Crime and Theatre

Read this exclusive guest post from M. L. Rio about theatre and crime, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of her stunning debut, If We Were Villains!

In Shakespeare’s day, live theatre was believed to be so emotionally affective that people watching a play might uncontrollably holler out their own sins if they saw something similar performed onstage. “I have heard,” Hamlet says, “That guilty creatures, sitting at a play, / Have by the very cunning of the scene / Been struck so to the soul that presently / They have proclaim'd their malefactions.” So the idea for the infamous play-within-a-play, The Mousetrap, is conceived. 

We, as a culture, are obsessed with crime. In the age of cop dramas, legal thrillers, and murder documentaries, it can be difficult to tell where violence ends and entertainment begins. In this way, we’re not so different from early modern theatregoers; the playhouses of Shakespeare’s London were populated by robbers, killers, and cannibals, and if that wasn’t gruesome enough, you could always come back for some good old-fashioned bear-baiting. Theatre has always been a bloodsport.  

But why? I think the answer is buried even deeper in our history, in the Greek theatre and the concept of κάθαρσις—or catharsis: the idea that cleansing or purification may be achieved through art. A modern cognate might be “getting it out of your system,” whatever “it” may be.

Theatre is inherently voyeuristic; we buy popcorn and settle into our seats to revel in the private love and grief and shame of other human beings. It’s a little despicable when you think about it. But it might also be what keeps us all from turning into Charlie Manson. Here’s where catharsis comes in: when we see all our morbid curiosities—or, equally possible but rather more frightening, what Macbeth might call our “black and deep desires”—played out onstage, it’s like scratching a moral itch. We experience the crime vicariously, especially in a play like Macbeth where the audience is, from start to finish, party to and complicit in the characters’ bloody deeds (whether they want to be or not). Theatre satisfies our strange human appetite for physical and emotional violence. Theatre invites us inside a criminal mind. Theatre lets us get away with murder.

To me, this odd marriage of theatre and crime actually makes perfect sense; art and violence are both acts of passion. In the interest of real-world self-preservation, we spend a lot of time and energy hiding our emotions, trying not to look vulnerable, playing it cool. All the same, we crave passionate action. So we turn to the theatre where we can live vicariously through the prince of Denmark, the king of Scotland, or the citizens of Rome. We witness their murders and regicides and assassinations, we feel their ambition and envy and outrage, and when all the “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts” are done, we get up and go home, satisfied.

Read an excerpt from If We Were Villains!

Comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio!

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If We Were Villains Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) April 12, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 11:59 a.m. ET April 25, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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M. L. Rio has worked in bookstores and theatres for years, and is currently pursuing her MA in Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London. If We Were Villains is her debut novel.


  1. Gordon Bingham

    With a background in both theater and law enforcement, I can certinly appreciate this one…

  2. Tatiana deCarillion

    Read the excerpt…it could’ve been a Poirot mystery!

  3. Jane Schwarz

    Well said. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of what looks like a great read.

  4. James Joyce

    I count certain Ngaio Marsh novels, taking place in a theatre, as among my favourite.

  5. ksales1023

    I remember in the Ft. Worth area some years ago that a high school girl, upon reading Hamlet with her class, confessing to killing her father with poison a few years before. Before that, natural causes had been the supposed manner of death. She was convicted of his murder.

  6. Autumn Trapani

    As a stage manager and lifelong fan of Shakespeare and mysteries, I can’t wait to read this book. thanks for the chance to win!

  7. John Smith

    I don’t think I will ever yell anything incriminating when I watch “Hamlet.”

  8. lasvegasnv

    how interesting

  9. Deb Philippon

    Wow. I’ve always loved theatre. This sure gives me something to think about. Wish me luck!

  10. Todd Henson

    Sounds like a fascinating story, would love to read.

  11. Shelly Hart

    Sounds like a fun read!

  12. Denise Sachs

    This would be great, thanks.

  13. Valerie Taylor Mabrey

    I would like to read this one.

  14. Andrew Gordon

    two of my favorite things…combined!

  15. Shannon Baas

    I would like this.

  16. integrity4life1

    Looks like a great read! Thanks!

  17. pearl berger

    Fascinating and informative. Thanks for this giveaway.

  18. ellie lewis

    Theatre always is captivating especially Shakespeare. Wonderful.

  19. Pearl Berger

    Such an interesting feature which interests me greatly.

  20. Patb

    my curiosity is aroused!!

  21. Susan Meek

    I would love to win this, to read myself and then share with my theatre manager cousin.

  22. Patricia Reed

    A must read for me..on my TBR list now.

  23. pat murphy

    Hope to win !

  24. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  25. Jackie Wisherd

    Interesting. Think I would enjoy reading this book.

  26. Joanne Mielczarski

    I love all things Shakespeare – I was a pre med major in college who took an amazing Shakespearean course. The professor was awesome – his classes were always packed. He acted out scenes and had crowds auditing his lectures.

  27. lindawwww

    Interesting points arguments! I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  28. Seana Graham

    I’m reminded by this essay of something a screenwriting teacher says, which is that an audience wants to go on a journey with the main character. They want to invest themselves.

  29. Seana Graham

    I’m reminded by this essay of something a screenwriting teacher says, which is that an audience wants to go on a journey with the main character. They want to invest themselves.

  30. Barbara

    Fascinating storyline!

  31. Gwen Ellington

    Shakepearian plot! I’m sold. Hope I win!!

  32. Sally Schmidt

    Great excerpt. And while I haven’t shouted out my sins yet, I must admit I am obsessed with (reading about) crime.

  33. Barbara Lima

    Interesting precept.

  34. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  35. vicki wurgler

    read the post-it was interesting

  36. Wendy Soto


  37. Beverly Henry

    This one sounds really good

  38. Patti Short

    Yes, please!

  39. Daniel Morrell

    sounds like a fun one

  40. Jay

    Thanks for the opportunity!!

  41. Susanne Troop

    Sounds great!

  42. Susanne Troop

    Sounds great!

  43. Susanne Troop

    Sounds great!

  44. Susanne Troop

    Sounds great!

  45. Barbara Bibel

    Sounds wonderful! I want to read it.

  46. Linda A

    Aren’t all criminals theatrical? Prentending to be something they are not. Smarter, better, stronger in their minds.

  47. Angie Stormer

    Yelling out your sins during Shakespearean times at plays reminds me in a way of participating from the crowd while at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  48. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    To be! Yes!

  49. Terry Pearson

    Is there anythng better than Shakespeare ! Oh, Romeo, I would die to win.

  50. Louis Burklow

    I’d enjoy reading a mystery where words mean so much.

  51. Diane Pollock

    Sounds very interesting!

  52. Laurent Latulippe

    Sounds like a funny read.

  53. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  54. Michael Carter

    Looks great!
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  55. Jeana

    Would love to enter to win!

  56. Theresa Clarke

    “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevsky – just fascinating!

  57. L

    I know that I watch many movies, just as I read many books, to live vicariously through them. This book should be interesting.

  58. Rhonda Barkhouse

    I would love to read this one.

  59. Andrew Beck

    Just look at how many authors decide to introduce a gun to their pl0t or play to heighten interest and suspense. That changes the rules and ups the drama and helps maintain interest.

  60. Jean Feingold

    Not sure how I would react if I were at a play and an audience member confessed to a crime.

  61. Jean Feingold

    Not sure how I would react if I were at a play and an audience member confessed to a crime.

  62. Susan Gainen

    I look forward to reading this one.

  63. Jenny Reynolds

    Sounds interesting!

  64. Jenny Reynolds

    Sounds interesting!

  65. Patrice

    Sounds really great.

  66. Patrice Gottfried

    Would love to read this.

  67. John meixner

    sounds like a geed read


    This is a WINNER!!
    Hope I WIN!!

  69. Tammy Wilson

    What a great combination to write about!

  70. Karen Hester

    Interesting combination for a mystery

  71. susan beamon

    All interesting. Learned most of it in drama class. Still, want the book.

  72. Vicki Andrew

    sounds like a good read for on the train into work

  73. Jeanine Wiater

    I can’t wait to read this book – thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  74. Polly Barlow

    This sounds like a great read. I enjoy the theater ever so much and I especially like to read and see Shakespeare’s plays.

  75. pegkeohane

    I was so looking for a new author…and the combo of mystery and theatre is very appealing.

  76. Richard Hicks

    I would love to read it!

  77. Kim Keithline

    sounds good sign me up

  78. rickel bart

    oh boy count me in!

  79. Susan Smoaks

    thanks for the chance to win.

  80. Penny Snyder

    Would love to read this!!~

  81. Penny Snyder

    Would love to read this!!~

  82. Francine Anchondo

    Thanks for the chance

  83. Ed Nemmers

    I would like to read the work of M.L. Rio.

  84. Christal Mormann

    Sounds great

  85. Tricha Leary

    thanks so mcuh for the chance

  86. kathy pease

    Thanks so much for the chance 🙂

  87. Jerry Marquardt

    Thnanks for throwing the Crime and Theatre Sweepstakes!

  88. Linda Peters

    sounds interesting, thanks for the chance

  89. Linda Peters

    sounds interesting, thanks for the chance

  90. Daniel Vice

    I would like this

  91. jacqueline garcia

    sounds like an awesome read!

  92. Stephanie Galbraith

    I would love to win.

  93. Lily

    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  94. rosemary


  95. Angela Sanford

    I read the excerpt and cannot wait to read the entire book 🙂 It is going to be an exciting read 🙂

  96. Philip Lawrence

    Oh, a new twist!

  97. Beth Talmage

    A very thought-provoking introduction to this book. I’ll be discussing this premise with my brother, a police officer, who spends a lot less time reading about crime than I do.

  98. Carl White


Comments are closed.

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