In recent interviews, I’ve talked about my favorite fictional castles and discussed some of the Gothic plot staples attributed to Horace Walpole. But even Walpole must have been influenced by William Shakespeare. Walpole gets credit for crafting the first Gothic novel, but many of his details seem to echo some of those found in HAMLET.
Let’s start with the castle itself. When Hamlet begins, the young, melancholy prince is wandering like a lost soul around Elsinore, his family castle, in a morally “rotten” Denmark. Shakespeare uses the dark and mysterious castle to great effect throughout his play, and it’s impossible to read it without imagining the interior of Elsinore: its drafty halls, its lonely chambers.
In addition, the play starts with the sighting of a ghost. When the men standing watch report this ghost to Hamlet, he joins the watch and sees the ghost for himself: the image of his dead father (also named Hamlet) who informs his son that he was murdered, and that young Hamlet must avenge his death. This element of the supernatural adds intrigue, suspense, and a touch of horror to the play, investing it with the proper Gothic tone from the start (but I can only call this Gothic in retrospect).
Still more evidence lies in the notion of hidden things: the play is filled with hidden motives, unspoken longings, and actual hiding places (Polonius behind the arras offers a prime example, and this unfortunate hiding place leads to drama and death).
Another archetype of Walpole’s is the notion of overwrought emotion, and Hamlet is filled with angst. In fact, one might assume that Hamlet is only a teen based on some of his emotional speeches; in reality he is thirty years old, but Shakespeare knows how to wring emotion from his audience. When Hamlet and Laertes fight in the grave of poor dead Ophelia about who loved her more, Shakespeare provides the very definition of “overwrought,” and the moment when Hamlet finds Claudius at prayer in the chapel provides an emotional, bitter conflict between Hamlet’s desire for revenge and his unwillingness to interrupt a moment of prayer.
In my cozy-Gothic DEATH IN CASTLE DARK, I pay due homage to Walpole, but I tried to capture the essence of Shakespeare’s greatest play, at least in terms of significant detail. At the heart of the mystery is a large, mysterious castle. Dwelling within it is an alternative Hamlet: a dog by that name, black-furred and restless as he roams the halls. There is a chapel which has significance to the overall plot, and there is a great deal of soap-opera level emotion, just as we all love in our Gothic stories. Perhaps most important, there are any number of secret places and hidden doors to keep a reader satisfied. The “cozy” part means that it also possesses some funny or charming or whimsical moments that make the characters more like friends than like dramatic personae. With this little book, I am writing about what I love: the drama of the Gothic, and the joy of simple moments and cozy places.
Veronica Bond is the pseudonym for Julia Buckley, a beloved author who has taught high school English for twenty-nine years. Her previous series include the Undercover Dish mysteries and the Writer’s Apprentice mysteries. She currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. Learn more online at juliabuckley.com, Twitter, and Instagram.
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