The Analysis of Shakespeare in Dracula

“My tablets! Quick, my tablets! ‘tis meet that I put it down,” (Hamlet, 3.4) “false face must hide what the false heart doth know” (Macbeth, 1.7). Shakespeare is not only quoted in many works of literature, but is noted through intertextuality, or the connections noted between two or more pieces of literature. In other words, “there’s no such thing as a wholly original work of literature” (Foster, 2003). Dracula is a modern adaption to Macbeth and Hamlet—Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, borrows plots and traits from Shakespeare’s works.  

Without Shakespeare, Van Helsing, a doctor and central character in Dracula, would not be named Van Helsing or hold the characteristics he does. This character’s name originates from the Danish name for Hamlet’s castle, Elsinore—Helsingor, or island of Helsing. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, selected to use “Helsing” to represent Van Helsing’s character due to the doctor’s strong and impenetrable personality that is much like the walls of the castle, Elsinore. Also, Van Helsing himself is like Elsinore where he keeps his emotions in, much like Claudius, King of Denmark and father/uncle to Hamlet, keeps him inside Elsinore’s walls. For instance, in chapter ten of Dracula, while he draws blood from Dr. Seward and observes it pour into Lucy Westenra, Van Helsing remains composed and undemonstrative. Without Hamlet, a creation of Shakespeare, Van Helsing would not bear his name or have the characteristics he embraces.

Jonathan Harker is similar to Hamlet in the beginning of Dracula. Harker begins to discover the oddities of Dracula—he is only present during the night and seems to vanish at the break of dawn. He is prisoner of an evil “being,” and even refers to Hamlet: “Everything must break off at cock-crow…like the ghost of Hamlet’s father” (Dracula, Chapter 3). Harker’s quote is from his diary after conversing with Dracula for hours. The quote refers to when Dracula heard the cock-crow and suddenly disappeared. The ghost of Hamlet’s father vanishes in act one when the “cock-crow” after speaking with Hamlet. This connection is significant because in each work of literature, these events are rising actions. When Harker is realizing that Dracula is not fully human, Hamlet is hit with a brick of truth—his uncle, now step-father and king, murdered his father. Both forms of afterlife (Dracula-vampire and Old Hamlet-ghost), force to the fore-front turning events. Harker notices the danger he is in, and Hamlet is forced into action for the vengeance of his rotting father. Moreover, Harker’s concerns over Dracula’s oddities were with cause.

“My tablets! Quick, my tablets! ‘tis meet that I put it down” (Hamlet, 1.5). Both Hamlet and Harker have the knack of writing everything down. Keeping a journal of some sort is their way of coping with horrific, ongoing events and their terrifying thoughts. Writing their thoughts down is what keeps them sane. Without this quote in Hamlet, it is unlikely Stoker would have chosen to write Dracula as an epistolary novel because a majority of Stoker’s ideas branched from Shakespeare’s plays, due to his friend and actor Henry Irving. As it stands, Stoker retrieved the idea of an epistolary novel, along with the foundation of the character, Harker, through Hamlet and his fixation of marking down events. Often times Stoker would work behind the scenes of Irving’s plays and on occasion, direct them. The majority of them at this time were Shakespeare.  

Within the first few chapters of Dracula when Harker is kept prisoner in Castle Dracula, many obscure similarities between Harker and Hamlet are prevalent. For example, both Harker and Hamlet ask authority figures (Count Dracula and Claudius) to leave the castle. When Harker asks Dracula to leave to go back to town to work on the documents for Dracula, he lets him, but only at the mercy of the wolves in which Dracula controls. Harker did not leave. Hamlet asks to leave to return to school, and his uncle/father simply refuses. Both Dracula and Hamlet’s uncle/father, Claudius, know that it is wise to keep their enemies close, and in these cases, prisoner.

Later in Dracula, Harker scales the wall of the castle in order to break into Dracula’s room in hopes of finding a way to escape. Before he attempts, he contemplates the outcome. He recognizes that he may die from falling or from the wrath of Dracula himself if he were to be in his room when he enters. Therefore, Harker contemplates with the idea of suicide. Like Harker, Hamlet continuously wrestles with the idea of suicide and eternal life, which is apparent in his “to be, or not to be” (Hamlet, 3.1) soliloquy. Hamlet’s infamous soliloquy is key to Stoker’s Dracula—as Hamlet considers suicide, he wonders about afterlife. Hamlet’s concern with what happens after death may have sparked an interest and lead Stoker to fill the gap of curiosity and inject vampires with an eternal afterlife of stalking about the land, never to return to a peaceful resting place.   

Another comparison between Harker and Hamlet is that both characters attempt to save their loved ones from evil and corruption. Harker takes part in protecting his love, Mina, by excluding her from the activities of the vampire hunters, which she is willing to accept. Hamlet uses words and fiery anger to urge his love, Ophelia, to flee from Elsinore and escape the insanity in which its walls hold in. Hamlet does this by telling her to “get thee to a nunnery” (Hamlet, 3.1). These words sting the sensitive skin of Ophelia, but when understood by the audience, it is understood that Hamlet is attempting to save her soul from the evil that lurks behind every corner of Elsinore, for example, her father, Claudius, the Queen, unknowingly, along with other ignorant chess pieces Claudius moves about indifferently. The significance these two “events” hold is that both Harker and Hamlet are in distress, but both try to save their loved ones. Ophelia is overwhelmed because she does not escape from the insanity and drowns, when Mina is accepting and withdraws herself from the lesser of two dangers (hunting Dracula and unwittingly fed on by Dracula). She withdraws herself from the hunting group.

Throughout Dracula, there are many similarities between the two evils, Dracula and Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle/father. Both Dracula and Claudius keep a close eye on their prisoners, Harker and Hamlet. When Harker is locked in Dracula’s Castle, Hamlet is held prisoner within his own home/castle, Elsinore. When read through the intertextual eye, holding prisoners in castles contributes to the setting of Dracula and further similarities can thus be made to Hamlet, widening the gist of Dracula beyond a gothic tale of vampires.

In addition to holding prisoners, both Dracula and Claudius are deceiving. In addition two Dracula and Claudius, another of Shakespeare’s characters, Macbeth, is extraordinarily misleading as well. Macbeth can also be incorporated in with his quote: “false face must hide what the false heart doth know” (1.7. Macbeth). All three characters must mislead others to accomplish their goals—Dracula, continuing to strive as a vampire by keeping his cover, therefore “surviving;” Claudius, attempting to cover the guilt he bears in his heart from murdering his brother/new wife’s ex-husband/nephew’s father in attempt to remain king; and Macbeth, to conceal his deepest desire to become king by murdering Duncan, the current king. Methods of deceiving others are all similar between these three hostile characters. Dracula, Claudius, and Macbeth are all mannerly and overtly polite. Along with their overly mannerly manner, all three create diversions by their appearance—all are dressed impressively and properly: Dracula, like that of a gentleman on a formal occasion, because he is a gentleman, and Claudius and Macbeth as kings, because they are kings. Their apparel is therefore more deceiving because they dress as the people they are, covering their desires. Lady Macbeth insisted Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” (Macbeth 1.5). Each of these three characters looked innocent in their attire because it was true to them, but behind their persuasive visage laid wicked intentions.

Connections between Dracula and Shakespeare’s Claudius and Macbeth directly derive from one another. Without Claudius deceiving manner, the entire kingdom would know he murdered his brother, and king of Denmark. If Macbeth was not misleading, the entire kingdom would know he murdered Duncan, previous king of Scotland, and therefore not be crowned king himself. Without Dracula’s illusory demeanor, he would be recognized as a vampire and would have been beheaded and had a stake through his heart long before he transformed the countless innocent women into vampires. Because both Shakespeare and Stoker chose the villains to be misleading, they mirror the qualities humans harbor in reality. People with “evil” qualities and intentions don’t always look evil; rather they fit the normal standard of dress that is socially acceptable considering the time period. Because Shakespeare and Stoker present their villains as innocent civilians, they are more likely to frighten the readers because it is closer to reality than if they looked demonic.

These three well-dressed, polite, deceiving men have plots and sinful intentions, and indeed, their “false face” hides to a point what the “false heart doth know”—each are murderers. Why do they murder? While Dracula murders for blood he needs to survive, he also murders for power. “Murdering,” in his case is by drinking the blood of innocent women and transforming them into vampires to do his bidding, therefore, adding to his power and “force.” Viewing blood symbolically, Dracula is gaining his power by raping innocent women and gaining power by doing so. By raping women, Dracula in turn overpowers them, and this is what he truly feeds on. Both Claudius and Macbeth murder for power. The power they are violent for is straight forward and simple compared to Dracula. They both want to become ruler, and murdering the earlier king is the only way they see fit, therefore, they take life. Although the type of power that Dracula is striving for differs from the power Claudius and Macbeth are striving for, they are both alike in the sense they are both killing to get what they want. Without Macbeth and Hamlet, Stoker would have been unsure as to the point of Dracula murdering innocent women. The history and connections from Macbeth and Hamlet allow Stoker to develop Dracula as a villain with devious intentions to gain and hold power in his possession by stealing it away from weaker persons.   

Shakespeare is the reason Dracula’s plot and characters exist. Without Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, Van Helsing would not bear his name nor carry the characteristics he does, Harker would never suspect Dracula to be anything other than human, he would never have been prisoner, he would have never contemplated death, and Harker wouldn’t have tried to save his poor Mina. Shakespeare should be mandatory to study simultaneously or prior to Dracula because they are so similar and based off of one another. Without Shakespeare, Dracula would not exist.

Foster, T. C. (2003). How to Read Literature Like a Professor. New York: Harper.

Shakespeare, W. Hamlet.

Shakespeare, W. Macbeth.

Stoker, B. (1897). Dracula. Bedford, St. Martin’s.

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