New BBC radio documentary ‘Shakespeare and Terrorism’ to explore Osama bin Laden’s hatred of Shakespeare – and the Bard’s own alleged family links to the Gunpowder Plot.

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.

Birthplace
Shakespeare’s Birthplace

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.

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.

Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes

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.

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.

Islam Issa 1
Dr Islam Issa

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

“There are lots of violent and extreme moments in the plays that remind us of what we see in the news today. Not only did Shakespeare live through the biggest terrorist plot in British history – the Gunpowder Plot – he also constructed characters who have similar issues, mind-sets and justifications to modern-day terrorists.

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

​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.

Kronborg
Kronborg Castle

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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