top of page

About The Book


“ James Gilligan and David Richards, an eminent psychiatrist and a distinguished legal scholar with vast experience dealing with violent men, brilliantly help us explore how Shakespeare’s plays are among the most insightful sources for understanding human nature and human psychology.  In the course of their work, they met men who were virtual reincarnations of Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, Timon and others, who felt so overwhelmingly shamed and humiliated that they did not know how to bring their emotional pain to an end except by destroying the world around them.  Shame and its opposite, pride and honor, are the central themes Shakespeare uses to describe the motivations for violence. Gilligan and Richards show how Shakespeare enables us to understand not only what causes violence, but also how we can prevent it..” -


Bessel van der Kolk, New York Times bestselling author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Founder, Trauma Research Foundation


Shakespeare has been dubbed the greatest psychologist of all time.  This book seeks to prove that statement by comparing the playwright’s fictional characters with real-life examples of violent individuals, from criminal to political actors.  For Gilligan and Richards, the propensity to kill others, even (or especially) when it results in the killer’s own death, is the most serious threat to the continued survival of humanity.  In this volume, the authors show how humiliated men, with their desire for retribution and revenge, their propensity for apocalyptic violence and political religions, justify and commit acts of violence, and how love and restorative justice can prevent violence.  


Although our destructive power is far greater than anything that existed in his day,  Shakespeare has much to teach us about the psychological and cultural roots of all violence.  In this book, the authors tell what Shakespeare shows, through the stories of his characters: what causes violence and what prevents it.


Holding a Mirror up to Nature



bottom of page