Renaissance England was a bloody place. When newcomers came, the sides of London Bridge were adorned with heads on spikes as a warning to those who would think to break the law. Executions, hangings, and drawing and quartering were popular forms of entertainment, as was bear-baiting. The theater of the time was no different; coming on the heels of the extremely bloody plays of the 1580s and 1590s, Shakespeare was writing for an audience that expected a lot of violence on the stage. As a result, the plays — especially the tragedies — naturally lend themselves to some great Halloween party ideas that are especially good for literature and drama buffs.
The Scottish play is just about perfect for a Halloween party. Notable moments include witches chanting over cauldrons, apparitions on an eerie heath, floating daggers, ghosts and haunted banquets, nightmares, armed heads, bloody children, and traveling trees. If you’re doing the grim banquet, which of course you must, be sure to have sauced meat, wine, and possets (a drink made from milk and ale.)
Although traditionally listed among the tragedies, some scholars believe Titus is a comedy because it is so over the top. Decorations or costumes might include a dismembered Lavinia or Titus; the ghosts of Murder, Rape, and Revenge; letters written in blood; a deep pit, and bodies scattered everywhere (at 14, Titus has the highest body count of any of Shakespeare’s plays). Make sure to have a Senecan banquet with meat pies for the optimal effect.
There’s a ghost who is doomed to wander for eternity while seeking revenge, a dark and stuffy castle, an insane prince, booming voices from under the floorboards, and a king poisoned in his garden — and that’s just the first act! Decorations might include a grave, sword fights, a body peeking out from behind a curtain, a woman floating in a river or falling off a tree. Like with the two previous themes, the food should be in the style of a banquet, complete with poisoned goblets.
The set of Othello, most of which takes place in a fortress on the island of Cypress, is perfect for combining an Alcatraz-like prison theme with a dark and intimidating castle. Once things get started, there’s plenty to do with green-eyed monsters, a devil-like Iago, and a foreboding garden. But of course, no Othello party would be complete without the bridal-bed-gone-wrong where Othello kills his beloved.
Like Hamlet, Julius Caesar lends itself to Halloween. For those wanting to take advantage of a well-known scene, have party-goers dress in togas and then “stab” one of them in the back. Lots of blood is a must for this party. Decorations should involve some of Calpurnia’s terrifying visions, moments from the final battles, ghosts, hot coals, and suicides. Of course, you must serve Caesar salads.
Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is perfect for those looking less for horror and more for luxury. Cleopatra’s barge and her Egypt are the ultimate in luxurious backdrops. For a slightly more frightening take, set the party in the mausoleum with baskets of (fake) asps. Grapes, wine, and cheese are the foods of choice here.
Shakespeare’s final play may be considered a magical adventure, but it still has a lot for a Halloween party. It has an estranged duke turned sorcerer, a creature who is half-man and half-fish, mind-control spells, magical spirits, haunted banquets, hellhound apparitions, and a shipwreck. Tropical island food and drink would be a perfect fit for Shakespeare’s haunted paradise.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that we sell a few Halloween-themed tablecloths here at Bright Settings. Any of them would definitely put the finishing touches on your Shakespeare-themed party. So make sure you check out the tablecloths in our Halloween Table Linen Collection.
Shakespeare may be one of the most famous writers of all time, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t knock him off that pedestal. These seven Halloween party ideas come straight from the plays and are enough to scare or delight on their own. Better yet, the bibliophiles and drama buffs in your life will get a good chuckle at your intelligent sense of humor.