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Documentary to explore Osama bin Laden’s hatred of Shakespeare and the Bard’s links to the Gunpowder Plot

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 02 NOVEMBER

Osama bin Laden’s weekly visits to Shakespeare’s birthplace and the Bard’s historic links to the Gunpowder Plot will be among the stories explored in a new documentary airing on BBC Radio 3.

Shakespeare and Terrorism’, presented by Dr Islam Issa, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, examines how the iconic playwright’s work has been linked to acts of terror or influenced terrorists.

The documentary will look at how the Bard’s work has been viewed and interpreted by extremists from across the globe including bin Laden, Guy Fawkes, Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt. 

Osama bin Laden

Documents released by the CIA last year detailed bin Laden’s frequent visits to Stratford-upon-Avon as a teenager and his hatred of Shakespeare as a symbol of the West and its political ideology. 

The terror leader wrote in his diaries that "we went every Sunday to visit Shakespeare's house" and these experiences are believed to have coloured his hatred of the West.

Gunpowder Plot  

Links between the Bard and the Gunpowder Plot stem from the fact the plotters included family friends of Shakespeare and that the conspirators had strong links to Stratford-upon-Avon.

School of English

Birmingham City University

Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Booth, murdered the American President in Ford’s Theatre in Washington. Booth was an actor and fan of Shakespeare who was influenced by the playwright's portrayal of freedom and the murder of the emperor in the play Julius Caesar.

Carl Schmitt  

Meanwhile Carl Schmitt used Shakespeare as a way to justify Nazi and fascist ideology and wrote a book focussing on how going against the law can be justified, just as murder ultimately ended Hamlet’s troubles.

Dr Issa believes Shakespeare’s themes and characters make the plays wide open to multiple and varied interpretations.

Dr Islam Issa said: 

“The terrorists who hated Shakespeare or who attacked theatres saw the playwright as a symbol of the West or of colonialism. But looking at it from another angle, some terrorists have also been inspired by him.

“For example, recording this show has really made me reinterpret the character of Hamlet.”

Documentary  

The documentary will take in interviews, including one with a criminologist to analyse the mind of a terrorist, and includes visits to Hamlet's castle in Denmark and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust underground archives, where Dr Issa examines rare documents linked to the Gunpowder Plot. 

Shakespeare and Terrorism’ will air on BBC Radio 3 as part of ‘Sunday Feature’ on Sunday 4 November at 6.45pm.

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