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The British Library's Wi-Fi Blocked Hamlet, But These 14 Classics Are Way More Violent

Hamlet has a straight-up body count. There’s a murder before the play even begins. There’s a suicide, poisonings, stabbings, and a poisonous stabbing. But that's nothing. Even in the strictest, fustiest canon of literature, Hamlet's level of violence...
Ben Richmond
Κείμενο Ben Richmond

Hamlet's death, via Will Hart/Flickr.

A man in the British Library was trying to reference Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when he was thwarted by the filter on the library’s Wi-Fi. The BBC reported that the filter blocked the play because it has “violent content,” which can’t really be denied, even if the British Library apologized and went on to fix the problem.

Hamlet has a straight-up body count. There’s a murder before the play even begins; there’s a suicide; there are poisonings and stabbings and a poisonous stabbing. But that's nothing. Frailty, thy name is Wi-Fi, I say. Even in the strictest, fustiest canon of literature, Hamlet's level of violence doesn't even rank.


This is a—by no means exhaustive—list of literature that's way more violent than Hamlet and that the British Library’s Wi-Fi could have a semi-legitimate problem with. First, a caveat: when you turn over the concept of “more violent” in your mind, there are two ways to take it, which can clumsily be termed as “quality” and “quantity.”

Quality in this context refers to the viscerally upsetting nature of the violence–Better block Toni Morrison’s Beloved, since there is the systemic violence of slavery plus one gruesome, really viscerally upsetting death. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment has two really bloody murders–axe murders even–plus a suicide and quite a few fever dreams. I guess there’s no rule against fever dreams, but one of them has some statutory rape-y stuff going on.

Quantity is a bit more amorphous since each grand epic about war is going to be fighting for that top spot. All Quiet on the Western Front has World War I, but then so does Dr. Zhivago, which has scenes on the Eastern Front, and then the Russian Revolution and then the following Russian Civil War. The American Civil War had more casualties than Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, but it’s hard to think of Gone With the Wind as more violent than War and Peace.

Just in Shakespeare alone:

King Lear has more death, with a body count of 10, eye-gouging and even some nudity. The British Library’s rationale for having a filter on their Wi-Fi at all was that it “wanted to protect children visiting the building from content ‘such as pornography and gambling websites.’” King Lear is basically all about screwing over your parents when they’re old and infirm, which I’m sure most parents don’t want their kids to catch onto in these, their formative years.

Read the rest over at Motherboard.