does Shakespeare's violence stack up to Game of Thrones?
The answer depends on how you measure it: qualitatively or quantitatively.
Examining body count alone, Game of Thrones is far and away more violent, as evidenced by this video of every single death in the show, compiled by Digg.
For comparison, here's a chart showing the body count in Shakespeare's bloodiest plays:
With a body count in the thousands, Game of Thrones is markedly more violent than the plays of Shakespeare. Game of Thrones also probably dispenses with its characters in more ways than Shakespeare does (I've listed some of the most notable manners of death above). But that's not to say that Shakespeare was a one-trick killer, as this breakdown shows:
Qualitatively, deciding which set of stories is more violent is a matter of opinion. Are you more affected by the mutilation of Lavinia, or the torture scenes featuring Game of Throne's Ramsay Bolton?
(I wonder where Reek stands?)
The answer might depend on medium. Is there any marked difference between witnessing violence on a stage versus on a screen?
That's exactly what the Royal Shakespeare Company and research firm Ipsos MORI want to test.
Researchers plan to monitor the heart rates of 30 audience members during three live performances of Titus Andronicus. Then a second group, similar in age, gender and theater experience, will have their heart rates recorded while watching a screening of the play at a movie theater.
“We want to see how the audience reacts physically to the production,” said Becky Loftus of RSC. “Are people so used to things like (Quentin) Tarantino and Game of Thrones that they’re not shocked anymore by theater magic, or theater blood and gore?”
The results are scheduled to be published in November.
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.
- There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
- "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
- "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
Just what every arachnophobe needed to hear.
- A new study suggests some spiders might lace their webs with neruotoxins similar to the ones in their venom.
- The toxins were shown to be effective at paralyzing insects injected with them.
- Previous studies showed that other spiders lace their webs with chemicals that repel large insects.