Shakespeare and Criminology

Henry Fuseli, Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers


Prince Hal, a juvenile delinquent. Macbeth, a veteran with PTSD. Hamlet pleads insanity. Broken-windows policing in Renaissance Italy. Can readings of crime and justice in Shakespeare’s plays help build a better criminology?

At a time when law enforcement is under intense scrutiny—including calls to abolish the police—this book bridges the social sciences with the humanities to suggest a new approach to public safety. It establishes an interdisciplinary field of “criminology and literature,” distinct from “law and literature.” It looks through the lens of criminology to unpack Shakespearean representations of crime and justice in plays like Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, and Titus Andronicus, which formulate criminal justice challenges involving hate crimes, fragile masculinity, and cultures of honor that remain with us to this day. It shows how people have modeled crimes on Shakespeare’s characters, how criminologists have used Shakespeare to build theory, and how Shakespeare has been an inspiration for modern crime fiction.

Ultimately, it argues that Shakespeare did criminology as tragedy two hundred years before the invention of this social scientific discourse, and that Shakespeare is a valuable avenue into a more skeptical, more humane vision of public safety. 




Parts of Shakespeare and Criminology have appeared in Crime Media Culture, This Rough Magic, Law and the Humanities, Law Culture and the Humanities, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama, The Smart Set, College Literature, and Shakespeare On Stage and Off.